The UK House of Lords is currently discussing Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth, as some peers are firmly opposing the readmission.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has applied for readmission after his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in 2003 amid conflicts with the West over his land reforms and treatment of political opponents.
However, this position has been met with opposition from certain British politicians – including Lord Goldsmith, Baroness Kate Hoey, and Lord Jonathan Oates, who is leading a debate in the House of Lords on the matter.
Opponents of readmission want the British government to influence the vote against Mnangagwa.
According to the Commonwealth’s declaration, member states are committed to free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity, and are also required to recognise the role of civil society in supporting these goals and values.
Baroness Hoey and Lord Oates argue that Mnangagwa’s government is still falling short of these values and principles, citing the continued detention of Citizens Coalition for Change legislator, Job Sikhala, as evidence.
In 2019, Sikhala was charged by the Zimbabwe government with treason and he is currently in pre-trial incarceration in the country’s maximum prison on charges of inciting public violence.
Lord Oates, a former teacher in Zimbabwe, has spoken out against readmission firmly calling on Mnangagwa’s government to uphold the country’s constitution.
The criticism has drawn the wrath of the ruling Zanu PF party, with spokesman Chris Mutsvangwa accusing Lord Oates of being a spy for British intelligence during his time as a teacher in the country; he has denied the allegations.
The Zimbabwean opposition and other commentators have also raised concerns about Zimbabwe’s suitability for readmission to the Commonwealth.
Daglous Makumbe, lecturer at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, spoke against Zimbabwe’s readmission, citing the country’s poor human rights record and lack of free, fair, and credible elections.
However, Tawanda Zinyama, an academic with the University of Zimbabwe, argued that the country has worked towards readmission but has faced significant challenges, primarily related to economic distress. Zinyama suggested that these issues would be best addressed within the Commonwealth.