The Sunday Mail
Nonkululeko Zandile Ndlovu and Elizabeth Nyambuya
ZIMBABWE’S relations with Western countries have improved over the past few years, as Government accelerates its engagement and re-engagement drive.
Some countries, especially in Europe, that were previously hostile towards Zimbabwe are softening.
This is no coincidence.
It is a product of a deliberate re-engagement policy.
Of particular note is the European Union (EU), which was previously one of the groupings that was highly critical of Zimbabwe.
Through both figures and gestures, an eye trained to interpret issues at the geopolitical level can see the softening stance.
There has been a significant shift from the days of former EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Philippe Van Damme, whose demeanour came off as that of an opposition activist, as he waded into matters that are ordinarily beyond the scope of ambassadorial decorum.
In May 2018, in the run-up to that year’s Harmonised General Elections, Mr Van Damme offered to use EU systems to audit Zimbabwe’s voters’ roll, a request whose precedent is hard to trace.
As expected, the outlandish request was not declined.
But it put into perspective the manner in which he operated: adopting a combative approach in relating to Zimbabwe’s political administration.
Mr Van Damme was replaced by Mr Timo Olkkonen.
Since then, there have been positive discussions on a regular basis between Government and EU representatives.
Results have been encouraging, vindicating the decision taken by the President Mnangagwa-led Second Republic to be “an enemy of none and a friend to all”.
In February 2020, the EU removed some Government officials from its sanctions list and pledged support for economic and political reforms.
Trade between Zimbabwe and the EU has also been improving.
In 2009, trade between Zimbabwe and the EU stood at 282 million euros, rising 51 percent to 585 million euros in 2021, according to statistics from the EU.
The numbers peaked around the same time that the re-engagement agenda was initiated, a sign that dialogue between the two parties was reflecting on the balance sheet.
Beyond trade, the EU has also made direct investments into Zimbabwe.
Recently, the bloc announced a 400-million-euro facility, which will be disbursed to the country through the Europe Investment Bank (EIB).
The injection is the second-largest capital injection into Zimbabwe over the past five years after the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s US$961 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation.
Zimbabwe and the EU are clear that there is work to be done.
Commenting on the EU facility in his column in The Sunday Mail, President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe is ready to pull its weight in the improvement of the relations.
This communicates political will of the highest order.
“We must build on this to ensure that this newly forged amity deepens and consolidates irrevocably,” said President Mnangagwa.
The EU echoed President Mnangagwa’s sentiments.
New EU ambassador Mr Jobst von Kirchmann expressed commitment to supporting Zimbabwe’s vision to become an upper-middle income economy.
“We discussed how far the European Union can support the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) and Vision 2030,” he said.
Ambassador von Kirchmann said the funds are supposed to be directed towards gender equality, women empowerment and climate-smart agriculture.
Judging from the improvements in the Zim-EU relations, the former is now setting its sights on joining the Commonwealth, and, most recently, BRICS.
When Zimbabwe started the win-win re-engagement agenda being led by then Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo, it appeared as a long shot.
However, it would appear the world is ready to listen to Zimbabwe.
Developments on the economic front, where investments and trade are improving, are proving to be a seal of confidence.
The jury is out on whether or not this progress with re-engaging the EU will extend to the United States of America, but perhaps there can be consensus that the EU-Zimbabwe relations can be applied as a measure of how the country is no longer viewed as a pariah.
The 27 countries in the EU have accepted Zimbabwe, and the number looks set to grow.
*Nonkululeko Zandile Ndlovu and Elizabeth Nyambuya are Masters in International Trade and Diplomacy students at the University of Zimbabwe