By FARAI MUTSAKA
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe has made “very impressive” progress in meeting conditions to rejoin the Commonwealth, a top official of the group of 56 mainly former British colonies said after an assessment mission, even as the opposition and other groups warned that the human rights situation is fast deteriorating.
“Zimbabwe should be part of the Commonwealth. We are traveling the same road, hand in hand,” said the organization’s Assistant Secretary-General, Luis Franceschi, who headed the assessment team.
Zimbabwe “has moved very fast and there is huge commitment” to meeting demands such as democratic reforms, he told reporters in the capital, Harare, Wednesday.
The Commonwealth team arrived in the southern African country on Saturday and ended its mission on Wednesday. It will compile a report to Commonwealth Heads of Government, who have the final say on Zimbabwe’s application to rejoin.
Former president, the late Robert Mugabe, pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003 after it became apparent that the organization would extend a suspension imposed a year earlier following elections marred by allegations of violence and rigging.
After taking power from Mugabe in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa applied for readmission in 2018 as part of his push for greater international legitimacy.
Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth is part of the Mnangagwa administration’s drive to reengage with the international community after about two decades of isolation.
Zimbabwe remains under United States sanctions, while the United Kingdom and the European Union have gradually eased their own restrictions on the southern African country.
The Commonwealth team met Mnangagwa on Wednesday. It also held discussions with various stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and the opposition, who say they support Zimbabwe’s readmission but want the country to improve its human rights record.
Readmission into the group hinges on Zimbabwe fulfilling “several rigorous steps” to ensure adherence to principles such as peace and democracy, said the Commonwealth in a statement last week.
Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa told reporters after meeting the member team on Wednesday that democratic reforms and credible elections should be the benchmark for Zimbabwe’s readmission.
But Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the country has made “phenomenal progress” that merits its readmission into the Commonwealth.
Addressing the same press conference, Ziyambi described reports of human rights violations such as abductions of anti-government activists as “misinformation” and “stage-managed” to hoodwink the international community.
Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold a general election next year. But many opposition figures say they are already battling intense government repression similar to that during Mugabe’s lengthy iron-fisted rule.
Once a bedrock of British influence over its former colonies, some argue that the Commonwealth is losing its impact in Africa where China is now the leading trade partner.
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