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Why the colonial UK sanctioned Zimbabwe security chiefs

21 Feb 2021 at 07:13hrs | Views
UNITED Kingdom ambassador to Zimbabwe Melanie Robinson says the British government is not happy with President Emmerson Mnangagwa government's pace of reforms.

Robinson (MR) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor, that the recent travel bans and asset freezes against four security chiefs were a clear signal the UK will not tolerate human rights abuses.

The envoy also spoke about the future of Zimbabwe-UK relations and what the British government has been doing to push Mnangagwa's government to implement promised reforms.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: I was looking at your biography, and you were at the World Bank as the director for the UK.
When I looked at your bio just when the announcement of your appointment was made, I said this is the right person that Zimbabwe needs from the UK to come and fix Zimbabwe.
Speak to me about what went through your mind when the announcement was made that you were going to be UK ambassador to Zimbabwe.
MR: I have a healthy respect for Zimbabwe, only Zimbabwe can fix Zimbabwe.
I was delighted to get the job. I spent the last 20 years working in and on Africa.
I first visited Zimbabwe in 1995; I stayed in Mbare, went to the market and ate mopani worms.
I have wanted to return to the country ever since. It was really a fantastic job from my point of view.
As I went through the interview process, things were happening there, you all know what happened in November that year (2017).

TN: Talk to me about your expectations, did you have a work plan, which was then torpedoed by what happened during the coup and the elections?
MR: Well, you know, Trevor, that the UK at the time that President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over, the UK really felt that if he could deliver on his commitments (and) his promises on economic reforms, it would be so important for the people of Zimbabwe that we should do everything to help him succeed on that.
We were criticised a bit at the time by some people for being enthusiastic supporters of the reforms.
I think what happened has disappointed not just the UK, but many Zimbabweans.
We would have loved to see progress on the reforms being more meaningful, deep (and) faster.
Of course, there has been progress, but not at the depth and seriousness that many of us would like to see.
We have had to see ongoing human rights violations, which harm ordinary Zimbabweans and so three years later there is a level of disappointment, but still encouragement, hope, desire to see Zimbabwe back on the pathway, the ball is in the court of the Zimbabwean government.
But the UK stands ready to respond if they can make the progress.

TN: Let's drill down, Melanie, on the disappointments, could you be specific on the disappointments and I would love to hear the signs of encouragement that you see on the horizon.
MR: First, let me talk about the positive signs we have seen in the past three years because I think it's unfair not to recognise where there have been bits and pieces that you can look at and say that was progress and its symbolically important.
Things like getting rid of draconian laws, (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and (Public Order and Security Act) were important.
I think the initial signal that they wanted to open up media space was important.
The elections themselves were free and fair than any we have seen in Zimbabwean history.
The initial period of economic reforms, the option we have now is very encouraging.
However, and it's a big however, very small signs haven't really turned to a change of direction.
There have been little lights, but there hasn't been a change of direction down that pathway to meaningful reform that we would love to have seen.
If you take the economic side, unfortunately, the reform programme got derailed.
There was a large payment to politically connected individuals and other quasi-fiscal printing from the (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.)
Time and again there is a spoken intention and then some signals, but really at its core we continue to see a government where we have had human rights violations, lack of accountability, closed political space, use of repressive techniques, an economy where corruption is still far too rampant and we aren't seeing the economic management, which will see Zimbabwe's economy flying again and people's jobs and things moving forward.

TN: Tell me, behind the scenes do you make these points to the people that matter and if you do, what kind of responses are you getting?
MR: Yes, I absolutely do this right at the top. Under a year ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent an envoy from London to come and talk to the president about our concerns as a friend, to say we want to see you implementing your reform measures, we are worried about their progress, the future of Zimbabwe, we would like to encourage you to make more progress.
I had regular meetings with Honourable minister SB Moyo, who tragically passed away so suddenly and so recently.
My last meeting with him lasted three hours and we were debating and discussed and debated at length and the response I got was "you are not recognising the progress we have made" and my response was "I do, but publicly it's just that progress is not deeper in more meaningful places."

TN: Before we get onto the UK-Zimbabwe autonomous sanctions regime that was announced (recently), help us understand. Am I correct that you were part of the EU (European Union) sanctions regime and what does that entail?
MR: Yes, well until we left the EU, December 31st, we came out of the transition period.
We were part of the EU restrictive measures. There are some measures that the EU by unanimity, decides on and those measures were targeted sanctions against some individuals over the course of the years.
Travel bans, account freezes as well as an arms embargo against Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) basically preventing European companies from selling defence equipment and arms to that company.
On the 1st of January those two, the arms embargo and the ZDI restrictive measures, rolled over into British law.
They were copied and pasted into the British law together with a huge amount of legislation that was rolled from European law to British law on the 1st of January.

TN: Am I right to say what happened beginning of January was you ran out of patience, there is rupture in the relationship because this is a huge and significant measure you have taken. Have you been frustrated, (are) all doors are open as far as negotiations are concerned?
MR: What the UK announced, our Foreign secretary said that there would be targeted measures that would be travel bans and asset freezes for four individuals from the security services, who are deemed responsible for the violence in August 2018 and January 2019 and the disproportionate use of force that was found by independent commissions.
It's been two years since the violence in January 2019, more than two years for the violence in 2019; the president did commit to accountability, but more than two years later, we have not seen any accountability, no one has been held to account for that excessive and disproportionate use of force in which 16 and 17 Zimbabweans lost their lives and so from our point of view it was time to set out clearly, from the UK's view those people need to be held to account.
Trevor, this is not rupture, it is not shutting the door on Zimbabwe.
We still want to engage in honest, frank and open dialogue with Zimbabwe and encourage them to implement those economic and political reforms that they committed to, encourage them to uphold people's human rights which is what they said they would do.
These targeted sanctions do nothing to affect the aid relationship, that trade and investment relationship and we sincerely hope that it won't affect the ability to have honest and frank dialogue with the government of Zimbabwe.
It's not a rupture, it's not shutting the door, it's just a clear signal that when human rights have been abused, there should be accountability for those abuses in line with what the government committed to do.

TN: Melanie, the buck stops with Emmerson Mnangagwa, going to these four messengers as it were, who take instructions from Emmerson Mnangagwa. Why not go to where the buck stops, the man who is responsible for sending out those instructions to the military and the police? Explain that to us.
MR: We look at the evidence in front of us and we look at the individuals that were heading the organisations that were responsible for the violence.
Owen Ncube, who is the State Security minister, Godwin Matanga, the head of the (Zimbabwe Republic Police) and Anselem Sanyatwe was the tactical commander at the time the January violence happened and Isaac Moyo was the director-general of the (Central Intelligence Organisation).
Those were the individuals, who have to be responsible for the actions their organisations take.

"In Conversation With Trevor" is a weekly show broadcast on Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Titan Law.

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