ZIMBABWE’S bid to rejoin the Commonwealth faces an indefinite delay as a result of the imminent cancellation of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which hangs in the balance owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
A planned assessment visit to the country which had been sanctioned by Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mrs Patricia Scotland, has been cancelled indefinitely owing to travel restrictions imposed by most countries.
The country’s eligibility for readmission was set for discussion at the CHOGM slated for Kigali, Rwanda, in June.
But there are indications that the biennial meeting will now be postponed amid the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Deputy Minister David Musabayana told The Sunday Mail that Zimbabwe’s eligibility position was set to be discussed by the group’s 53 Heads of Government in Rwanda.
He said the country’s readmission was now likely to be delayed once cancellation of the meeting is confirmed, as is expected.
“In terms of rejoining the Commonwealth, what you have to understand is that as a country we have expressed interest in rejoining the group,” said Deputy Minister Musabayana.
“The Commonwealth has so far dispatched two teams that have come in to assess our situation. It’s now up to them to decide the next step forward and that is whether they accept our bid to rejoin or not.
“Whether they will do it this year or next year it is not really up to us because we don’t determine the pace. There was supposed to be a CHOGM meeting in Rwanda where our situation was set to be discussed and an announcement was supposed to be made. But that meeting is now in doubt.”
Deputy Minister Musabayana said the group was still doing some consultations, which Zimbabwe had no control over.
“We have tried not to put undue pressure on that process because we believe as a country we have done enough to warrant readmission. We are now unsure of how the postponement of the conference will affect our position.”
An informal assessment of Zimbabwe’s eligibility being led by Mrs Scotland is still ongoing but has hit massive headwinds owing to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mrs Scotland was expected to share with all 53 member states of the group, an assessment report on Zimbabwe’s eligibility following two high level visits to the country over the last two years.
The group’s secretary-general was expected to then consult with all member states before Zimbabwe’s fate was to be decided at the CHOGM.
In emailed responses to The Sunday Mail, a Commonwealth spokesperson said the pandemic has had a “devastating global impact”.
“The secretary-general’s informal assessment has not concluded,” said the spokesperson.
“It remains ongoing as it is not a time-bound process, but context-driven. We are not aware of any changes to Zimbabwe’s intention of joining the Commonwealth. However, the pandemic has had a devastating global impact — Zimbabwe is no exception.”
The Commonwealth, said the spokesperson, continues to monitor the situation and was assessing options for holding the CHOGM.
“The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Rwanda are monitoring developments regarding the spread and impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
“We have been in constant communication with the Government of Rwanda and we have set timelines and milestones that will allow us to carefully monitor and assess different options for CHOGM depending on how the pandemic evolves.
“We continue to monitor the situation and will review plans for such a visit once the lockdowns in place in various countries have been lifted.”
In May 2018, President Mnangagwa wrote to secretary Scotland expressing Zimbabwe’s intention to return to the group after nearly a decade and half of estrangement. The Commonwealth then initiated a four-step process to assess Zimbabwe’s eligibility to regain its membership. Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 at the height of tension between Harare and London over the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme.
The late former president, Robert Mugabe, announced Zimbabwe’s withdrawal from the group after the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria that suspended the country indefinitely. To re-join, Zimbabwe must demonstrate that it complies with the fundamental values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy and rule of law plus protection of human rights such as freedom of expression.
Ms Scotland pledged to “accelerate” Zimbabwe’s readmission when she met with President Mnangagwa in New York, United States on the side-lines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly last year.