Sanctions: One on one with the EU Ambassador

On November 1, the European Union (EU) scrapped part of the sanctions it imposed on Zimbabwe in 2002 at the instigation of Britain following implementation of the Land Reform Programme. Our Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo (LT) spoke to newly appointed EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Philippe Van Damme on this and other related issues.

Below are excerpts of that conversation.

LT: What is your general impression of Zimbabwe so far?

VD: My first impression of Zimbabwe has been great. I am coming from West Africa, from Guinea, and, really, it is no comparison with this country. To start with, the people are very hospitable and friendly. Everybody always says Zimbabwe probably has the best-trained people in Africa and I believe that because I have met all kinds of very competent people here. Beyond that, of course, even though some people complain that infrastructure is run down, I find that the infrastructure in this country is still remarkable compared to other African countries.

The climate is excellent and last week we went on field trips outside Harare; my first field trip outside Harare. We visited Bulawayo, Lupane, Hwange, Kariba. We visited a couple of rural projects: farming, irrigation schemes and also health workers in Lupane.

So, I have to say I am delighted to be here.

LT: What exactly does the recent scrapping of “appropriate measures” against Zimbabwe mean?

VD: What happened is in 2002 the European Council took a decision based on Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement to which Zimbabwe is a party. It was decided that all development co-operation with Zimbabwe would no longer be channelled through Government institutions, but only through non-governmental institutions, mainly multi-lateral organisations – Unicef, UNDP, Fao — and also through civil society.

And the lifting of Article 96 appropriate measures means that we can re-engage with the Government. Re-engagement with the Government itself as an institution allows us to have a more programmatic approach to all development co-operation, a more strategic approach to our co-operation.

It also allows us to help more efficiently the Government in implementation of its own political and economic reform programmes. We have Zim Asset. We also have the economic reform programme that Government recently developed and which was agreed to with the International Monetary Fund – the Staff Monitored Programme.

We have the political reforms programme, which the President announced at the opening of the Second Session of Parliament in terms of Constitutional alignment.

So, we can now accompany the Government in a much more effective way in implementing all these reforms set out by Government.

We can engage Government on policy reform issues in different sectors through joint programming.

We can engage with the Government notably in areas of governance, agriculture and health, which are the three core sectors of concentration.

So, we will be able to have much more effective development co-operation, allowing us to shift from the more emergency type of approaches.

For example, in agriculture, instead of focusing almost exclusively on food security issues and humanitarian aid, we can now move to rebuild value chains in agriculture with the private sector, with Government (and) with the different stakeholders.

So, we will be much more effective in the delivery of our aid.

LT: Has the EU formally written to the Government of Zimbabwe about scrapping the sanctions?

VD: Of course, we started by announcing it to the Government. The first step when you make that decision is to go and meet the Government. So, of course, we met the key people in the Government to explain the lifting of the appropriate measures and only once we had announced it to Government, we then informed the other stakeholders, that is the private sector, the civil society and the media, but we, of course, announced it to Government.

LT: Why scrap the “appropriate measures” now? What informed this decision?

VD: It’s a long process. I mean the different measures which have been taken since 2002 are reviewed on an annual basis, be it the restrictive measures, which refer to the travel bans and the asset freeze.

Also the appropriate measures linked to development co-operation have been assessed on a regular basis and we have been adjusting all these measures.

We have been suspending some of the restrictive measures over the last few years and we announced the lifting of the appropriate measures in February this year after having already suspended some of those measures.

So, this is a gradual process, which is notably linked to the overwhelming support given by the population to the new Constitution, which is very progressive and meets all international standards.

And everybody is willing to operationalise.

LT: What is stalling normalisation of relations between Zimbabwe and the EU?

VD: We are in a process. I am not commenting on the decision which will be made in future for full normalisation of relations.

What we agreed with the Government and we also discussed when we presented our credentials is that we should engage in pragmatic discussions, find confidence-building measures on both sides to rebuild trust and that through this confidence-building measures.

Gradually, we will go to further normalisation of our relations.

LT: Several EU members have always been against the sanctions, arguing that the impasse is between Zimbabwe and Britain.

VD: I am not commenting on individual member states. What I know is that the decisions taken by EU are collective decisions which are taken by the European Council with unanimity.

