PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has travelled 47 foreign trips since coming to power, in a re-engagement drive that has been bogged down by human rights abuses and failure to implement key political reforms, the 2022 Zanu PF central committee report has shown.
Mnangagwa was catapulted to power in 2017 by a military coup that ousted long-time president Robert Mugabe.
He has been under pressure to patch relations with the West, which has proven to be an uphill task, in view of his atrocious human rights record.
In July 2019, a team from The Commonwealth visited the country to assess Zimbabwe’s bid for readmission to the grouping of mostly former British colonies.
However, the readmission process has stalled, largely on account of the Zanu Pf government’s failure to implement geuine political reforms.
Zimbabwe has also failed to effect critical recommendations of the European Union election observer mission following a disputed 2018 general election that saw Mnangagwa win by a wafer-thin margin against opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa.
Political observers have already warned of a potentially chaotic 2023 poll if key reform issues remain unresolved.
A recent report by an independent public policy think-tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), has shown how the Mnangagwa administration is tightening a stranghold on rights by shutting civic space ahead of the polls.
The ZDI says Mugabe in certain democratic indicators fared much better than Mnangagwa. National freedom finally tipped into the negative in 2021, with a -12.5% deterioration of freedom of the public sphere during President Mnangagwa’s tenure in office, compared to 14.29% under Mugabe in 2017.
Regional trips and international summits
Mnangagwa made a lot of trips in a bid to propel his re-engagement drive in the region. In 2018, a few months after coming into power, Mnangagwa made a courtesy call on Angolan President Joao Lourenco, before flying to Namibia three days later for a bilateral meeting.
After that, he made five more regional visits before embarking on additional trips in an attempt to bridge the chasm between the Zanu PF government and the community of nations.
From January 23 to 26, he went to Davos, Switzerland, for the 48th annual session of the World Economic Forum, before making more flights to the China-Africa summit in September 2018 where President Xi Jingping urged Chinese companies to invest at least US$10 billion until 2028.
Chinese companies have been operating in the country — with some players in the extractive sector being implicated in human rights abuses with government collusion.
Engagement and re-engagement meetings
In January 2019, Mnangagwa went on official visits to Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, creating a new version of the “Look East” policy as the West continued insisting on the respect for human rights and other deliverables the Zimbabwean authorities had set fof themselves. It was whilst on this trip that fissures of discontent on the economic crisis facing the country would open.
At least eight people were killed and 25 others were wounded in violent clashes, amid protests triggered by steep fuel price hikes.
The government effected a 130% fuel price increase, prompting public outrage, with officials denouncing the protests as acts of terrorism.
The authorities deployed the military in Harare to patrol the streets and crush demonstrators, while the police rounded up countless citizens in a massive crackdown.
From then on, Mnangagwa made regional and continental trips to Botswana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Malawi, among others.
In January and March 2020, he attended the inauguration of his counterparts, Phillipe Nyusi of Mozambique and Haige Geingob of Namibia, before attending the February 2020 African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In October, Mnangagwa flew again to Azerbaijan for the Non-Aligned Movement and Russia-Africa summits in Sochi, Russia, before ending the year with the Africa-Caribbean Summit.
Enhancing the country’s image
The Zanu PF leader travelled to Mozambique in May 2020 to discuss instability in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado region caused by Islamic insurgents.
Mnangagwa did little to engage with the West, choosing instead to fly to regional and continental meetings — attending the February 2020 African Union summit in Ethiopia.
The late foreign affairs minister, Sibusiso Moyo, attended two virtual events: first with the British Foreign Commonwealth Office for Africa and the United States assistant for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy.
According to the central committee report, Mnangagwa attended four regional events in 2021, three of them being Tanzanian president John Magufuli’s funeral, the commissioning of Kazungula Bridge and the inauguration of Zambian leader Hakainde Hichilema.
Hichilema also invited Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
Engagement, re-engagement meetings, 2022
This year, Mnangagwa has already attended the EU-Africa summit to try and mend relations with the European Union.
Mnangagwa also attended the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the Southern African Development Community summit in Kinshasa, and the United Nations General Assembly in May, August and September respectively.
Despite that, re-engagement with the West has been fraught with immense difficulties as Mnangagwa’s government has been found wanting on the all-important scorecards of human rights, democracy and anti-corruption.