By BLESSINGS MASHAYA in Harare
THE prospects of Zimbabwe’s relations with the United Kingdom (UK) improving ahead of the fast-approaching 2023 national elections now appear very remote.
This comes as many influential people in both London and Harare are once again increasingly resorting to megaphone diplomacy in their engagements — where they make immoderate pronouncements regarding matters of disagreement through public platforms, including social media, with the aim of forcing the other side into adopting their desired position.
Political analysts who spoke to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday said the development showed that relations between the two countries were deteriorating towards the “acrimonius factory settings” which obtained in the last few years in power of the late former president Robert Mugabe.
The latest war of words between Zimbabwe and the UK has been sparked by last week’s sharp criticism of Harare’s willingness to hold free and fair elections next year by British lawmakers.
Both President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, and Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said angrily yesterday that Harare would not brook any nonsense from outsiders who wanted to interfere in the country’s affairs, including how the 2023 elections would be conducted.
Charamba told the Daily News On Sunday that it was clear that the UK had already taken a position on Zimbabwe’s looming elections before they had even been held.
In this regard, he said, it appeared pointless to allow British observers into the country to be part of groups that would monitor the polls.
Charamba cited the fierce criticism of the government by British MPs as evidence of London’s bias — which he said betrayed their “fear” that the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and its leader Nelson Chamisa would be thrashed by Zanu PF and Mnangagwa in the polls.
“We should just disqualify them from observing our polls. They appear to have the results before the poll dates. They have prejudged the elections.
“So, it will be superfluous for them to come and observe elections about which they have already made a conclusion.
“They are just showing their anxiety over the alignment of forces in the country. They obviously know that Zanu PF is at its strongest and they fear that their puppets will make a poor showing. This is noise meant to assist CCC, but it will not change anything,” Charamba said.
“But whether they like it or not, and whatever the results of the elections, the Zanu PF government and the British government will have to engage. There is no other option.
“It’s not a favour that they are doing us. It’s the recognition of historical relations, bilateral relations,” he added.
On his part, Ziyambi accused the British lawmakers of trying to influence the trial of opposition legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, who have been languishing in prison with 13 other CCC activists after being arrested in June for allegedly inciting public violence.
“What happened to Sikhala is that the court process is being followed, but they want to discuss the issues which are before the courts and it’s against the tenets of the rule of law.
“Zimbabwe is not an extension of the UK, so they can’t go into their parliament and discuss issues to do with Zimbabwe,” he fumed.
“They have nothing to do with Zimbabwe’s elections and we don’t want them to be election observers because they are already showing their colours.
“We have our own laws that we follow. On Sikhala, they want to influence public opinion. They must wait for due process.
“We are an independent country and we must do our things without interference. They must just zip their mouths. No outsider can decide Zimbabwe’s future,” Ziyambi also said.
At the same time, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) spokesperson, Jasper Mangwana, said the national elections management body would resist attempts by outsiders to determine the outcome of the 2023 elections.
“We resist any attempt by outside forces to control the narrative of our electoral processes, especially before they have been proclaimed.
“We totally condemn this conduct which seeks to undermine in advance the credibility of our 2023 harmonised elections. It is tantamount to writing a report before the elections.
“Our electoral processes are guided by our laws which the commission has always adhered to and will continue to do so,” Mangwana said.
The British lawmakers had claimed last week that next year’s elections would not be free and fair, citing rising reports of political violence and the government’s alleged failure to implement political reforms which were recommended after the 2018 elections.
Contributing to debate in the British House of Lords, the UK’s Minister of State and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office — Zac Goldsmith — said limited progress had been made in implementing those electoral reforms.
“We recognise that there has been only very limited progress to date on the electoral reforms recommended in the 2018 paper.
“Key outstanding areas include a transparent voter registration process, publication of an accurate voter’s roll, transparent use of State-owned resources and more effort to demonstrate the independence of the electoral commission.
“This remains a priority in our discussions with not just Zimbabwe, but neighbouring countries as well,” Goldsmith said while responding to legislators.
Another lawmaker, Robert Hayward, also cast doubts about the implementation of demanded reforms.
“At that time (2018 elections), I was one of the observers from this country on behalf of the Commonwealth, with the noble baroness, Lady Jay.
“The report was pretty damning, particularly in relation to the events after the general election. Can my noble friend ensure that very strong representations are made to the electoral commission because it has been lamentable in any action.
“There is no sign that it will enforce any form of free and fair elections next year. My Lords, reference has already been made to the elections in 2018,” Hayward said.
The legislators also suggested that they should take advantage of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s forthcoming visit to the UK to engage with a view of influencing the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.
“The noble baroness has been a champion of Zimbabwe for many years, and I pay tribute to her for that. She is right to identify this upcoming visit as an opportunity.
“There is no doubt that SA, and indeed southern African countries, not least through Sadc, have a particular ability to influence Zimbabwe, far more so than we can.
“I am sure that the topic we are discussing today will be on the agenda when the visit happens,” Goldsmith added.
“My Lords, the UK is concerned by the trend of lengthy pre-trial detention of government critics in Zimbabwe. We are monitoring the ongoing detention of the MPs Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole.
“As the ambassador publicly stated on 2 October, the UK is committed to the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association as enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution.
“Political parties, journalists and opponents should be able to operate without any form of harassment. We regularly call for the rights of freedom of assembly and association, as well as the rule of law and due process to be respected in line with Zimbabwe’s own constitution.
“All political violence is concerning and violence against women in politics is of particular concern, particularly in Zimbabwe.
“The world is watching and of course the UK is deeply concerned by the challenging human rights situation in Zimbabwe,” Goldsmith said further. Daily News