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AWKWARD: Aides scramble to explain Mnangagwa’s coronation back seat, Tony Blair and Commonwealth SG meetings

By UK Correspondent

“The guy we didn’t like is that young man, Tony Blair. I don’t know where he is now,” said Mnangagwa in an interview with the Financial Times

At the height of Zimbabwe’s diplomatic fallout with former coloniser Britain, a pro-Zanu PF musician Tambaoga produced a song whose lyrics included the line ‘the only Blair I know is a toilet’ which received regular air-time across state radio and television.

The song mocked then United Kingdom prime minister Tony Blair who was blamed by the Zimbabwean government for sanctions imposed against Harare and the country’s subsequent economic collapse.

After assuming power following the 2017 military coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was again dismissive of Blair, telling the UK-based Financial Tmes in an interview that “…
we are clear, even our former president (Robert Mugabe) was clear, … we have no hard feelings towards the Queen.

“The guy we didn’t like is that young man, Tony Blair. I don’t know where he is now.”

However, in a curious turn of events, Mnangagwa now seems to know where Blair is and has now met him twice, first at the Africa Green Revolution Summit in Rwanda last year.

The Zimbabwean leader again met Blair as part of his official engagements in London during his current trip to the UK for King Charles 111’s coronation.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBIGC) has had lucrative contracts from policy and development consultancy services with several African governments over the years.

“We help governments and leaders get things done. We do it by advising on strategy, policy and delivery, unlocking the power of technology across all three,” the institute says on its website.

This has raised questions about the nature of Blair’s engagements with President Mnangagwa.

President Mnangagwa and his ministers with Tony Blair

Responding, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said Blair was being engaged to help remove sanctions he helped impose against Zimbabwe.

“Tony Blair was instrumental in the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe. He mobilised the whole Western world in a rally for sanctions against Zimbabwe, and it is only right that he rallies the same West in a new clarion call to reverse the sanctions. For that we engage with him,” Charamba said on Twitter.

Another talking point during the coronation was Mnangagwa’s obscure sitting position at the grand Westminster Abbey for the lavish and archaic coronation ceremony.

Social media mocked Mnangagwa for being unrecognisable in a corner seat at the back while the likes of eSwatini’s King Mswati 111 were accorded privileged positions nearer the front rows.

One of the many twitter accounts linked to Charamba pushed back against social media mockery of Mnangagwa’s sitting position.

“Some very ignorant commentators have been making snide comments on the sitting position allocated to the President of Zimbabwe, vis-a-vis Heads of States and Government from Commonwealth countries,” said the Tinoedza Zvimwe Twitter handle.

Barely recognisable … arrow shows Mnangagwa’s sitting position at Westminster Abbey

“To assist, protocol puts Monarchs ahead of Presidents and Prime Ministers, which is why King Mswati and other Royalties sat in the front row, well ahead of several leaders, including the President of Zimbabwe.

“Secondly, leaders were sat in relation to the membership of their countries to the Commonwealth, of which King Charles III is head. Zimbabwe is yet to re-join the Commonwealth.

“The sitting position for the Zimbabwean leader was thus appropriate, and made significant by the fact that he still was part of the leaders in attendance in spite of Zimbabwe’s non-membership to the Commonwealth!!”

Aides also talked up Mnangagwa’s meeting with Commonwealth secretary general Baroness Patricia Scotland and her staff at the organisation’s Marlborough House headquarters.

Zimbabwe applied to re-join the grouping in 2018 in a process that has dragged on without conclusion despite claims of “very impressive” progress by both sides.

“The meeting reviewed progress Zimbabwe has made along the road to readmission,” said the Tinoedza Zvimwe twitter handle.

However opposition activists said Mnangagwa had been told that there would be no re-admission without substantive rights and governance reforms and as long as his government continued to persecute political rivals.

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