DIPLOMATIC ties between Zimbabwe and Britain are progressively improving, with increased exchanges now taking place between Harare and London, the country’s chief envoy to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Christian Katsande, has said.
There is now enhanced collaboration in diplomatic deputations, dialogue, trade and investment.
Thawing relations between the two countries highlights the progress being made under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s engagement and re-engagement drive, which is the country’s signature foreign policy initiative.
Bilateral ties between Zimbabwe and the UK had soured to the extent that prior to Ambassador Katsande’s posting to London in 2018, Harare did not have a chief envoy to the European country for four years following Ambassador Gabriel Mharadze Machinga’s departure in August 2014.
In a marked shift from his predecessor, President Mnangagwa has set out to integrate Zimbabwe into the global family of nations through engaging and re-engaging the regional and international community.
The strategy has begun to bear fruit.
A few weeks ago, Britain donated US$43,6 million, the largest contribution given by a single nation in the fight against Covid-19.
“Zimbabwe-United Kingdom relations continue to improve. The two countries have witnessed increased diplomatic exchanges which have opened avenues of enhanced communication and collaboration in health, education, tourism, trade and investment,” said Ambassador Katsande in a statement.
“The British government recently announced a US$43,6 million aid package towards Covid-19 medical supplies to assist in fighting the pandemic in Zimbabwe. This generous gesture, among others, is indicative of the growing bilateral and diplomatic relations between the two countries.”
President Mnangagwa’s administration has identified the Diaspora community as a key constituency in nation-building.
Ambassador Katsande said his office has increased engagements with Zimbabweans living in the UK.
“Engagements with Zimbabwe’s Diaspora community have yielded tangible results. Some community groups/individuals and companies owned by Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have actively supported Government-led humanitarian initiatives such as mobilising assistance for the victims of Tropical Cyclone Idai in 2019 and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Embassy shared with the Diaspora community, His Excellency President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa’s domestic and humanitarian appeal for assistance towards the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Last week, Britain’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ms Melanie Robinson, described relations between the two countries as “important”.
“We have announced nearly US$44 million aid, which makes us the biggest contributor to the Covid-19 response here in Zimbabwe. This shows how important the relationship between the British and Zimbabwean people is.
“Through our humanitarian programme, we are currently supporting 570 000 beneficiaries throughout Zimbabwe and will continue to provide emergency humanitarian aid and cash transfers to the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the country,” she said.
To date, at least 29 Zimbabweans living in Britain have died of Covid-19, mostly nurses and other medical staff.
The UK is one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic.
Ambassador Katsande said his office had established clusters that include health, education, agriculture, infrastructure and financial services to assist in coordinating activities and communication between the Embassy and the Diaspora.
“Despite the lockdown, the Embassy continues to provide a more efficient and user-friendly service to the public. The Embassy has also cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with various Zimbabwean community and religious leaders across the United Kingdom,” he said.
Political analyst Mr Godwine Mureriwa said the latest developments show that Zimbabwe and Britain were keen to re-engage.
“Past relations were affected by arrogant personalities. On the one hand, you had Tony Blair (former British prime minister), who refused to accept Britain’s responsibility in resolving the land question and, on the other, you had a radical Mugabe who had no interest at all in re-engaging,” said Mr Mureriwa.
“We have now turned the corner because President Mnangagwa has extended his arms wide and Britain also showed its keenness to engage after being the first to send its minister, when our President was first inaugurated.
“I strongly believe that growth in relations between the two countries will be mutually beneficial. With Britain exiting the European Union and Zimbabwe clearly showing commitment to re-engagement, the two countries certainly need each other.”
When President Mnangagwa was first inaugurated into office on November 24 2017, the then-British prime minister Theresa May sent a special envoy, Mr Rory Stewart, to grace the occasion and affirm London’s support to the new Government.
In her first assignment as UK Minister of State for Africa, Mrs Harriet Baldwin visited Zimbabwe in February 2018, showing how important relations between the two countries are.
Zimbabwe is also on the path to rejoining the Commonwealth group of nations, which is made up of mostly former British colonies.