Former British prime minister Mr Tony Blair, the architect of the standoff between Zimbabwe and the Western world, is keen to meet President Mnangagwa, the Head of State has revealed. In an interview at Kigali International Airport after attending the Rwanda Liberation Celebration Day at Amahoro National Stadium yesterday, President Mnangagwa said his engagement efforts were bearing fruit as Zimbabwe’s sworn enemy Mr Blair, who is President Paul Kagame’s advisor, had formally requested to meet him.
“Yes, actually I received communication from New Zealand (yesterday morning) that Mr Tony Blair wants to meet me here in Kigali, and I said that I had no objection. But, I understand he has not arrived, and we are leaving. If he had arrived on time I would have met him,” he said.
Ever since he assumed office in November 2017, President Mnangagwa has been on an engagement and re-engagement offensive targeting both traditional friends of Zimbabwe and those countries with whom relations had broken down in the First Republic.
The international charm offensive has seen renewed talks with the European Union and the Commonwealth among regional blocks formerly hostile to the country.
The breakdown of relations between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom started in 1997 when Mr Blair’s government pulled out of talks to fund the Land Reform Programme. Former president Mr Robert Mugabe immediately accused British of insincerity and meddling.
Mr Blair hit back by withdrawing development aid and later sanctions were imposed.
Mr Mugabe in 2002 stole the limelight during the Earth Summit in South Africa to launch a scathing attack on Mr Blair in his famous “Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe,” speech.
During domestic public meetings addressed by Mr Mugabe, Mr Blair was a usual and deserved subject of the former president’s anger.
So bad were relations that during Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2004, Mr Blair fled his seat to avoid Mr Mugabe who eventually sat next to Prince Charles.
In 2009, the Telegraph reported that Tony Blair called for Mr Mugabe to be “toppled as soon as possible”.
In 2013, former South African president Mr Thabo Mbeki revealed that he was asked to back a military plan to remove Mr Mugabe by Mr Blair’s government.
Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa said he met President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, who briefed him on his feud with his predecessor Mr Ian Khama.
“I have met with President Masisi, who is in the middle of election campaign right now, and he is very happy with how the campaign is going. He says there were challenges when the former president was giving him problems, but now that he (Mr Khama) has stepped aside, he can now move with the party without any challenges. So he is happy, and the campaign is peaceful. Yes he has some challenges with a few Members of Parliament that have chosen to leave the party, but he is very confident that he will go through,” he said.