Zimbabwe Formally Applies to Re-Join Commonwealth

Zimbabwe has formally applied to re-join the Commonwealth, 15 years after leaving the organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat said.

The proposal came in a letter dated May 15, to Secretary-General Patricia Scotland from Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The Secretary-General was delighted to receive the letter, Natricia Duncan, Communications Officer at Commonwealth Secretariat said on Monday.

Ms Scotland said: “I whole-heartedly echo the sentiments of Heads of Government who have said twice, in 2009 and subsequently in 2011, that they very much look forward to Zimbabwe’s return when the conditions are right.

“Zimbabwe’s eventual return to the Commonwealth, following a successful membership application, would be a momentous occasion, given our shared rich history”.

Zimbabwe joined the Commonwealth on its independence in 1980 and withdrew from the organisation in 2003.

To re-join, Zimbabwe must demonstrate that it complies with the fundamental values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy and rule of law plus protection of human rights such as freedom of expression.

The membership process requires an informal assessment to be undertaken by representatives of the Secretary-General, followed by consultations with other Commonwealth countries.

Zimbabwe has also invited the Commonwealth to observe its forthcoming elections in July.

The secretariat is now mobilising a team of observers to do so, and their observations would form part of the Secretary-General’s informal assessment.

“I urge the government, opposition parties, the election management body, civil society, and all stakeholders, to play their part in ensuring a credible, peaceful and inclusive process that restores citizens’ confidence, trust and hope in the development and democratic trajectory of their country,” Ms Scotland said.

Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states.

The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries.

NAN reports that Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth of Nations have had a controversial and stormy diplomatic relationship.

Zimbabwe was the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, gaining responsible government in 1923.

Southern Rhodesia became one of the most prosperous, and heavily settled, of the UK’s African colonies, with a system of white minority rule. Southern Rhodesia was integrated into the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

In response to demands for greater black African power in government, the anti-federation white nationalist Rhodesian Front (RF) was elected in 1962, leading to the collapse of federation.

The RF, under the leadership of Ian Smith from 1964, rejected the principle of No Independence Before Majority Rule (NIBMAR) that the Commonwealth demanded, and the Southern Rhodesian government, now styling itself ‘Rhodesia’, issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965.

The UK refused to recognise this, and the Commonwealth was at the forefront of rejecting the UDI, imposing sanctions on Rhodesia, ending the break-away, and bringing about Rhodesia’s final independence under black majority rule as Zimbabwe in 1980.

However, differences of opinion of how to approach Rhodesia exposed structural and philosophical weaknesses that threatened to break-up the Commonwealth.

In recent years, under the presidency of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has dominated Commonwealth affairs, creating acrimonious splits in the organisation.

Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 for breaching the Harare Declaration.

In 2003, when the Commonwealth refused to lift the suspension, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth.

Since then, the Commonwealth has played a major part in trying to end the political impasse and return Zimbabwe to a state of normality.

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