Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth
Recorded on 6 February 2023
Following the fall of President Robert Mugabe, and his replacement by former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in November 2017, there was considerable talk of Zimbabwe’s rapid re-accession into the Commonwealth: this was a key element of the Mnangagwa government’s reengagement with the international community and would help support much needed inward investment. The Commonwealth sent an election observation group to the country during the July 2018 elections, as part of the assessment of Zimbabwe’s governance and institutions. However, the Zimbabwean security forces’ use of violence against opposition protestors in Harare the day after the polls closed, together with other COG concerns registered in their report, necessitated a more protracted process of assessment for readmission.
Five years on, there are continuing concerns in some Commonwealth quarters: over repeated use of violence against unarmed protestors, politically motivated attacks and prosecutions of opposition legislators, a compromised judiciary with detentions without trial, and very limited media space and evident self-censorship. Others argue that Zimbabwe’s continued exclusion from the Commonwealth is an example of double standards – given Gabon’s and Togo’s accession to the Commonwealth in June 2022, despite questions around both governments’ adherence to democracy, respect for human rights and the values of the 2013 Charter.
In November 2022, the Commonwealth send another assessment mission to the country, which in public, gave a positive public endorsement(Opens in new window) of Zimbabwean government’s reform and progress. The delegation’s report has not yet been made public. Yet, how much democratic space remains in Zimbabwe? Does the country measure up to the 1991 Harare Principles, one of the foundational documents of the modern Commonwealth? If Zimbabwe is welcomed back into the Commonwealth prematurely, what will be the reputational impact on the Commonwealth as a self-proclaimed ‘values-based association’. Would this confirm that the Commonwealth has reverted to the era of ‘states’ rights and non-interference in domestic affairs’, rather than an organisation with a progressive agenda supporting improvement in the rights of its citizens?
This session will be chaired by Dr Sue Onslow,Director- Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
- Andrew Makoni (Chairperson, Zimbabwe Election Support Network)
- Dr Lucy Slack (Secretary General, Commonwealth Local Government Forum)
- Brian Raftopolous (Senior Research Fellow, Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town)