Does Blair hold the key to Zim’s re-engagement with the West

Chris MahoveEditor

The brief engagement between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair in Kigali, Rwanda last week has raised questions on whether the erstwhile enemy of the country could be the key to Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the West after almost two decades of bitter relations.

President Mnangagwa and Blair shook hands and posed for a photo together in Kigali on the sidelines of an Africa Green Revolution Forum, in a gesture that surprised all and sundry given the acrimonious relationship that the former British Prime Minister had with Zimbabwe.

The former Labour Party leader was at the forefront of campaign for sanctions against Zimbabwe after the Southern Africa nation embarked on a fast track land reform programme to address colonial land imbalances.

But their meeting in Kigali, coupled with the gracious comments that Blair made about President Mnangagwa, raised hope among many that this could be the beginning of good things to come in terms of the Second Republic’s re-engagement efforts.

President Mnangagwa himself was optimistic, posting on his official Twitter handle after the meeting with Blair, that for Zimbabwe to flourish, bygones should be bygones.

“For Zimbabwe to flourish, we cannot let history hold us back. It was a pleasure to meet Tony Blair (@InstituteGC) and Baroness Scotland, Secretary General for the Commonwealth (@PScotlandCSG),” he tweeted

Self-exiled former ZANU PF politburo member and Cabinet Minister, Jonathan Moyo, said while the handshake by the two could have sent tongues wagging, their encounter could be the beginning of an and of the ZDERA sanctions.

“Blair could be the best key to undo Zdera; not only because he fueled it, but also because he has @JoeBiden ‘s ear. A “worst enemy” may be the “best solution”!” he tweeted.

Political Analyst Gideon Chitanga said the tweets and pictures on social media   were diplomatic optics which were paraded by the officials from the government of Zimbabwe for diplomatic advantage.

He said what was important other than the pictures were whether the officials from the side of the Zimbabwe government had formal engagements with Tony Blair and other Western officials.

“……in a way of trying to reduce the gap over the policy of the West towards Zimbabwe in the past ten years, which was similar to the general policy thrust or posture of the West centred on sanctions to push for respect of human rights and democracy and so on. So, for Zimbabwe what is key is to reduce the gap of ostracisation and engage with the commonwealth economically and politically,” he said.

Chitanga said Zimbabwe should also heed calls by Paul Kagame to focus on addressing the domestic socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe as a way of dealing with the sanctions posture or Western ostracisation and criticism. 

“I think what he captured aptly is that if and when the government of Zimbabwe is able to respond positively in addressing the socio-economic challenges, the West and the global community would not even need to talk over them but the Zimbabweans will be able to speak for themselves and say the country is improving,” he said.

Another analyst, Zunidza said the meeting between Tony Blair and President Mnangagwa had no end objective.

“In the first place the former British PM was just on a personal income-generating mission to augment his pension salary. He has no role to play in protecting Africa’s environment that he failed to execute while at 10 Downing Street,” he said.

He said in Blair, President Mnangagwa was dealing with the wrong person in terms of re-engagement as the Labour Party has not been in government for nearly a decade and would not have any influence on the Conservative government.

“That was is why Blair was generous with his praise for ED much against the British sentiment because he knows his word no longer carries any weight in London circles,” he said

In 1997, Blair’s Labour party government pulled out of talks to fund Zimbabwe’s land reforms in violation of the Lancaster House Agreement.

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