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Zambia to engage Zimbabwe over Mnangagwa’s remarks in Russia

Mnangagwa Putin

The Zambian government is engaging Zimbabwe following remarks by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that the United States is consolidating its military strength in Zambia to isolate Zimbabwe.

During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in St Petersburg on the sidelines of an investment summit, Mnangagwa sought assistance for “defence and food security” from Russia, saying the United States is “consolidating its power” in Zambia through increased security and financial aid.

In an interview with NewsDay on Sunday, Zambia’s Information and Media Minister Cornelius Mweetwa said that the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was engaging Zimbabwean authorities. He said:

Zambia and Zimbabwe enjoy cordial relations, we are one people. On that video, we do not want to make a quick response but our Foreign Affairs ministry is engaging the government of Zimbabwe over the issue.

l also want to highlight that these matters are not for media consumption, that is my comment at the moment.

According to a transcript of the meeting between the Zimbabwean and Russian leaders posted on the Kremlin’s official website, Mnangagwa told Putin that the West has abandoned Zimbabwe “making us feel lonely”. He said:

We cannot go to the West; we have to come here because the West would want to see us down. They support our neighbours, Zambia and Malawi, very heavily.

But in spite of that, Zimbabwe’s economic growth is the fastest growing economy in the region, in spite of us being isolated by the Americans.

Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said the assumption from the Zimbabwe delegation was that his conversation with Putin was private.

Since coming to power, Zambia’s current President, Hakainde Hichilema has strengthened ties with the United States of America.

This closer relationship contrasts sharply with the strained US-Zimbabwe relations, with several Zimbabwean government officials including Mnangagwa and his wife Auxillia under sanctions.

Mnangagwa’s support for former Zambian president Edgar Lungu, succeeded by Hichilema, has also increased tensions between the two countries.

Lungu’s presidency was marred by accusations of authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.

Hichilema, a reformist leader with strong international support, is close to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, whom the Zambian leader invited to his inauguration in 2021.

The animosity between Hichilema and Mnangagwa has also played out in SADC despite the two leaders appearing friendly in public.

Former Zambian vice president Nevers Mumba, leading the SADC electoral observation mission to Zimbabwe, issued a critical report on Zimbabwe’s August 2023 elections.

The report highlighted irregularities and questioned the legitimacy of Mnangagwa and ZANU PF’s victory, adding to the diplomatic tension.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Charamba threatened Hichilema with unspecified action.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter) Charamba captioned a picture of Hichilema at a rally and a screenshot of a 14 December 2022 post by a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with the words:

We’ve tolerated nonsense long enough. The wise will look at the Russia-Ukraine conflict & extract valuable lessons before it’s too late. We have been great neighbours, but as things change we will adjust accordingly for the sake of territorial integrity & national interest.

The member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose post was captioned by Charamba in his rant had tweeted:

I was honoured to meet with Hakainde Hichilema – a strong leader and bright spot for democracy in Africa. HH is working hard to curb China’s malign and predatory influence in Zambia, as well as increase cooperation with the US. I look forward to many years of continued partnership.

Zimbabwe is assuming the chairmanship of SADC in August, to be marked by a summit in Harare, where Mnangagwa will come face-to-face with Hichilema.

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