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Glasgow trip a missed opportunity

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PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s visit to Glasgow, Scotland, was a missed opportunity for Zimbabwe to meaningfully engage world leaders on climate matters, but instead he reduced the all-important summit to optics and grandstanding on re-engagement with the West, analysts have said.

NYASHA CHINGONO

This comes as neighbouring South Africa secured a US$8.5 billion deal from the United Kingdom, United States and the European Union to curb high carbon emissions and develop new renewable energy projects.

On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s leader returned home empty-handed. While South Africa was scoring big in climate change initiatives, Mnangagwa was relishing photo opportunities with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.

Mnangagwa arrived back home yesterday in pomp and fanfare, to thousands of bused supporters celebrating a “successful” re-engagement drive. While the world was seized with pressing climate change issues, which include funding mechanisms for migration from coal to more sustainable energy, Mnangagwa was looking to mend relations with the West.

 Mnangagwa went on a charm offensive, which yielded little to finally shake off Zimbabwe’s pariah tag, according to analysts.

“Basically, in British terms, and in terms of contact with other high-level delegations to COP26, the Mnangagwa visit accomplished almost nothing. It seemed under-planned, without a clear strategy, and without any discernible lobbying or media expertise. It was a very expensive trip with no concrete results,” political analyst Stephen Chan said.

 Mnangagwa’s regime maintains that the 79-year-old scored major diplomatic goals, which include steps towards normalisation of relations with the West. Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, Scotland, government communications teams went into overdrive, suggesting Mnangagwa’s invite to COP26 was a major endorsement of his re-engagement drive.

At a media briefing in Glasgow, Mnangagwa admitted that he had used the climate summit to engage world leaders, who have maintained a tough stance on the southern African nation.

Mnangagwa, who lost the goodwill of the UK in 2019 after a spate of state-sponsored violence on citizens that included the killing of dozens of protesters, said his engagements with Western leaders were meant to “correct” the “wrong” narrative on Zimbabwe.

“I am very pleased that the narrative about Zimbabwe which was misleading, it was an opportunity to give the correct perspective about the situation in Zimbabwe and I am happy that with all the leaders I interacted with there was a very positive response and they are very willing to grow relations with Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said.

He said Johnson had agreed to dispatch to Harare the UK minister for Africa. “I had three seperate chats with him and I feel relations between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom are set to improve as a result of the chemistry that I see now developing between the two countries. I have no doubt that his minister of Africa is likely to come to Zimbabwe as we made some discussion. I think that will trigger the pace of normalisation of relations,” Mnangagwa said.

Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive has gone off rails over the past three years, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars on public relations firms which have tried in vain to spruce up the country’s battered image.

The UK had remained Zimbabwe’s major cheerleader until January 2019 when Mnangagwa’s regime went on a rampage, killing 17 citizens, bruitalising dozens while many were displaced during widespread riots over rising fuel prices.

The goodwill evaporated when the then minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, declared that the UK would no longer support Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth and the country’s attempt to woo back foreign funders.

She expressed dissatisfaction with Mnangagwa’s failure to act on badly-needed political and economic reforms. In the aftermath of last month’s bloody military crackdown, the President said any soldier found to have committed crimes would be brought to book.

Baldwin had earlier promised to support Harare’s return to the Commonwealth. Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the club of mostly former British colonies in 2003 after the bloc condemned the callous killings of white farmers at the height of land reforms and presidential polls marred by violence.

Since then, Britain has slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions, with the latest being February this year. Since the coup that toppled longtime-leader Robert Mugabe, but behind the scenes, the UK had been campaigning for Zimbabwe’s debt clearance plan and mediating with international financial institutions to support a bailout for Harare.

Mnangagwa also revealed he had spoken to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “To Justin Trudeau of Canada I said, ‘can you tell me, Mr Prime Minister, what offence the people of Zimbabwe have committed against Canada because we do not know of any offence committed by Canadians against Zimbabweans’ and in the end I invited him to come to Zimbabwe, but he said no. In the end he said it would be better that he sends in a minister and thereafter we can develop a relations.”

Chan said Mnangagwa’s visit had no significance for the country’s re-engagement drive which has gone off track in the past three years.

“Most of the British public had no idea Mnangagwa was visiting Britain. There were a huge number of important world leaders gathered briefly together in one place and many of them said important things about the environment — which is what the COP26 was all about,” Chan said.

He added: “In terms of re-engagement initiatives while in Britain, there was no impact whatsoever.” Chan chided Mnangagwa’s communication team for failing to seize the moment through global Press engagement and securing the President interviews with big media houses.

“Whereas other world leaders bombarded the Press with news releases and their media specialists almost begged for inclusion on the big interview shows, none of my journalist friends reported any such outreach from Mnangagwa’s people,” he said.

While other world leaders made headlines, the Zimbabwean delegation hogged the limelight for booze and partying in Glasgow. Images of Zanu PF supporters clad in party regalia and pushing trolleys full of expensive booze were a public relations disaster for Mnangagwa.

The “raise a glass to save the planet” headlines hogged UK media as Information secretary Nick Mangwana defended the beerfest on social media. Chan said besides addressing merrymaking Zanu PF supporters and a group of investors, Mnangagwa’s itinerary did not involve high-profile engagements with the ability to help the country’s re-engagement drive.

“Zambia’s Hichilema, for instance, secured a prime speaking slot with the Royal African Society. Ambassadorial and ministerial personnel will likely attend. But there seems to have been no effort to secure prestigious speaking venues for Mnangagwa,” he said.

He also tore into Mnangagwa’s assertions that he had made meaningful contact with Johnson.

“There were no secret side meetings between Mnangagwa and Boris Johnson and, as far as I know, no side meetings involving senior personnel in the Zimbabwean delegation with senior personnel in the UK Foreign Office. My Foreign Office friends report no such activity or efforts to initiate any side meetings,” Chan said, adding that despite Mnangagwa’s grandstanding, any re-engagement with the West would have to be premised on genuine political reforms.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure however believes Mnnagagwa’s visit to Glasgow was potentially game-changing, depending on the regime’s post-Glasgow behaviour. “Whatever lenses one looks at this, it is beyond doubt that this is a momentous development for a regime long regarded as a pariah state by the Western international community. It is potentially game-changing, depending on the post-Glasgow behaviour of the ED regime,” Masunungure said.

He added that the clash between the Look East Policy adopted in 2003 when Zimbabwe exited the Commonwealth and the Western re-engagement drive was inevitable, as such Mnangagwa should guard against old timers in his party who may deliberately scuttle his new thrust. Masunungure admits that Glasgow has injected new impetus in Zimbabwe’s foreign policy.

“The West had been driven to the position that ED was incapable of fulfilling his own agenda and his own promises and that he was no different from his master, Robert Mugabe. Now, Glasgow has injected some impetus and some enthusiasm on both sides but, as I have said already, the onus is on ED to drive the momentum forward. He has more to gain from behaving properly,” he said.

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