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Hopewell Chin’ono: The loss of Britain’s support is the end of Zimbabwe’s Western reengagement dream

By Hopewell Chin’ono

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ascendency to power was partly made possible by Britain’s subtle and yet bold support for his Lacoste group, after it had convinced the former colonial power that they would bring the change needed to this battered and bruised country.

Catriona Laing with Mnangagwa
The then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa shares a lighter moment with the then British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Ms Catriona Laing when she paid a courtesy call at his Munhumutapa offices in Harare in May 2016. – (Picture by Believe Nyakudjara)

Many countries in the West were simply tired of Robert Mugabe’s eccentric and autocratic rule.

They looked to Britain for a signal when the coup operation started in November of 2017, the so-called Operation Restore Legacy.

Britain gave the nod through the many interviews that its establishment figures like Nick Soames put out in favor of the coup and specifically speaking well of the current President, they even called Emmerson Mnangagwa the reformer that Zimbabwe needs.

Catriona Laing, a feisty lady who believed that President Mnangagwa would make a vast difference and turn the corner for the country and relations between the two countries, led Britain’s embassy in Harare.

She gave Lacoste unprecedented support by not standing in the way and by not lumping them together with G40, a faction that underpinned Mugabe’s interests.

Catriona must be thoroughly deflated too in Abuja where she is now Britain’s High Commissioner to Nigeria.

The Emmerson Mnangagwa regime has let her down badly and thrown away all the hard work she put in place over the years she was Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe.

Catriona Laing genuinely loves Zimbabwe, she even adopted a beautiful black girl, her only child.

It is even worse when her parliamentarians are now accusing her of being “…too cosy to ZANU PF.”

In this the attached video from the UK Parliamentary TV, Nick Soames who is a ruling Conservative party MP in the British parliament speaks in very strong terms against Mnangagwa and his regime, and he even suggests that all the killings and the violence that took place under Mnangagwa were predetermined.

The full UK Parliament Zimbabwe Debate:

https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/1d5bcc85-bc13-42dd-9e2f-f6acb22f7750?in=14:30:00&out=14:53:49

The shortened version

It is important to note that Nick Soames retains a very close connection to Zimbabwe through his late father, Lord Christopher Soames who was the British governor who handed over power to Robert Mugabe in 1980.

Lord Soames also superintended the election that ushered Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

I remember that Nick Soames came to Harare in the first week of October in 2017, a month before the coup.

He had a dinner hosted for him at the British ambassador’s residency where some of the Lacoste team members were invited and they made their representations and explained how their man was different.

A British politician told me that Soames was thoroughly impressed by what they said to him at that dinner, something that he now calls a deceptive show of lies.

Nick Soames is not just an ordinary British politician, he is Winston Churchill’s grandson and is best friends with the future King of Britain, Prince Charles.

His mother, Lady Mary was Winston Churchill’s daughter, the last born of the revered former British wartime Prime Minister’s five children.

So what Lacoste and the current President’s people failed to understand was that Catriona Laing had opened a direct line for them into the heart of the British establishment.

Our friends in ZANUPF are so inward looking and they always think local and as I have always said here, they don’t see the relatedness of things in global politics.

They also don’t visualize the future and understand that they can still be wealthy and also still run a thriving economy where citizens are doing well too.

The fact that the President and his group have now lost the support of Nick Soames and the British establishment is the beginning of their undoing internationally and it scuttles all their talk of reengagement, it is now mere rhetoric.

It just won’t happen, if Britain is not on the table, there won’t be any reengagement with the West and there won’t be any fulfillment of joining the Commonwealth without Britain’s support.

The hawks in ZANUPF will be too happy to hear this miserable news because they are parochial and narrow in their outlook, they think about only two thinks, power retention and crude accumulation of wealth.

Why is Britain important to Zimbabwe today and before?

It is the former colonial power, and as a former US ambassador to Zimbabwe put it to me, they look to Britain for direction on Zimbabwe.

