Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday arrived in Zimbabwe for talks with his counterpart in what analysts said was an attempt by the two leaders to “diversify” their diplomatic ties.
The Belarusian president’s office said Lukashenko, 68, landed in the capital, Harare, where he was welcomed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, and thousands of ruling ZANU-PF party supporters.
Around 5,000 people chanting slogans and songs converged on the tarmac at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare as part of the welcome.
The two leaders, who have both faced Western sanctions, were due hold an official meeting on Tuesday.
Zimbabwe’s Foreign Ministry said the talks aimed at strengthening “the existing excellent relations” between the two countries, in areas including politics, mining and agriculture.
“The visit is historic, as it is the first such undertaking to a sub-Saharan African nation, by President Lukashenko,” the ministry said in a statement.
His trip follows a 2019 visit by Mnangagwa to Minsk, after which Belarus opened an embassy in Harare. It comes with the two countries under a degree of diplomatic isolation, their leaders and government officials targeted by Western sanctions.
Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Both countries are seeking to diversify their international relations — and both have been impacted by US and EU sanctions imposed because of their poor human rights record,” said Alex Vines, who heads the Africa programme at British think tank Chatham House.
“Belarus historically mostly looks to export its military expertise and kit.”
In power for nearly 30 years, Lukashenko has overseen a brutal crackdown on protests after a contested election in 2020.
Mnangagwa came to power in 2017 after generals forced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe to resign.
He is bidding for re-election this year amid accusations of corruption and rights violations, including a crackdown on political opponents.
In 2021, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a consortium of investigative journalists, unveiled links between Lukashenko’s family and a gold mining venture in Zimbabwe.
Source: Africa News