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Britain’s Zim conundrum

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TWO critical issues set to determine the future of Zimbabwe and the UK’s fractured relations bring to the fore the latter’s reckless policy on Harare. 

The UK has, in recent times, been unsuccessfully trying to strike a balance between maintaining its hostility towards Zimbabwe and, like other capitalist countries, laying its hands on the country’s resources. 

First was the largely expected ‘ruling’ by the UK High Court in London on the land issue in Zimbabwe. 

This was immediately followed by the curious timing of the influential Westminster Africa Business Group’s visit ‘to set up camp in Zimbabwe and open doors for British investments to come into the country’. 

While the two incidents are subtly connected, it was always a given that the UK would never abandon its hostile policy towards Zimbabwe without holding something against the country. 

Naturally, the land issue, the cause of friction between the two nations, would take precedence hence the anti-land reform judgment by the UK High Court on the eve of the Westminster Africa Business Group’s visit to Zimbabwe. 

More than two decades after the UK coerced its Western allies to politically and economically attack Zimbabwe over a bilateral issue of land reform, London finds itself in a self-inflicted political quagmire of whether to reach out to the country or not. 

The former seems to be taking precedence. 

And there are many reasons why this is happening that way. 

Several necessary changes to the global political economic infrastructure witnessed over the years, coupled with its embarrassing new status as the fading giant of the world’s political economy, have left the UK with the economic embarrassment of courting its former colonies. 

And Zimbabwe, the bastion of the much needed natural resources, represents British salvation. 

This is why the coming into the country of the Westminster Africa Business Group, as with several other British delegations in the past few months, must be understood in the context of their need for re-engagement with Zimbabwe. 

They came to pick up the pieces from where the two nations left things at the turn of the millennium. 

Since the late 1990s, Zimbabwe has maintained its stance on the need for the masses to gain control of their land and abundant natural resources. 

But from as far back as the Lancaster House Conference in late 1979, the British were not sincere on endorsing and eventually supporting land reform in Zimbabwe according to the agreements commitments made during that now infamous summit. 

On November 5 1997, the then British International Development Secretary, Claire Short, wrote a malicious letter to the former Minister of Agriculture, Kumbirai Kangai, that signalled the end of Zimbabwe-UK relations. 

In the letter, Short said the Labour Government in Britain led by the abrasive Tony Blair ‘without links to former colonial interests meant that Britain could not fund or support land reform in Zimbabwe’. 

“We do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the cost of land purchase in Zimbabwe,” Short wrote. 

“We are a diverse new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.” 

This would be followed by Blair’s attempt to economically paralyse Zimbabwe, a relentless onslaught that has lasted more than two decades. 

Consider the following: 

British Court ruling: back to the future 

When the British High Court in London ruled that Zimbabwe had to pay US$125 million compensation to two timber firms, Border Timbers and Hangani Development Company, for seizure of ‘their’ land during the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme, the British were simply asserting their disdain for the programme as well as looking to leverage on the ‘reconciliation’ discussions that will be taking place in the coming few months. 

The British wish to establish or claim ‘illegality’ of land reform. 

In her ruling on January 19 2023, British High Court Judge Julia Dias rejected Zimbabwe’s claim of State immunity from international arbitration cases. 

The implications of that ruling are, however, a moral victory for Zimbabwe, itself a victim of Western-imposed economic sanctions over land reform. 

While the ruling is likely to open a flurry of lawsuits against the Land Reform Programme, it also paves the way for Zimbabwe to sue the British government for colonial dispossession and illegal sanctions, among other heinous crimes visited on the people of Zimbabwe by Britain. 

Kenya’s Mau Mau grouping has already embarked on that route. 

And Zimbabwe, through Attorney- General Virginia Mabiza, has since indicated it will deploy legal options available to the ruling. 

Westminster Africa Business Group’s visit: Which side of the coin? 

Since the Second Republic, Zimbabwe has adopted the engagement and re-engagement thrust that is anchored on ‘friend to all and enemy to none’ policy. 

Which means the country is pursuing mutually beneficial relations with all countries across the globe. 

This also means that whatever engagement Zimbabwe embarks on with any country must benefit the masses. 

The meeting between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Westminster Africa Business Group on Wednesday last week was thus premised not only on taking the engagement and re-engagement drive further, but also sought to bring development to the people of Zimbabwe on equal partnerships. 

And the British are aware of what Zimbabwe brings to their table. 

“I do not think that we have always been a world trading nation but since Brexit, since we left the European Union, I think there has been a greater emphasis on the need to look across the world in trade, increase our trade, increase our share of the trade across the world and we are doing this in a number of countries but we are very pleased to be doing this in Zimbabwe,” said the Westminster Africa Business Group chairman and member of the ruling and pro-Zimbabwe Conservative Party in the UK, Laurence Robertson. 

“We are here to pay a courtesy call on the President and a number of other Ministers with a view to looking at how we can increase trade, co-operation and friendship between our two countries.” 

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Pete Vowels has indicated that his country will be involved in Harare’s Debt Restructuring Programme. 

This is in sharp contrast to the largely expected move by the US to pull out of the debt relief programme. 

The British have the simple choice of abandoning their anti-Zimbabwe policy and lobbying their allies for the total removal of their debilitating illegal sanctions. 

The choice is theirs but, in the meantime, Zimbabwe forges ahead with its development agenda. 

Let those with ears listen. 

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