Zimbabwe and The Commonwealth of Nations

Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth of Nations have had a controversial and stormy diplomatic relationship. Zimbabwe is a former member of the Commonwealth, having withdrawn in 2003, and the issue of Zimbabwe has repeatedly taken centre stage in the Commonwealth, both since Zimbabwe's independence and as part of the British Empire.

Zimbabwe was the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, gaining responsible government in 1923. Southern Rhodesia became one of the most prosperous, and heavily settled, of the UK's African colonies, with a system of white minority rule. Southern Rhodesia was integrated into the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In response to demands for greater black African power in government, the anti-federation white nationalist Rhodesian Front (RF) was elected in 1962, leading to the collapse of federation.

The RF, under the leadership of Ian Smith from 1964, rejected the principle of NIBMAR that the Commonwealth demanded, and the Southern Rhodesian government, now styling itself 'Rhodesia', issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965. The United Kingdom refused to recognise this, and the Commonwealth was at the forefront of rejecting the UDI, imposing sanctions on Rhodesia, ending the break-away, and bringing about Rhodesia's final independence under black majority rule as Zimbabwe in 1980. However, differences of opinion of how to approach Rhodesia exposed structural and philosophical weaknesses that threatened to break-up the Commonwealth.

In recent years, under the presidency of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has dominated Commonwealth affairs, creating acrimonious splits in the organisation. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 for breaching the Harare Declaration. In 2003, when the Commonwealth refused to lift the suspension, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth. Since then, the Commonwealth has played a major part in trying to end the political impasse and return Zimbabwe to a state of normalcy.

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