UK backtracks on Zimbabwe support

THE United Kingdom (UK) says it may not back Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance appeals with the international community following violent crackdowns in response to the recent fuel protests. UK’s foreign secretary Harriet Baldwin said the use of force against civilians was going to see Zimbabwe’s former coloniser hold off on any diplomatic support to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.

“There needs to be progress in terms of the arrears that Zimbabwe has to international finance institutions, and the recent violence from State actors makes it very difficult for me personally to try and argue that this is the time for the UK to be stepping up to the plate working with international partners to do this,” she told the International Development Committee, which monitors the UK’s development programmes for the British Parliament.

Baldwin pointed out that Britain could not “stick its neck out” to support a country that deploys the military against civilians.

“The idea that we would step up to the plate and say ‘look guys, the government is doing this to its own citizens, shooting them with live ammunition, a range of other egregious violations, and you know what, the UK is really happy to argue that now is the time for them to be helped with their international arrears’; you may push back on this, but I find that a very difficult political case to make.

“We will listen to that plan, but as the UK government’s minister for Africa, I cannot say that now is the time for us to really be sticking our necks out politically on the back of the kind of behaviour that we’ve seen from the government,” she said.

This follows a tweet by the UK’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft, to its development arm DFID, last year which seemed to cautiously support Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance plan.
“Long road ahead on political and economic reforms. The UK, and others, stand ready to support reform efforts,” Rycroft said.

Zimbabwe’s total debt is about $16,9 billion. Arrears total $680 million with the African Development Bank, $1,3 billion outstanding with the World Bank and $308 million with the European Investment Bank, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said in October.

The government cannot access fresh financing without an acceptable arrears-clearance plan. Ncube plans to clear the arrears by October 2019, but Britain’s new stance could dampen this plan. The AfDB and World Bank have preferred creditor status, which means they must be paid first. After settling World Bank and AfDB arrears, Ncube would engage with the Paris Club of creditor countries, to which Zimbabwe owes $3,2 billion.

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