Zvamaida Murwira, Harare Bureau
THE visiting Commonwealth assessment team, which arrived in the country on Saturday for a week-long working visit, will today start engagements with several stakeholders as part of its brief to gather views from stakeholders in the political, economic and social spheres on the country’s readiness to rejoin the club.
This follows an application by Zimbabwe in 2018 to be readmitted into the Commonwealth which it left 19 years ago.
Led by Commonwealth Assistant Secretary-General, Professor Luis Franschesci, the four-member team spent the greater part of yesterday in closed door meetings finalising their itinerary which will start with more meetings in Harare this morning.
An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said the team will hold an engagement meeting at a hotel in the capital this morning.
“They are finalising their programme today and starting tomorrow, they will kick off their engagements,” said the official.
He said the team’s main brief was to assess the country’s readiness to rejoin the Commonwealth after Harare pulled out in 2003 at the height of a bilateral dispute between Britain and Zimbabwe over the land reform programme which the Government had embarked on to correct historical and colonial imbalances in land ownership.
On touching down at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, the delegation pledged to do its work professionally as directed by Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mrs Patricia Scotland, at the invitation of President Mnangagwa.
Meetings have been lined up with stakeholders that include President Mnangagwa, Government Ministers and civil society representatives.
The delegation was received by Special Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador Grace Mutandiro.
In a brief interview at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Prof Franschesci said it was important to continue fostering a culture of unity and co-operation which was promoted by Africa’s founding fathers.
He noted that no country in the world could be an island and live in isolation of others.
Prof Franschesci said they will submit their report to the Commonwealth for the consideration of members led by Heads of State and Government.
The visit dovetails with the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa’s engagement and re-engagement thrust anchored on the premise that Zimbabwe is a “friend to all and an enemy to none”.
In a statement last Friday, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Frederick Shava said the delegation will be in Zimbabwe to assess the progress that the country has made following the application it submitted in 2018 to rejoin the organisation.
He said the visit was in line with Zimbabwe’s re-engagement thrust that seeks to reset and rekindle its foreign relations in order to create a conducive and supportive environment for the successful implementation of NDS1 and the realisation of Vision 2030.
President Mnangagwa met Mrs Scotland in 2019 on the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly where the Head of State and Government outlined several steps, including reforms, that had been undertaken by Zimbabwe.
In his address at the UN General Assembly, President Mnangagwa said it was important to note that Zimbabwe had not been expelled from the Commonwealth, but had withdrawn and the issues that led to its pulling out, among them the land reform programme, had since become water under the bridge.
The land reform programme was meant to address historical imbalances that saw rationalisation of land ownership from whites who owned large swathes of land to the black majority who hitherto had been on arid and unproductive land.