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'British govt sweating to get Zimbabwe back in the Commonwealth'

by Staff Reporter
09 Nov 2013 at 19:30hrs | Views
In a desperate bid to give the Commonwealth some measure of respect and relevance, the British government is once again sweating to have Zimbabwe back in the 53-member club which has been accused of espousing neo-colonial interests.

According to the state media 'Sunday Mail', the Government quickly made its position very clear last week, saying Zimbabwe has no intention or reason to join the grouping which is made up largely of former British colonies.

Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth in 2003 in protest against its treatment by key members of the club, especially Britain and Australia, over the land reform programme.

Since the pullout of Zimbabwe, the Commonwealth has lost relevance and, recently, the Gambia also pulled out of the grouping.

The matter regarding the return of Zimbabwe to the club, which came up for debate in the British House of Lords last month, is expected to be tabled at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, this Friday.

This would mark the second time in two years that the club discusses re-engaging Harare after the last Chogm in Perth, Australia, in 2011.

On October 17, Lord Richard Luce tabled a motion on the forthcoming Chogm, focusing on areas the British government sought to push at the meeting. Debate reached a crescendo when Lord David Hugh Alexander Hannay and Baron Hannay of Chiswick said the British government should "not abandon hope" that Zimbabwe would rejoin.

Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi joined in the two-and-a-half-hour debate, saying the Perth meeting "looked forward to conditions being created" for Zimbabwe to return to the Commonwealth.

She, however, said the matter would have to be tabled before the club, which mainly comprises former British colonies.

"The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, asked about Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011 agreed to look forward to the conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth and continue to encourage the parties to implement the global political agreement faithfully and effectively.

"Any application from Zimbabwe to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth would be a matter for all 53 countries to decide. It would be reviewed in the light of the Government of Zimbabwe addressing the issues of concern and the breaches of Commonwealth fundamental values which led to Zimbabwe's suspension and withdrawal, including the removal of repressive legislation and guarantees on the freedom of the Press."

Earlier in his contribution, Lord Hanny said there was a possibility that Zimbabwe would one day want to rejoin and would be able to do so.

Lord Anthony Tudor St John XXII, Baron St John of Bletso, chipped in, expressing his wish for the Southern African country to rejoin.

"Somewhat controversially, and despite the questionable recent election in Zimbabwe, I share the views of my noble friend, Lord Hannay, in that I hope the time will come when Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth family," he said.

"With the theme of this year's Chogm conference focused on growth, equity and inclusive development, this is a particularly important priority for the people of Zimbabwe where the unemployment rate is estimated to be running at 85 percent, with the majority trying to work in the informal sector."

Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth in 2003 in protest against Britain, Canada and Australia who all conspired to suspend the country from the club after Harare embarked on the Land Reform Programme.

However, there is a swelling lobby among developing nations in the Commonwealth pushing for greater democratic space for developing nations, especially following the recent withdrawal of the Gambia from the club after 48 years of membership.

Earlier this year, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced his country's withdrawal from the grouping, accusing Britain of openly backing the political opposition ahead of elections.

The Gambian leader said his country would "never be a member of any neo-colonial institution." In an interview last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha said Zimbabwe has no intention of going back into the Commonwealth.

With Chogm set to kick off this Friday, Ambassador Bimha said rejoining the Commonwealth was not on Government's agenda.

"Our Government is not a member of the Commonwealth because we opted out of the grouping voluntarily. So, we will not be held by any decision made by the organisation," he said.

"We are wondering why they would put Zimbabwe on their agenda given that we are not members of the organisation.

"Rejoining the Commonwealth is not on Government's agenda and there is no point in discussing the issue now whatsoever."

Commonwealth director (communications and public affairs) Mr Richard Uku failed to respond to questions sent by The Sunday Mail to his Marlborough House offices in London, England. "Thanks for your inquiry. I am in transit to Colombo. About to board a plane in Doha. I will respond to your questions later today," he said.

Further interrogation could only illicit the response, "I shall be away from the office from 7 to 18 November to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I will be back in the office on 20 November."

Political analyst Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri said Zimbabwe needs to reassess its position and see whether there are any benefits the country can gain from rejoining.

He said the organisation will have to make clear its terms of re-engagement.

"Even up to today, some countries are voluntarily moving out of the club as evidenced by the recent withdrawal of one African country (the Gambia) from the club. The Commonwealth is a club where members can voluntarily withdraw their membership just as Zimbabwe did.

"However, what Zimbabwe needs to do is to reassess its position and see whether there are benefits to be accrued from rejoining the group. We also need to look at the terms of readmission that will be set and weigh them with the situation that obtained back then.

"That is to look if anything has changed, in terms of the land reform, which they objected to and the alleged human rights violations.

"It would be ineffectual if Zimbabwe is to return when the terms which ostensibly led to its suspension in the first place have not been changed," Dr Mhiripiri said.

"The terms need to be made clear. If we are to join under the same terms as before it would mean we will be compromising our values and what we stand for as a nation.

"They need to make it clear now if they are now content with the land redistribution exercise or whether they still consider us a wayward and rogue state that they suspended during that time."

Source - Sunday Mail

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