By Bridget Mananavire
In May 2018, when the Zimbabwe Independent interviewed British peer Lord Peter Hain – a prominent critic of former president Robert Mugabe’s regime – he was optimistic about the birth of a new era in Zimbabwe and was hopeful the country could rise from the ashes.
One year after the interview, Hain is now singing from a different hymn book: he is publicly saying President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is a disaster and a mirror reflection of the old Mugabe era.
His dramatic volte-face is an indication of how Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive, which initially had global goodwill, is stalling within just 12 months.
In 2017, when he took over power on the back of a military coup, Mnangagwa heightened expectations for a country ruined by decades of mismanagement and corruption as he promised to open Zimbabwe for business, observe human rights and make bold economic and political reforms, which would put Zimbabwe on the growth trajectory.
His first 12 months as an elected president has seen international support and goodwill dissipating as he has dismally failed to live up to the billing. Hain’s somersault symbolises that.
Hain was so hopeful about what he saw as a real opportunity to revive Zimbabwe’s economy, he even assumed an advisory role in a leading mining company in the country, African Chrome Fields (ACF), run by the Moti Group to partly assist rebuild the country.
In a conversation with the Independent this week, Hain — an internationally respected British politician and businessman — said he believed Mnangagwa has betrayed his promises to turn around the country.
He described Mnangagwa’s tenure so far as “disastrous”.
Hain also referred the Independent to sentiments he shared on Twitter.
“Excellent article by @ianbirrell @thetimes on @edmnangagwa disastrous repressive Zimbabwe government betraying every promise he made to rebuild and renew after Mugabe despotism,” Hain wrote on Twitter last Thursday.
Hain also said he was no longer doing business in Zimbabwe after ending his relationship with the Moti Group in February this year. He was an adviser to the group, which mines chrome in Midlands.
“My year’s agreement as adviser to the Moti Group ended six months ago in February 2019 and I decided amicably not to continue,” Hain said.
During his visit to Zimbabwe in March 2018, Hain held meetings with Mnangagwa, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi as well as several ministers.
“… I think what is very clear to me is that President Mnangagwa understands the need for Zimbabwe to engage with the rest of the world on a business basis to bring investment, create jobs like Moti Group is doing and also to comply with international best practices,” he said at the time.
Hain, however, said he was still keen to advise on good labour relations, working conditions and environmental protection policy issues as well as community relations by local corporates.
Last week, the European Union delegation together with the missions of France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom as well as Australia, Canada and the United States issued a statement condemning the brutal crushing of demonstrations and attacks human rights defenders and activists.
“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians — prior to, during and following the demonstration in Harare on 16 August — are cause for great concern,” the heads of mission said.
“The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to personal security from violence and prohibits physical or psychological torture. The Heads of Mission urge the authorities to respect these fundamental rights, and to hold perpetrators of violence legally responsible.
“The Heads of Mission call on the authorities to respect the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression as well as to peaceful protest, and urge all political party leaders and supporters to abstain from threats and incitement to violence as well as acts of violence or vandalism.
“The security forces must adhere to their Constitutional mandate and exercise restraint and proportionality, while maintaining public order.”
The hard-hitting statement was dismissed by government as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
EU head of delegation in Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen publicly condemned human rights abuses during a Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) campaign launch, angering Mnangagwa who was in attendance.
Okkonen did not mince his words, condemning government’s banning of the MDC demonstrations, abductions and crackdown on civil liberties.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing these days several developments that put constitutionalism and the respect for the rule of law in question. Zimbabwe should show that it genuinely has made a break from the past,” Olkkonen said.
In a rant akin to former president Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa retorted: “Your Excellency (Mr Olkkonen) you referred to human rights. However, this platform was for corruption. May I urge civil society to restrict themselves to their mandate. The rule of law observance is not needed for the purposes of pleasing other countries; we need it because it is proper for ourselves.”