By Nkosana Dlamini
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s impending visit to the UK next month could turn out to be a nightmare for the under-fire Zanu PF number one whose government has angered Zimbabwean exiles for rights abuses and refusal to extend voting franchise to them, among a slew of accusations.
Authorities have confirmed Mnangagwa’s trip to London, the first by a Zimbabwean incumbent since the bitter diplomatic fallout between the former allies at the turn of the century.
Details of the trip have been kept under wraps.
But while the visit could be an opportunity to open avenues for renewed engagement, it is the events away from the coffee reception in the boardroom that could worry him.
Britain, host to thousands of some of the country’s political and economic exiles, has not been friendly territory for Zimbabwean politicians accused of massive rights abuses, poll fraud and unbridled corruption.
In 2019, then Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo was rescued from a hostile crowd of predominantly Zimbabwean protesters who splashed him with bottled water while hurling insults at him.
The attack riled authorities in Harare who strongly protested “inexplicable laxity by security” around the Zimbabwean delegation.
Hostility towards Zimbabwean authorities has not been from their diaspora compatriots only.
In 1999, former President Robert Mugabe was also accosted by Britain’s gay rights campaigner Peter Tachel who attempted to effect a “citizen arrest” on the then leader for clamping down on gays in his country.
Mugabe was an incorrigible hater of gays.
In protests outside Zimbabwean state jurisdiction, citizens abroad find an avenue to vent their anger towards their leaders back home.
Street protests are prohibited in Zimbabwe amid state sponsored abductions visited upon critics and opponents, most prominently journalist and pro-democracy campaigner, Itai Dzamara and lately opposition MDC Alliance legislator Joanna Mamombe and two party activists.
Dzamara’s whereabouts remain a mystery since his abduction by suspected state security agents March 2015.
Zimbabwean politicians have also experienced tough receptions outside Britain.
In 2008, Mugabe was accosted by ITN journalist Julian Manyon outside the African Union summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt while demanding answers “on what basis he considered himself president of Zimbabwe”.
Mugabe had muscled himself back to power on the back of a bloody Presidential run-off campaign against his challenger, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai who had won an inconclusive first round of the poll.
There were also protests against Mugabe by some Zimbabweans when he visited New York in 2016 for the annual United Nations General Assembly.
The protests, according to MDC USA Provincial Information and Publicity Secretary, Marias Shumba, were aimed at highlighting government corruption, police brutality and injustice in the southern African nation.