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Commonwealth: Zim seeks readmission

02/12/2017 00:00:00
by The Times

ZIMBABWE has begun talks with the UK about being readmitted to the Commonwealth as the new government attempts to burnish its international reputation.

It was suspended in 2002 over political violence against opponents of the Mugabe regime. Discussions about a return under the administration of Emmerson Mnangagwa, sworn in as president on Friday, have already taken place, according to diplomats.

Membership of the Commonwealth brings both economic and political support; for example, the Commonwealth secretariat assists member states with election monitoring, and there are immigration privileges in the UK.

Zimbabwe hopes membership will open the way to more trade and investment, especially loans.

Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said: “It doesn’t involve them in any real commitments except agreeing to the principles of the Commonwealth. For a lot of states, it’s a kitemark of respectability.”

The 52 Commonwealth states would all have to endorse an application for Zimbabwe to be readmitted. Three other members have re-entered in the past: Pakistan in 1989, South Africa in 1994 and Fiji in 1997.

The Commonwealth countries — most but not all of which were once British colonies — each have an equal say at the heads of government meeting, which takes place every two to three years. “For a small state it makes sense to be a member of as many organisations as it can be,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, the think tank.

However, doubts remain about the suitability of Zimbabwe’s new administration for readmission. Mnangagwa was a long-time ally of Mugabe and oversaw the security forces which massacred poliical opponents and suppressed opposition for decades.

A week ago Ignatius Chombo, Mugabe’s finance minister, appeared in court in Harare on charges of corruption and abuse of power. His lawyer said yesterday that he had been beaten in custody, although the police have denied this. He was among a number of ministers close to the ousted president who were arrested after the army takeover that led to Mugabe’s resignation last Tuesday.

The corruption charges against Chombo relate to alleged offences dating back more than a decade. He was expected back in court today for a bail hearing.


Separately, the High Court has ruled that the military takeover was legal. “The actions of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to stop the usurping of power by those close to former president Robert Mugabe are constitutional,” the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation quoted the court as saying.

The court also ruled that Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa from his position as vice-president — the event that triggered the coup — was “null and void”.

Mr Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who had been vying to succeed him until the army stepped in, are thought to have been given immunity from prosecution.

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