Gift Phiri, News Editor 2 February 2017
HARARE – A top UK envoy began a two-day visit in Zimbabwe on Monday to
gauge its progress in its re-engagement with the international community
and assess the human rights situation, a rare visit by a top UK Foreign
and Commonwealth Office (FCO) leader in a decade.
Karen Pierce, UK FCO chief operating officer, is expected to press
Zimbabwe to adhere to its international commitments under the Lima Plan.
Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa last year proposed an
arrears repayment plan at the IMF/WB annual meetings in Lima in Peru where
consensus was reached with creditors on a repayment strategy which
entailed the clearance of the country’s $1,8 billion arrears.
Britain, Germany, France, US and others are part of the Paris Club – a
forum where Zimbabwe’s debt to the international financial institutions
(IFIs) is discussed and agreement is reached on how to manage that
While in Zimbabwe, Karen, the most senior FCO visitor to Zimbabwe for
several years, will meet with influential Zimbabwean women and
representatives of the business community, as well as a call on the deputy
Foreign minister Edgar Mbwembwe and members of the opposition. During her
visit, Pierce – who has previously served as ambassador in Afghanistan,
ambassador to the UN in Geneva and deputy permanent representative to the
UN in New York – will gain more insight into the operations of the British
Mission in Zimbabwe.
“We are excited to be hosting one of the FCO’s most senior officials and
to share with her some of our successes as the Britain Mission in
Zimbabwe,” UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing said yesterday.
“She will also have a chance to meet with the business community, learn
about the British Mission’s impact on Zimbabwe’s development and meet
government and opposition figures. “Karen’s visit is particularly
important because the UK, driven by our manifesto commitment to stand up
for human rights and the rule of law, wants to see Zimbabwe return to a
more normal relationship with the international community.”
Presently, multilateral financial institutions are barred by law from
extending loans to Zimbabwe because of outstanding debts. Clearance of the
arrears is anticipated to pave way for lines of new capital.
Zimbabwe – saddled with an external debt of over $7 billion – has just
settled the IMF’s $124 million in arrears accrued since 2000, but still
owes another $600 000 to the AfDB while an additional $1 billion is
characterised as WB debt.
To honour these arrears, Zimbabwe is borrowing from the Afrexim Bank in
Egypt while it clear the IMF arrears by drawing rights of about $130
million from the Breton Woods institution.
Relations between the UK and Zimbabwe have moved to a new level in the
past two years as London seeks to revive relations with a key ally in
southern Africa, but the socialist nation’s zero-tolerance approach to its
detractors remains a sticking point.
The UK has been intensifying efforts in building stronger ties with
Zimbabwe in reducing poverty, helping in health, education, environment,
energy and recently has been giving cash transfers to help the most
vulnerable, including older people, vulnerable children and people with
disabilities – to boost its influence.
Through the Department for International Development (DFID), the UK has
also made an additional -L-40 million contribution resulting in a total
contribution of -L-55,6 million ($73,3 million) to Zimbabwe’s drought
Diplomatic ties between the UK and Zimbabwe soured during the turn of the
century over charges that President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party
had rigged elections and used violence to cling to power.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader who has held power since independence in
1980, insists London treats Zimbabwe as its colony and seeks to maintain
influence in the mineral-rich country. British conglomerates have also
divested from Zimbabwe during the 2000-2008 period at the height of an
economic crisis, put off by Britain’s frosty ties with its former colony
after Mugabe’s often-violent grab of commercial farms belonging to white