ZIMBABWE is engaging India in its Commonwealth readmission bid, after a nasty fallout over human rights violations among other things following Harare’s chaotic land reform programme two decades ago.
The country quit the Commonwealth in 2003 after clashes between the club of mostly former British colonies and former president Robert Mugabe over policy conflicts, human rights abuses and violation of the group’s democratic values.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been seeking readmission into the grouping, since Mugabe was ousted in a military coup in 2017.
In December last year, a delegation of Zimbabwean parliamentarians visited India led by Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Mudenda on a lobbying mission.
Debating on the trip in parliament this week, Zanu PF legislator, Killion Gwanetsa said the trip wass important for Zimbabwe’s readmission into the Commonwealth.
“The visit to India is of paramount importance in terms of our posture as Zimbabwe. India is one of the prominent countries of the Commonwealth. The Second Republic under His Excellency, Dr. E. D. Mnangagwa, is so profound with the mantra ‘engagement and re-engagement’. Zimbabwe is in the process of finding itself back to the Commonwealth. India being one of those prominent countries, I think we get a leaf from the Indians,” Gwanetsa said.
“So the visit becomes quite important. India is renowned for having one of the longest serving Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dr Hussein Shitter Ramfer. With that at the back of India, I think we can find ourselves back to the Commonwealth and therefore, fulfilling His Excellency in terms of engagement and re-engagement. It is therefore very important that we have friendship; we have communication; we have cooperation with countries of that nature.
“Let me look at it in terms of international flare, India is a developing country. It is within the reams of countries within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Relationship with those developing countries, Zimbabwe is bound to get technological advancement in terms of development.
“Therefore, the visit at that level led by the Speaker, put bridges that we can emulate from the Indian perspective,” he said.
Mnangagwa has tried to manoeuvre his way into the Commonwealth by seeking help from other leaders in the region. Among others, he has engaged Rwanda President Paul Kagame to lobby for Zimbabwe’s return to the grouping of mostly former British colonies.
However, in September last year, Kagame told Mnangagwa that he needed to start convincing Zimbabweans “that things were fine before he convinces the international community” — on the sidelines of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Kigali, Rwanda.
“You need to work hard to change the perception, you cannot bribe your way through it, you cannot just sweet talk some people, even if they say ok, we agree with you, things will not be fine.
“The way the people of their own country feel about what is happening, it will always come out and before you even convince anyone from outside so that they cannot have a wrong perception about you, convince your own people,” Kagame said during the forum.
In January this year, the British House of Lords also debated Zimbabwe’s readmission emphasising that doing so without reforms, would severely damage the Commonwealth’s reputation, while undermining the country’s struggle for democracy and human rights.
“Although there have been some positive developments in recent years, they have not been as significant, rapid or numerous as many of us had hoped, especially post-president Mugabe. The country retains the death penalty and the rights and freedoms of women and girls are unequal, as they are for the LGBT community,” said Lord Leong of the UK Labour Party during the debate last year. Other British MPs have opted for Zimbabwe’s readmission to be based on how the country will hold the upcoming general election.
Mnangagwa has also been accused of stifling the civic space ahead of the general elections this year.
According to a 2022 report by think-tank, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) national freedom dipped into negative levels in 2021, with a 12.5% deterioration of the state of freedom of the public sphere during President Mnangagwa’s tenure in office, compared to 14.29% under Mugabe in 2017.
In November last year, the government approved amendments to the Criminal Law Codification Act that impose stiff penalties on those accused of campaigning against the country, which is likely to clampdown on human rights activists.
In December, amendments to the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill also sailed through Parliament, which would give the government power to control operations of non-governmental organisations, sparking an outcry from civil society.