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Zimbabwe a plum posting for envoys

Ambassadors enjoy Zimbabwe's climate while working to promote democracy.

Despite its problems, Zimbabwe is still considered a plum posting by diplomats. At the opening of parliament on Oct. 6, 2009, President Robert Mugabe said Zimbabwe wanted friendly relations with Western countries who have been critical of it in the past. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — As Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, sinks into an abyss of infrastructural decay and collapsing services, the countries that maintain a diplomatic presence here regard it as a plum posting. Not quite as choice as Canberra or Pretoria perhaps, but certainly not Abuja or Kinshasa.

On any night of the week American, British, German, Dutch, and Scandinavian diplomats continue to entertain generously while grappling with the seemingly intractable problems generated by an errant regime.

Harare today is a pale shadow of its former self. Once served by well-paved roads and well-lit avenues, those same streets are today pot-holed and dangerously dark. But in the leafy northern suburbs of the capital can be heard the hum of generators lighting the homes of Zimbabwe’s still sizable diplomatic community.

The well-heeled owners of Land Rovers, Mercedes, Volvos, and Jaguars can be identified by their diplomatic number plates negotiating the highways and byways of this city of 2.5 million.
Far from being a hardship posting, diplomats line up to serve in Zimbabwe as it braves the iron grip of its 86-year-old dictator, President Robert Mugabe. The politics may be problematic, but Harare's location — in the tropics yet 5,000 feet above sea level — gives Zimbabwe's capital an almost perfect sunny, sub-tropical climate. Add to that good food and friendly people.

“We love it here,” one ambassador confided this week. But then the inevitable rider: “Without Mugabe blocking the road to reform it would be a perfect posting.”

The embassies are oases of comfort and ease, whose inner workings only a handful of local journalists and non-governmental-organization workers see. Well-watered lawns, commanding views, tennis courts and swimming pools lie within the fenced estates.
Britain’s ambassador occupies arguably the most impressive residence in Harare, set in spacious landscaped grounds, a position that befits the former colonial power.

Before independence in 1980 the British High Commissioner, the United Kingdom’s senior diplomat, occupied a different residence, “Marimba,” a graceful home set in several acres of rose gardens. It was put into mothballs in 1965 when Britain withdrew its representation following the rebel Rhodesian colony’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

But the building, now with an expansive, elegant portico, was spruced up and sold to the Canadians in 1980 and is today the second most impressive diplomatic residence in the capital. The rose garden is still there.