That means that we all stand by our decision.

Maybe sometimes there are divergences of appreciations on the speed at which we should have the progress, but overall, we are on the same line.

And as I said, we agree that we have to find ways to reconnect to confidence-building measures.

We had the United Kingdom trade mission a few weeks ago, which, I think, was a very significant move. We had the Danish Minister of Trade and Co-operation who visited Harare a couple of weeks ago.

We now have momentum which we have to build and, again, as I said, to make progress.

LT: Why keep the President and his wife on the sanctions list if you genuinely want re-engagement?

VD: I am sincere on our ambition to engage and enhance our engagement with the Republic of Zimbabwe. And I am sincere when I say we have to look forward and find ways to collaborate in a constructive way.

And we have all elements at hand now, through the lifting of Article 96, of engaging in political policy dialogue with Government and helping the Government in its reform processes.

So, let’s go ahead and by going ahead through this partnership, the rest will follow.

LT: But in what way does keeping President Mugabe under sanctions help normalise relations and ensure aid reaches Zimbabweans directly?

VD: The restrictive measures focus on travel bans and an asset freeze on a limited number of individuals and entities. This has nothing to do with the effectiveness of development aid. Development aid is not managed, in any country, through the President of the republic. We have a national authorising officer who is the person designated by the Government of Zimbabwe as our interlocutor for the co-ordination of our development aid with this country.

So, our development aid is co-ordinated by him and nobody prevents us to work with that person, who is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.

As I said, let’s be pragmatic.

Let’s find ways to engage in trade, engaging in the development field, rebuild trust, change perception on both sides and the rest will follow.

LT: The European Development Fund will benefit several developing countries. Is Zimbabwe also included, and what sectors would be targeted?

VD: We have continued through the EDF to commit funds to this country. There is continuity. What will change over the next few years is the way we have conceived our development aid since we re-engage the Government to ensure that our aid is aligning itself on the development goals of the Government of Zimbabwe.

So, the 11th European Development Fund, which covers the period of 2015-2020, will now come upstream early 2015. We will implement that programme, which is 234 million euros programme at this stage. So, roughly US$300 million over the years.

LT: How will the aid be channelled?

VD: The aid modalities are based on different criteria in terms of effectiveness and risk assessment of the next short-term period. The aid modalities will be in line with what has been done in the past that we will help the Government strengthen its public finance management to create conditions for them to be able to absorb the money over the next few years.

But we will have to rebuild capacity in Government.

I will give a couple of examples.

We have over the last few years been supporting the health sector together with other partners, including some other EU members states such as the UK and Sweden and so forth, and we have done that through what we call a basket fund managed by Unicef.

And this has been extremely effective.

All indicators prove it.

The health indicators have been consistently improving over the last few years.

What we have agreed is that we will continue to support the health sector through the Unicef-managed fund.

But this Unicef fund is managed, of course, by many other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

There is permanent dialogue and that includes the component of strengthening institutional capacities of the Ministry of Health.

Through this institutional capacity enforcement in the Ministry of Health, we will build conditions for gradually shifting away from a donor-driven approach to a more integrated approach with Government.

Same thing with (the) economic reform programme. As I said earlier, the Government has agreed on a reform programme which will be monitored by the IMF.

I think all partners, first and foremost Government, have committed to implementing that reform programme. The experts, who may help Government comply with that reform programme, are in the IMF, the World Bank and, maybe, also the African Development Bank.

These are really the organisations which most effectively help the Government in reforms of public finance management; with designs, public procurement rules and so forth.

What we propose is that we help Government through the World Bank in reforming finance management.

But at the moment, the capacities have been strengthened to the extent that we can gradually again shift towards direct support to Government.

These are gradual processes that have to be assessed step by step.

There is no generic to the question of how will we channel our fund.

We have to assess the situation project by project to see how effectively we can help the Government of Zimbabwe.

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  • Hurungudo

    Poorly researched interview.

  • Nyatsimba

    The Europeans must respect us as a people. When they choose to denigrate our president (politely of course) for fighting for us then we will not like them. Whether they like it or not Mugabe has changed our minds forever as Zimbabweans. We simply want a good share of our resources.