BRITAIN has reportedly come up with a grand plan to steer Zimbabwe through its turbulent political transition centred on Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding President Robert Mugabe with a US$2 billion economic bailout underwriting the project, it has been established.
However, high-level diplomatic sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week the British project is facing fierce resistance here and abroad.
Western diplomats familiar with the deal say following Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) in June, big European powers, including Germany and France, are not supporting the British political designs in Zimbabwe.
Diplomats also say the Americans, the Chinese and South Africans – critical players on the Zimbabwe issue – have not endorsed the Mnangagwa plan.
In Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa is facing stumbling blocks from within the ruling Zanu-PF and opposition circles as he is widely seen as unappealing and unviable from a democratic and governance perspective.
The British, diplomats say, think Mnangagwa has the stature, is strong with military backing and decisive as well as being pro-reform and capital, hence best-suited to succeed Mugabe. It is also said they think they can do business with him even if it means a progressive authoritarianism model like the Chinese or Rwandese one.
His critics, however, say his political style and actions suggest he is cruel, dictatorial and will thus offer more of the same, if not worse, if he takes over from Mugabe.
Even then, diplomats say, the British are still pulling out all the stops behind the scenes rooting for Mnangagwa.
British ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing is said to have come to Harare in September 2014 with a mission to rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power.
“Since her arrival, Laing has been clearly pushing for re-engagement, not isolation of Zimbabwe,” a senior Western diplomat said.
“Her policy actions, moves and pronouncements have all been calculated to achieve that. Britain wants Zimbabwe to get the US$2 billion in new funding as part of the Lima debt and arrears clearance strategy despite its insistence on three conditions: human rights, good governance and rule of law and economic reforms. London is doing all it can to meet its side of the bargain, but Harare is faltering.”
During her speech at the Queen’s birthday party celebrations in Harare on June 9, Laing insisted on the re-engagement.
“In recent weeks we have seen a sharp acceleration in the economic difficulties faced by many Zimbabweans. There are no quick solutions, but we encourage the government to accelerate the process of re-engagement with the international community as part of tackling the fundamental economic challenges,” she said.
“We are on a journey and the destination is one we both want. I hope that during my last two years in Zimbabwe we can cover a great deal of distance in this journey.”
Laing’s tenure, which ends in 2017, has apparently been extended by one year for her to finish her project in 2018 when Zimbabwe holds the next elections.
Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa – who together with Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF faction are seen in London as reformers – is fronting the re-engagement process launched in Lima, Peru, in October last year.
The plan centres on Zimbabwe paying US$1,8 billion in arrears to preferred international financial institutions (IFIs) – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) – to unlock US$2 billion in new funding.
Britain and its allies want the institutions to give Zimbabwe money on human rights, rule of law and economic reform conditions, but the opposition lobby says pouring money into Zimbabwe without comprehensive reforms would not change anything.
While the AfDB and World Bank, in recent internal memos, sounded keen to give Zimbabwe money, the IMF in July indicated there was no rescue package on the table now. Current developments at the IMF headquarters in Washington DC, which the Independent is privy to, show the Bretton Woods institution is no longer enthusiastic about the Lima Plan.
“Britain, AfDB and World Bank remain optimistic, but the IMF has smelt the coffee and is now becoming cautious on Zimbabwe’s re-engagement strategy and its attendant political and economic dynamics,” a source in Washington DC said. “The situation is evolving fast and becoming more complicated, particularly because of the recent anti-government protests, lack of reforms, ruling party leadership issues and opposition lobby.”
Chinamasa has been around many countries since Lima in October last year – from Lusaka, to Rwanda to France, Belgium and Britain – to sell his plan.
However, lack of political, institutional and economic reforms at home and succession power struggles within Zanu-PF, as well as a strong opposition lobby, is threatening to sink the deal.
Presenting the mid-term fiscal policy review in parliament yesterday, Chinamasa – who came up with a raft of cost-cutting measures to rescue government from a deepening financial crisis – said the country’s arrears clearance roadmap remains on track after the IMF’s final Staff-Monitored Programme reforms.
However, diplomatic sources insisted the Lima Plan is almost dead in the water.
This has thrown Britain’s strategy to propel Mnangagwa into power into disarray.
“After Zanu-PF’s victory in the 2013 general elections and the resultant comprehensive recapture of the state, with the opposition MDC-T and other parties being pushed to the periphery, British officials during the David Cameron administration, in consultation with think-tanks and EU leaders, decided to re-engage Zimbabwe to resolve the protracted diplomatic stand-off,” a senior Western diplomat told the Independent this week.
“With the economic stakes very high, the engagement process between Zimbabwe and Britain, as well as the West in general included the lifting of EU targeted sanctions. There were pragmatic moves and talks behind the scenes.”
Influential British think-tanks like Chatham House or the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute based in London, which Number 10 Downing Street respects, according to diplomats, lobbied for the re-engagement strategy.
“The Zimbabwean government should take the initiative in normalising relations with the international community. It should seek to re-engage in international diplomatic and business forums, including seeking to rejoin the Commonwealth,” Chatham said in one of its research papers after the elections.
“Regional and international actors cannot continue to wait for regime change as a pre-requisite for constructive engagement. The problems in Zimbabwe are not unique to the country … normalisation of Zimbabwe’s international relations with the West is essential for economic recovery.”
Chatham House hosted Chinamasa on July 4 in London, at an international investment conference on Zimbabwe on July 5 and former finance minister Tendai Biti on July 6. Biti is leading the opposition lobby against the Lima Plan.
In its latest paper on Zimbabwe released yesterday, Chatham House, which has been hosting dialogue on the local crisis, continued to push for re-engagement.
“International partners must also show commitment by bringing fresh thinking to Zimbabwe’s current crisis and evolving transition to a post-Mugabe era. Beyond the potential of a major humanitarian and economic emergency within Zimbabwe, the wider region is less resilient than was the case in 2008, and an unstable Zimbabwe will have significant regional impact,” the think-tank says.
“International and regional governmental engagement does not guarantee the success of long-term reform, but continued isolation will almost certainly lead to the failure of reforms to take hold. A nuanced process of exerting political pressure balanced with the offer of support will reinforce the technocratic assistance provided by the IFIs, and will be fundamental to ensuring the effective use of any prospective concessional financing.”
British embassy spokesperson Tom Oppenheim yesterday said: “Media reports suggesting we back particular candidates are not accurate. Our position is clear. We do not and will not support any particular candidate, faction or party.
“Whoever governs Zimbabwe is a matter for the people of the country, our support for reform is not linked to any particular individual and the urgent need for reform need to be addressed by all politicians of all parties in this country.”
Mnangagwa was not available for comment.