HARARE – Britain has given Zimbabwe $7 million to help strengthen electoral processes, as the southern African country hurtles towards key mid-year elections.
Zimbabwe will hold general elections in four to five months, according to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who said the poll would be transparent.
The money would be paid out through civil society organisations.
UK minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin unveiled the grant during a meeting with prominent civil society actors and election experts late last week.
Baldwin, who was on her first overseas visit in her new role as joint minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DfID), was in Zimbabwe from Thursday and left on Friday.
“I am pleased that my first overseas trip as minister has been to Zimbabwe. The historic events the country has experienced over the last few months have created an opportunity to strengthen UK-Zimbabwe relations as part of a wider process of international engagement,” Baldwin said.
Former president Robert Mugabe left office dramatically in November after 37 years of authoritarian rule. His departure followed a power struggle in which Mnangagwa was sacked as vice president to pave the way for Grace Mugabe, the then-first lady, to take up the presidency.
Mnangagwa fled the country but returned to a hero’s welcome where he was enthroned president after Mugabe was forced to resign following a military intervention. The new president has struck a conciliatory tone since he ascended the throne, and promised to stage free and fair poll in four to five months.
“The upcoming elections are a major milestone for the people of Zimbabwe,” Baldwin said. “When I met President Mnangagwa, I said my government welcomed his commitment to hold credible, peaceful, free and fair elections monitored by international observers.
“I have seen for myself that Zimbabwe is a country of enormous potential. With the right leadership, the right policy environment and a vibrant democracy and civil society, Zimbabwe can undergo the transformation it so richly deserves.”
During her two day visit, Baldwin met with Mnangagwa and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo to discuss the Zimbabwean government’s vision for domestic transformation and international engagement through comprehensive political and economic reforms.
They discussed the importance of the elections later this year being peaceful, credible, free and fair. Baldwin also welcomed the president’s commitment to invite international observers from the EU and UN as well as Sadc and AU.
Baldwin also met with Finance and Economic Planning minister Patrick Chinamasa and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya to discuss the government’s plans for clearing debt and normalising relations with the international financial institutions.
Baldwin welcomed the government’s recommitment to the Lima plan – Zimbabwe’s commitment to clear arrears to creditors made on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank meeting in Lima, Peru in October 2015.
She said that the UK government would continue to support the government’s reform agenda.
Baldwin also welcomed government plans to attract more investment into agriculture through ensuring land tenure and compensation are tackled.
Zimbabwe and Britain have had frosty ties since 2000, with London, the European Union and United States, accusing former president Mugabe of rigging elections and human rights abuses. Government denied those accusations, alleging Britain was leading the West in punishing Zimbabwe over the land seizures.