That is why when Britain gave a clean bill of health to the coup, the rest of the Western world went along with it following Britain’s lead.

“Zimbabwe is Britain’s problem and baby, we will listen to them, what they have to say is very important to us, and it forms half of what will end up happening from Western capitals regarding Zimbabwe,” the envoy told me years ago.

Now the tragic failure by the Mnangagwa administration to service this relationship that helped them get into office shows a catastrophic failure in understanding world politics.

As I have always said here, this failure is underpinned by gross incompetence and partly by nepotism that has seen people appointed to important positions not on merit but on clan based considerations.

Another British establishment figure that has turned his back on Mnangagwa’s government is Lord Peter Hain, former British Minister for Africa under Tony Blair.

Lord Hain wouldn’t stop talking up Emmerson Mnangagwa before the July 30 elections, and he even agreed to chair a board of companies for an outfit owned by the President’s close associate, Zunaid Moti.

Lord Hain came to Harare in May with Zunaid Moti to meet the President, today he too is publicly rebuking Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government.

Lord Hain said recently that, “Mugabe went, but despite the change that Emmerson Mnangagwa promised, the (Mugabe) regime lives on.”

The problem with the President’s team is not that they are lacking in advice, their problem is the failure to separate SELF from the STATE, and the failure to understand that criticism forms a bigger part of building their man to becoming a successful President.

They prefer sycophants that tell them that all is alright, that in itself is a classic reflection of a total lack of leadership qualities and an ability to be self assured and not feel insecure when an opposing view is put on the table.

It is a classic Fragile Minds syndrome that unfortunately runs deep in our society, as Oliver Mtukudzi said in 2017, a strong man has a strong wife at home, and the opposite is true, a weak man has a weak wife at home.

Change “man” for “government” and “woman” for “advisors and supporters” and you will clearly understand where our problem of thinking lies.

Secure and successful societies allow divergent views to be put on the table for discussion, the distillation of such opposing views is what has made such societies successful, strong and self assured!

As I have often argued here, we are not yet in a new dispensation and there is NO second republic to talk of yet, folks that peddle those comical references are either sycophants driven by personal self interest and stomach issues are they are ignorant of what a New Dispensation or Second Republic actually means.

We have been foolishly punching above our weight on the world stage calling big countries like the US and the UK names and providing one minute laughs when Mugabe spoke, but that has come to punish us severely and it has created a broken country and society.

Bigger countries with bigger economies and genuine fights with the West know when to talk and how to talk to countries like the US.

You either chose to sable rattle like what we do and go to bed on an empty stomach or engage meaningfully like what China, India, Japan and many other proper world economies do when they have serious issues of contention with the US.

Their understanding of the worldview has allowed them to grow exponentially whilst we have regressed to the 60s.

All this liberation rhetoric is mere cover up for a group of people who have failed to govern, all this sanctions talk reflects a group of people who have no capacity to solve problems.

The mere fact that we are failing to understand that we need to reform what Mugabe left in place in order for us to create a new type of a relationship with the world is an indictment on our capacity to move this country forward.

Losing the support of people like Nick Soames and Peter Hain simply reflects how we are oblivious to what we need to do whether through hook or crook to move the country forward, we are clueless and we need HELP!

You don’t reinforce a thinking that makes your enemy’s argument cogent and reasonable, which is what the Mnangagwa government is currently doing.

Understanding that reality is the beginning of wisdom, but do they care?

They will still harp on about a liberation war won 40 years ago and they will throw mud at their critics for being either colonialists and imperialists and local critics as surrogates of the colonialists and imperialists.

That is how cheap the discourse has become, from the Edison Zvobgos, Herbert Ushewekunzes, Bernard Chidzeros, Chris Ushewekunzes, Simon Mazorodzes to what we have today, mere power retention and crude wealth accumulation merchants.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.

He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.

Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France. You can watch the documentary trailer below.

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