Zimbabwe is participating at a telecoms conference in London organised by the Commonwealth, which is being read by Harare as a positive signal after the southern African country pulled out of the club of former British colonies in 2003.

Information Communication Technology minister Jenfan Muswere on Tuesday joined delegates at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation Ministerial Alliance for Digital Nations 2023 summit being hosted by the United Kingdom.

It is the first time Zimbabwe, which is actively seeking re-admission since President Emmerson Mnangagwa seized power in a military coup in November 2017, has been invited to the conference.

Writing on Twitter, Muswere said: “The platform is meant to facilitate collaboration between governments and the ICT industry in addressing ICT issues for economic development.”

The late former president Robert Mugabe pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003 after it became apparent that the organisation would extend a suspension imposed a year earlier following elections marred by allegations of violence and rigging.

Mnangagwa, desperate to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation and claim a seat on the world stage, applied for readmission in 2018 but continuing rights abuses and official corruption have dimmed the country’s hopes of acceptance.

Last November, a top official of the group of 56 mainly former British colonies said Zimbabwe has made significant progress for readmission following an assessment mission, even as the opposition and other groups warned that the human rights situation is fast deteriorating.

“Zimbabwe should be part of the Commonwealth. We are traveling the same road, hand in hand,” said the organisation’s Assistant Secretary-General Luis Franceschi, who headed the assessment team.

The UK summit currently underway is sponsored by the United Kingdom government and META, among others.

The official opening was performed by Manoa Kamikamica of Fiji, who chairs the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation and is her country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Co-operatives, SMEs and Communications.

Among African ICT ministers participating at the event are those from Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Gabon, Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tanzania.

Raphael Mushanawani, CEO of the state-owned NetOne, travelled as a representative of mobile telecoms companies in Zimbabwe, officials said.