THE United Kingdom lawmakers have exposed former British ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing over Zanu PF links and misleading the government into believing President Emmerson Mnangagwa, then the late former president Robert Mugabe’s deputy, was a pragmatist ahead of the 2017 coup and the 2018 harmonised elections.
Laing was the UK ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2014 and oversaw the transition from the Mugabe administration to the Mnangagwa regime while supporting Zanu PF and allegedly misleading London.
Debating in the UK Parliament last week, the British MPs said despite glaring misgivings on Mnangagwa’s capacity to usher in a new era divorced from human rights violations, corruption and other vices, their former ambassador, now the country’ top diplomat in Nigeria, was surprisingly close to Zanu PF, particularly Mnangagwa.
Laing was accused of failing to give reports on the real situation on the ground ahead of the coup and the 2018 elections.
Kate Hoey, member of the House of Lords in the UK, told the House that they visited Zimbabwe together with other lawmakers ahead of the 2018 elections and wrote a “depressing report” that also indicated how surprised they were of Laing’s close Zanu PF ties.
“In 2018, just before the last presidential election I, along with the right honourable Conor Burns, visited Zimbabwe to write a report for the UK branch of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on the possibilities of a free and fair election and the chances of Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth,” Hoey said.
“We did not put Zimbabwe out, of course: it left. It was a depressing report. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (Zec) was not impartial and the voter roll was inadequate, for starters. The constitution was being ignored, so we wrote of our disappointment and surprise that our ambassador at that time seemed to be so close to the ruling Zanu PF party,” she said.
However, Hoey saluted the current UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, for doing a great job.
“I have to say that the current ambassador is doing a great job and is widely respected,” Hoey added.
She said they sounded warnings that Mnangagwa was not a reformist and likely to perpetuate Mugabe’s heavy-handedness.
“Many of us in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe at that time tried to warn of the danger and futility of expecting change from Mnangagwa. Not for nothing is he known as the crocodile. We were dismissed by some as needlessly pessimistic and lacking understanding of his desire to change but, as forecast, the pattern set by Mugabe was carried forward with sustained intensity and vigour, complying with plans cunningly crafted with the help of the military. Those had been planned for some time. Unfortunately too many of the agencies working in the country and too many diplomats initially fell for his lies and rather evil charm,” Hoey said.
“We were told that a new chapter of peace, economic efficiency and prosperity would be opened up. They have certainly opened up a new chapter, but it is the same horror story of corruption, greed and violent oppression. The only expertise Zanu PF has ever shown, I am afraid, is in brutality, lying, theft and terror.”
In 2018, Laing was forced to deny Hoey and Burns’ allegations that she showed bias towards Mnangagwa and mocked then MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa in the run-up to the elections.
She was also under fire for being aloof following the army-led 1 August 2018 shootings that killed six unarmed civilians.
“We were disappointed at how every element of civil society and politicians outside Zanu PF had the belief that the UK embassy — and in particular the ambassador is biased in favour of the incumbent regime,” the report read.
“Huge offence was taken that our ambassador wore a Mnangagwa scarf outside 10 Downing Street earlier this year on her visit to the UK. This offence and fear of bias was compounded when the first person to re-tweet it from his official account was Mnangagwa himself.”
“The embassy organised a dinner for us to meet some Zimbabweans and we found that most were supporters of Zanu PF. Indeed prior to the dinner the ambassador was openly ridiculing the leader of the MDC-Alliance,” the two MPs said in their critical report.
On 5 August 2018, Laing took to microblogging site Twitter to deny reports of ridiculing Chamisa.
“I certainly did not ridicule Chamisa who I recognize as a major political figure in Zimbabwe. I believe he and I have a good relationship and we meet regularly. We had a good meeting just before election, discussing his plans if he won, and we spoke soon after,” she said.
In 2016, even the late former MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai warned of the Western diplomats’ views on Mnangagwa as a reformist in apparent reference to Laing.
“I was with one of the ambassadors who was talking about Mnangagwa being a pragmatist, but I said he is a pragmatist on other issues, but a hardliner on issues of governance and democracy,” he said then.
“Mnangagwa’s statement confirms that he is a hardliner, he has always been and not the reformist and pragmatist that some in the diplomatic community have begun to think he is.”
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