FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa says government's top priority is to normalise relations with its erstwhile coloniser, the United Kingdom, as Zimbabwe moves to end its costly two-decade isolation by powerful western nations.
Relations between the two countries went sour in 2000 when former President Robert Mugabe's government seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks in a drive often marked by violence.
This was followed by bloody elections disputed by the opposition, resulting in the European Union imposing targeted sanctions on the then President Robert Mugabe, his inner circles as well as the State's economic interests, citing human rights abuses.
Chinamasa said, following the ouster of Mugabe in November, Zimbabwe was particularly keen on re-engaging with Britain to show the international community that the country is now open for business.
"We consider normalising relations with the United Kingdom as the key because our problems are bilateral — between us and the United Kingdom — and I am very confident now that we have begun the first steps towards that normalisation and there's willingness on both sides to put on the table issues that were dividing us over the past years," he said at a business breakfast meeting in Harare yesterday.
In his inauguration speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe two months ago, spoke of the need to engage the international community and rebuild the country's economy.
The involvement of the international community is expected to open the country up for investment and job creation in a country with an estimated 90 percent unemployment rate.
Since Mnangagwa's inauguration, the United Kingdom has sent two top envoys, Rory Stewart, the now former Minister for Africa, as well as Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to engage the new Zimbabwean government.
Chinamasa said the country will soon engage the European Union and the United States of America among other countries once it cements relations with Britain.
The former colonial power has already hinted at supporting efforts to stabilise Zimbabwe's currency system and providing a bridging loan to help the country clear its arrears with international lenders, on condition that Zimbabwe shows "democratic progress".
"Those are indeed the things that we would try to do to help Zimbabwe forward, but we've got to see how the democratic process unfolds," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union-EU summit in Abidjan, days after Mugabe's ouster.
Mnangagwa will next week travel to Davos, Switzerland, for the influential World Economic Forum's annual summit, the first time a Zimbabwean leader has been invited to the elite meetings, in yet another sign that the West is slowly warming up to Harare's new administration.