British Minister for Africa Harriet Baldwin’s visit to Zimbabwe last week marked the first big step towards ending one of the most protracted diplomatic stand-offs in modern geo-politics.
It may have been for only two days, but that deputation unlocked shackles fastened for close to two decades.
That Minister Baldwin was in Harare within three months of her predecessor Mr Rory Stewart’s visit to President Emmerson Mnangagwa says much about the two sides’ resolve to their cold war and knuckle down to business.
One could say Prime Minister May and the United Kingdom are chomping at the bit. Or – as President Mnangagwa jokingly put it – that since PM Margaret Thatcher, female British politicians have always been favourably disposed towards Zimbabwe.
Minister Baldwin touched down in Harare on Thursday, her brief from PM May in hand.
She quickly headed into a meeting with Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Lieutenant-General (Retired) Dr Sibusiso Moyo at Munhumutapa Building, Harare’s seat of Government.
The banter was infectious as the warm exchanges. Here were representatives of two age-old enemies meeting to discuss peace.
The fiery shots of the past made way to spurts of laughter.
Minister Harriet joked, “I know that it has not been raining here in Zimbabwe. But I have brought lots of rains. We have lots of it in the UK. It has been raining hard, so I have brought you some of it.”
The symbolism of a fresh start was not lost as formal exchanges proceeded behind closed doors.
Then on Friday Minister Baldwin met President Mnangagwa.
In her blue dress and dazzling white jacket, the 57-year-old British minister exuded elegance. Yet, her demeanour towards Zimbabwe’s First Citizen spoke of humility.
President Mnangagwa was cool, calm and collected – as usual.
He made Minister Baldwin and her delegation comfortable, giving them the warm Zimbabwean welcome that always makes one feel at home.
Their meeting lasted an hour and 30 minutes.
Minister Baldwin was later to tweet, “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. . .I have seen for myself that Zimbabwe is a country of enormous potential.”
She came, saw and was enchanted. These first steps towards normalisation of ties hold much promise for two countries that have for long viewed each other with great suspicion.
The coming few months will require frank and constructive engagements to completely thaw relations.
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