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Zimbabwe Exit from Commonwealth Might be Very Costly - 2003-12-23

Much has been said and written about Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the Commonwealth earlier this month. But Zimbabwe's departure from the club of Britain and 53 of its former colonies and other countries could mean quite a lot to the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's departure from the Commonwealth might be more costly than the country's leadership cares to admit. A Commonwealth secretariat spokesman, who asked to remain anonymous, told VOA that Zimbabwe will no longer be eligible for funding under many Commonwealth programs aimed at training, business, trade, technical support and other development-related areas.

Zimbabwean writers will no longer qualify for the Commonwealth writers' awards. They have featured prominently in the awards, which raised their international profile. Zimbabwean athletes will be excluded from the Commonwealth Games.

Also, the contracts of Zimbabweans employed by the Commonwealth offices will not be renewed once they expire. The spokesman said the Commonwealth employs a number of Zimbabweans at what he called a "very senior level."

Zimbabwe's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised all Commonwealth diplomatic missions in the country that they are now embassies, as opposed to the High Commissions they were before the withdrawal. A diplomat in Harare said the exercise is going to cost Zimbabwe more, than his country, in terms of changing stationery and related costs because it has representatives in different countries.

The changed status may also mean Zimbabweans will have to apply for visas to visit some other Commonwealth countries where they did not need visa before. "We are still waiting to hear from the host government," said a diplomat from a neighboring country where Zimbabweans do not need visas.

Zimbabwe is not the first country to leave the 54 nation Commonwealth. Pakistan, South Africa and Fiji at some point quit the club, but all have rejoined.

ZANU-PF party foreign affairs secretary, Didymus Mutasa, told BBC News he did not foresee any possibility this government would rejoin the Commonwealth.