'Zim should rejoin Commonwealth'

HARARE - Zimbabwe must rejoin the Commonwealth as there are plenty of opportunities to resurrect the country’s economy, analysts and opposition parties have said. 

The Commonwealth — whose nations represent nearly one-third of the world’s seven billion people — banned former president Robert Mugabe from its decision-making council in 2002, after he was accused of using massive force and fraud to win re-election at home.

When the Commonwealth sought to extend Zimbabwe’s suspension at its summit in Nigeria in 2003, Mugabe swiftly quit the 53-nation club.

However, opposition parties and analysts said there is need for Zimbabwe to re-join the Commonwealth.

“ MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said: Zimbabwe should actually re-join the Commonwealth of Nations like yesterday. There are plenty of benefits that the country will derive from rejoining. Our citizens will be eligible for sports and academic scholarships that are offered under the auspices of the Commonwealth.

“In addition, there are plenty business opportunities that our entrepreneurs will access if Zimbabwe rejoins the Commonwealth. That is the main reason why even countries that are not former British colonies such as Mozambique and Cameroon have applied to join the Commonwealth.”

Another opposition party, the Welshman Ncube-led MDC said there are lot of benefits for being a member of Commonwealth.

Its spokesperson Kuarauone Chihwayi said Zimbabwe lost a lot of friends during the Mugabe era. “There is an urgent need to reconnect the country with the world. Rejoining will ensure that there is more scrutiny over our elections.

“As a result of not being members we have lost privileges such as scholarship opportunities, critical skills exchange and value addition.

“Our sport potential was affected since we cannot participate in the Commonwealth games leading to reduced preparation for Olympics.”

“Commonwealth funding for industrial and medical research, free movement of tourists without visas was affected. Zimbabwe can benefit a lot if these are restored. There is more for Zimbabweans if the country rejoins the commonwealth. We need more partners to assist with economic revival and resuscitation of the social fabric.”

Membership in the Commonwealth confers political prestige on an international stage for poor nations and some modest trade and aid benefits.

Members see exclusion from the “gentlemen’s club,” which highly values cordial diplomacy, as inflicting a huge opportunity cost.

Supporters of the Commonwealth point out that there are some beneficial cultural links for the former colonies.

Britain’s universities retain strong links with Commonwealth countries, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Britain’s foreign ministry, runs internship programmes, such as the Chevening Scholarship, that are biased towards Commonwealth nationals.

Moreover, though some criticise the Commonwealth for being little more than a talking shop, it is a talking shop that poor countries seem to like.

For former colonies, it is the most important global organisation that the United States does not dominate. And though Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Commonwealth, Britain has no special status.

Political analyst Shakespear Hamauswa said being a member comes with tangible benefits.

“I think joining the Commonwealth is a good thing. Being a member comes with tangible benefits to Zimbabweans including in sports and education.

“It can also be a sign that Zimbabwe is improving on governance. But it is important for those issues that led to Zimbabwe's dismissal from the group to be addressed.”

However, another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the Commonwealth is used to perpetuate British influence on countries that are “independent”.

“Yes there are benefits from Commonwealth such as scholarships but the whole idea is of a club of former colonies and is used to perpetuate British influence on countries that are ‘independent’.

“Given that (President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration boasts of wanting to preserve the principles and ethos of the revolution, rejoining the Commonwealth should not be seen as progress or an achievement by this regime.

“We should judge them on improved mass social services, increased democratic space, reduced corruption, improved economic fortunes, free and fair and respect for human rights, things that immediately improve the wellbeing of Zimbabweans.

“Let’s not get into the trap of celebrating neoliberal moves and capitalism that make the fate father and the poor poorer.”

The sentiments to rejoin the Commonwealth comes after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last year told the House of Commons that Mugabe’s resignation was the first step for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth.

There is hope for Zimbabwe’s return on condition that it engages in political reconciliation and sticks to Commonwealth principles including respect for human rights.

“My honourable friend sets out what I think would be a fine and noble aspiration, both for the Commonwealth and for Zimbabwe. But of course, I must caution him that several steps need to be gone through before that can happen,” Johnson said.