President Emmerson Mnangagwa

The 2017 Zimbabwe quasi-revolution seems to be bearing fruit as the country gradually opens itself up to the rest of the world in the hope for a better future. Over the past week several major developments have materialised with respect to Zimbabwe’s future relationship with the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister May’s special envoy to President Mnangagwa, who is also the British Minister of State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin on Thursday reiterated that Mrs May was ‘impressed’ by the statements being made by the Mnangagwa. Baldwin went on to say that “Zimbabwe and Britain were on the cusp of a major diplomatic breakthrough that could see the two countries soon engaging in various investment ventures underpinned on mutual benefit and interest.”

Following on from this ostensibly chummy meeting, Britain announced last week that they would be releasing £5 million of aid to Zimbabwean civil society ahead of the elections scheduled to take place by September 2018 at the latest.

Harriet Baldwin – Minister for Africa
Source: Press Association

The wave of international support looks promising to Zimbabwean’s living at home and abroad. A country in where up to 84% of workers are apart of the informal economy the prospect of Zimbabwe becoming a fixture in the modern economic order titillates with the intensity one would expect.

However, a cautionary approach to the opening up of the country is needed. The Zimbabwean economy does not have the infrastructure and expertise in place to achieve what the country wants to in the long-run. Opening up to external actors is the smart choice. However, with investment comes job with investment also comes the possibility that some groups will seek to hoard both wealth and influence and continue the marginalisation of the average Zimbabwean citizen.

Two Zimbabwean vendors stop to talk in Harare on August 6, 2013.
Source: AFP / Alexander Joe

On a political frontier there is a possibility that NGOs and civil society will be used as a weapon to depoliticise future resistance, a phenomenon known as ‘NGO-ization’. One can only hope that the beneficiaries of the £5 million pound grant will not only allow the funds to buy some level of sway for external actors but also they ensure economic and political enfranchisement of their people is prioritised, first and foremost.

It’s clear that Zimbabwe will cultivate a closer relationship with the UK and the world in the coming years, whether these relationships will be ones of of genuine mutual benefit or arrangements that facilitate exploitation remains to be seen.