ZIMBABWE’s ongoing engagement and re-engagement drive which recently went a step further through the UK’s invitation of President Emmerson Mnangagwa to attend King Charles III’s Coronation will come to full fruition only when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledges his role in tarnishing the country’s global image.
From repudiating agreements made at the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 to cajoling the Western world to cut diplomatic and political ties with the country, to founding and funding the opposition and attempting a military invasion on Harare, Blair has a moral and political obligation to undo the damage he wrought on Zimbabwe.
Blair’s anti-Zimbabwe project was anchored on protecting the British Empire’s interests in Harare, primarily the vast tracts of land that were owned and controlled by a mere 4 000 white commercial farmers, most of whom were of British origin, against the masses.
That meant stonewalling Lancaster House pledges by the British of redressing colonial imbalances by availing funding for land reform in Zimbabwe.
“I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe,” said Blair’s new Labour Party Secretary for International Development Claire Short in a November 5 1997 letter to then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Kumbirai Kangai.
The Blair administration had assumed office on May 2 1997.
Short went on, in that letter, claiming that since she too came from a colonial background, she and her government would not play a part in paying the required money to her kith and kin:
“We are a 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,” Short said.
“If we look to the present, a number of specific issues are unresolved, including the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid. Clearly it would not help the poor people of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.”
With that arrogant letter, relations between Britain and Zimbabwe would never be the same again.
At the Commonwealth Summit in Durban, South Africa, in 1999, former President Robert Mugabe gave a blunt assessment of the Blair administration.
“The Conservatives were more mature. This government is inexperienced. I am not the only Commonwealth leader who believes that,” he said.
Blair would also go on to endorse the opposition MDC whose ill-fated formation on September 11 1999 was meant to topple the Government of Zimbabwe through what they called, and still call, regime change agenda which the West has been pursuing since then.
It was also meant to stall land reform in the country.
In 2000, Zimbabwe would embark on the revolutionary Land Reform and Resettlement Programme which infuriated Blair and his Western allies.
Blair then cajoled the West to impose illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and lobbied vigorously for Harare’s isolation from the international community.
On December 21 2001 and February 18 2002, the US and EU slapped Zimbabwe with illegal economic sanctions which sparked the annihilation of the country’s economy.
Blair’s legacy is firmly steeped in those vile sanctions which have since stifled Zimbabwe’s participation as a key player in both political and economic spheres in the world.
That is not all.
There was chatter in the early 2000s in Zimbabwe about a possible military invasion by the British; something which former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki confirmed in 2013 when he revealed that Blair had asked him to look at the possibility of invading Zimbabwe with the support of his country.
The Telegraph of August 29 2002 reported that the elite British commandos, the Special Air Service, had reconnoitred the border between South Africa in preparation for possible evacuation of British citizens in Zimbabwe.
But not everyone in Britain was amused with the way Blair went on about business on the Zimbabwean matter.
Boris Johnson, an enthusiastic cheerleader of the British Empire and another former British Prime Minister, had no kind words for Blair over the way he handled Zimbabwe’s land reform.
Writing in a column for The Telegraph in 2015, Johnson said Blair had messed up the whole programme.
“The British Government agreed to fund the arrangement, compensating the former colonial farmers for the land that they gave up. Under that arrangement, the white farmers were able to survive — more or less; Zimbabwe remained economically viable — more or less,” wrote Johnson.
“And then, in 1997, along came Tony Blair and New Labour, and in a fit of avowed anti-colonialist fervour, they unilaterally scrapped the arrangement.”
And then there was the politics, which Blair messed up too through his incessant interference in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.
In June 2004, he told the British Parliament that his government was working with the MDC to effect regime change in Zimbabwe through illegal means.
“We work closely with the MDC to put pressure for change on the Mugabe regime,” he said.
Blair was, of course, wrong on everything he tried to do against Zimbabwe.
This is because there is an inherent tendency among Western countries to underestimate the resolve of Africans in defending their territorial integrity as well as sovereignty.
And this is precisely why Zimbabwe has since remained standing and navigating through the jagged sanctions terrain.
Fresh in the minds of progressive Zimbabweans, who constitute the majority, are the horrors of colonialism and the liberation struggle.
That emboldens them to defend their motherland at all costs.
As such, Blair still has to clean that mess and he has made the right steps towards that goal through his successive meetings with the country’s leadership.
However, that Blair has remained mum on the core of the issue is itself not surprising.
Within the corridors of British power, there is still belief, albeit faint, that they could somehow sneak in behind the back door using CCC which is headed for a crushing defeat in the 2023 harmonised elections.
Blair’s work is premised on two critical issues.
First, vigorous lobbying for thawing of political and diplomatic relations with the same people he wheedled to launch an onslaught on Zimbabwe: Second is the lobbying for the removal of economic sanctions against the country.
As Blair finally comes to terms with the fact that his mission was a monumental flop, it is now incumbent upon him to right the wrongs he did.