Britain would back a Zimbabwean bid to rejoin Commonwealth if presidential elections later this summer go smoothly, Boris Johnson has said.
Mr Johnson, the foreign secretary, said Britain would support a Zimbabwean application to rejoin the association provided president Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers on reforms including a free and fair vote.
“July’s election will be a bellwether for the direction of a new Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Government must deliver the free and fair elections the people of Zimbabwe deserve and which it has promised," Mr Johnson said during a meeting with Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s foreign and trade minister.
"The UK stands ready in friendship to support a Zimbabwe that fully embraces the rule of law, human rights and economic reform,” he added.
Mr Johnson was speaking at a round table meeting with Mr Moyo and several other Commonwealth foreign ministers in London for a heads of government summit in London.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth, an association made up mostly of former British colonies, in 2002 following presidential elections that were marred by violence. It formally left the organization the following year.
Mr Johnson first endorsed the "fine and noble" aspiration of Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth after Robert Mugabe was ousted in a soft coup in November after 38 years as president.
An offer of support to achieve that goal is now understood to have been made explicit, with British diplomats telling Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mr Mugabe’s successor, that the conduct of presidential elections this summer would be seen as a "key test."
"The UK would be willing to support re-entry provided Zimbabwe meets the admission requirements including demonstrating commitment to free and fair elections,” an FCO spokesperson said.
Zimbabwe is expected to hold a presidential election before the end of August.
To rejoin the organization, Zimbabwe would have to submit a formal application for membership. Accession would have to be agreed by all 53 member states at the next heads of government summit.
Membership rules require commitment to democratic principles include transparent government and free and fair elections.
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Mr Mnangagwa, 75, has positioned himself as a reformer determined to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation since he came to power late last year.
However, critics have pointed out he was a close ally of Mr Mugabe for many years and involved in many of the previous government’s worst crimes, including violent crackdowns on opposition parties and a notorious series of massacres in the 1980s.
Salani Mutseyami, a campaigner with the human rights group Zimbabwe Vigil, called Mr Johnson’s comments on potential Commonwealth membership "premature."
"The British government want to say that Robert Mugabe is no longer president and has brought change. But that is not the case. Mr Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s henchman," she said.
"You can’t say everything has changed in just a few months. They should be at least be looking at two or three elections over five or ten years in order to see if a record of substantive change is set," she added.
Zimbabwean MPs on Friday said they would seek to question Mr Mugabe in connection with alleged diamond looting.
The former president, 94, has been summoned to appear before parliament’s mines and energy committee on May 9, Temba Mliswa, the chair of the committee, said.
MPs want to question Mr Mugabe about his 2016 claim that Zimbabwe lost $15 billion due to corruption and foreign exploitation in the diamond sector.