THE European Union (EU) has joined the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) in re-affirming its readiness to offer more support to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government to improve the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.
However, and just like what London and Washington have said, Brussels will only deepen its relations with Harare if Zimbabwe fulfils all the promises that were made when Mnangagwa replaced the late former president Robert Mugabe as the country’s new leader – via a stunning but widely supported military coup.
Speaking to the Daily News, the EU’s head of delegation to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, reiterated that the bloc remained ready to work with the government to end the country’s myriad challenges.
“We have been drawing attention primarily to the government’s own intentions and partly to internationally agreed standards. “The election campaign promises of 2018, the president’s inaugural speech, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme and now the National Development Strategy all include very important elements that, when implemented, would take Zimbabwe on a different track.
“In terms of political rights, I could refer to the recommendations of the EU electoral observation mission and the report of the Motlanthe Commission, the recommendations of which I think are of wider importance than addressing the events of August 2018 alone,” Olkkonen told the Daily News On Sunday.
“This is not to say that we have not seen any reforms, and we are ready to give credit when we see it justified.
“There have, for example, been positive steps in balancing the economy and regulating the media environment, but especially as regards the latter these have been countered by other steps that take things in a more negative direction.
“Of particular concern for us are the recent proposals to severely restrict the operating space of civil society,” Olkkonen said.
“We have always emphasised that we are willing to assist the government with the reform agenda and we stand by that word. It requires, however, the government to take action itself,” he added.
Olkkonen also noted that most of Zimbabwe’s challenges were historical, dating back to the ruinous years in power of Mugabe – who had many run-ins with Western powers over his poor human rights record and chaotic land reforms.
“The reasons for Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted crises, I would also add the social and humanitarian aspects of it, are rooted in history.
“Years of mismanagement of the economy, corruption and the erosion of the trust in institutions and rule of law have all been contributing factors. “Zimbabwe is a rich country, yet its wealth in natural resources has not contributed significantly to national development. And no, this is not because of sanctions,” Olkkonen added.
“In the political arena, there has been a lack of an equal playing field, something noted by the EU electoral mission in 2018, despite those elections having been a marked improvement in comparison to previous ones. “Democratic space is curtailed. We are witnessing what appears to be politically-motivated harassment by security forces and parts of the judiciary of critical voices.
“Of course, Zimbabwe has a history of political violence. We hear of people feeling intimidated. This is not a healthy environment for national dialogue, and for letting a diversity of discourse and ideas – the cornerstone of democracy – to foster,” Olkkonen added.
“Examples from elsewhere have shown that a return to full respect for the rule of law, strengthening of institutions and sincere action against corruption are substantial steps in improving similar situations. “In Zimbabwe, that would translate into political reforms and economic reforms from the alignment of laws to the Constitution, to structural changes, especially with regard to fiscal and economic policies.
“It would include opening up the democratic space for a national discourse not only between political parties, but civil society and all relevant stakeholders to rebuild trust,” the EU’s representative said.
This comes after the UK also stated its readiness to support Mnangagwa and his administration if they fulfil their promises of reform that were made when Mugabe fell from power in 2017.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News on Sunday in December, British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, said London had taken note of the positive law reforms that had been undertaken by Harare.
However, she warned, sanctions would remain in place if Zimbabwean authorities failed to commit to the promises that Mnangagwa made when he swept into office following Mugabe’s dramatic ouster via a popular military coup in November 2017.
The UK subsequently announced further sanctions on security chiefs and a former military commander, over alleged human rights breaches. “For the situation to improve, Zimbabwe needs to implement the political and economic reforms set out by President Mnangagwa when he came to office.
“Central to this will be ending the use of repressive and coercive techniques which limit Zimbabweans’ fulfilment of their rights under the Zimbabwean Constitution. “The UK continues to be concerned by the continued poor human rights environment in Zimbabwe,” Robinson told the Daily News On Sunday in December last year.
“Examples of this include the State’s response to the protests in August 2018 and January 2019, including the death of protesters and, after the fuel protests, dragnet arrests,” she said.
Other issues of concern to London were the lack of accountability for these actions, including the limited implementation of the Motlanthe Commission’s recommendations, as well as the “heavy-handed approaches in the ongoing cases against journalists and opposition political activists”.
Similarly, allegations of abductions by State agents, “with no credible evidence or follow up allowing that possibility to be dismissed” were also of major concern to the United Kingdom.
“However … as we look back on the last three years, our overriding sense is that important opportunities for deeper and longer lasting political and economic reform have been, and continue to be, missed. “And that it is these reforms which will be most important to Zimbabwe’s future,” Robinson further told the Daily News On Sunday.
But she emphasised that her government remained committed to seeing Zimbabwe succeed, and in that regard, she was in constant touch with authorities to remind them about their promises to the world. She also said her government had noted that Mnangagwa’s administration had made some positive reforms to the law.
This comes as Mnangagwa and his administration have been accused of blowing the international goodwill which followed the fall of Mugabe from power in November 2017, via a stunning and widely supported military coup.
Mnangagwa stands accused of failing to fulfil most of the promises that he made when he assumed power. However, his government has also been credited with expunging some repressive laws from the statute books that were routinely used by Mugabe’s regime to punish political opponents and independent media like the Daily News.
Among the laws that have been scrapped are the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Posa. In addition, Mnangagwa has been praised for trying to end years of chaos in the agricultural sector by restoring farming rights that were taken away during Mugabe’s ruinous reign.
In this regard, the government recently signed a US$3,5 billion Global Compensation Agreement with white former commercial farmers, while also announcing that all farmers who lost their land protected by Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs) would either be compensated or have their land titles restored.
In October last year, USA ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols also said Washington remained ready to assist the country – as long as Mnangagwa and the government fulfilled the promises that were made after the dramatic fall from power of Mugabe.
“The United States shares the desires of the people of Zimbabwe who want to see a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe that provides for its people and contributes to regional stability. “To realise these goals, we strongly believe it is important that government and non-governmental entities alike promote our shared values and work in areas of common concern.
“Whenever we may differ on the best means of achieving these goals, we will seek to engage in a dialogue that is respectful and that seeks to uphold the universal values and rights that Zimbabweans fought so hard to gain 40 years ago,” Nichols told the Daily News On Sunday then.