The Sunday Mail
Lovemore Ranga Mataire
For the first time in 15 years, Zimbabwe and the European Union last Wednesday held formal talks that are set to redefine relations between Harare and Brussels that were in the past characterised by open hostility.
It must be noted that one of the priority issues outlined by President Mnangagwa at his inauguration was the need to reintegrate Zimbabwe into the community of nations through re-engagement.
Many will remember that the frosty relations between the EU and Zimbabwe emanated from its bilateral differences with former colonial Britain, following the country’s decision to embark on a fast-track land reform programme meant to correct historical iniquities.
As a member of the EU, Britain managed to exert its influence on other member-states that in turn imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 in accordance with the Common Position 2002/14/CFSP.
The sanctions comprised of an arms embargo, asset freeze, travel ban on what was said to be targeted individuals and entities. The sanctions have over the years been amended, weaning out certain individuals and relaxing certain aspects.
However, the advent of the new dispensation in 2017, that led to the resignation of then President Mugabe signalled the beginning of new relations between Brussels and Harare.
While acknowledging the past frosty relations between the two parties, President Mnangagwa’s administration has consistently and persistently sought to take a different trajectory of re-engagement and rapprochement.
In essence, the talks signify the realisation of President Mnangagwa’s re-engagement policy which seeks to re-integrate Zimbabwe into the global family of nations.
The talks are taking place under the auspices of Article 8 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, which governs relations between member states of the African-Caribbean Pacific regions and the European Union.
There is no doubt that the talks are a tonic for the opening of a fresh chapter that has a positive impact for Zimbabwe whose international standing had adverse effects on economic growth. The dialogue is also a fulfilment of President Mnangagwa’s 2030 vision which commits to transform the country into an Upper Middle Income Economy.
While it is early days yet to categorically pinpoint the immediate impact of the talks, it is humbling to note that the engagement is taking place in the spirit of mutual trust and focusing on a broad spectrum of issues. These include investment, human rights, rule of law, democracy and development cooperation.
The last Wednesday talks are thus a culmination of informal discussions that have been taking place since the coming into the fold of the Second Republic.
EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Tim Olkkonen who led the European accredited ambassadors could not have put it any better when he said: “The government of Zimbabwe has been clear that significant political and economic reforms are necessary for the benefit of its people. EU is there to support Zimbabwe more ahead with its reform agenda. In this, we want to be constructive, credible and a transparent partner.”
The acknowledgement by the EU of significant strides taken by the Zimbabwean government to institute reforms across the political and economic strata are likely to send positive signals across the world.
Foreign Affairs Foreign Permanent Secretary who represented the Zimbabwean delegation assured the EU bloc of the government’s sincerity in opening a new page of relations based on mutual trust and openness. He highlighted the fact that the government had already started implementing some of the reforms meant to open the democratic space, curb corruption and making it easier for foreign investment to set shop in the country.
Ambassador Manzou said the political and economic reforms that the government was implementing were key in creating a conducive environment for business and more importantly for improving the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Unlike before, the gap between the two parties seem to have narrowed and one hopes that the few sticking issues would be ironed out in not so a distant future. As indicated by Mr Olkkenon, the hope is that the political dialogue will become an integral part of the relations between the EU and Zimbabwe.
Perpetual adversarial relations are not beneficial to either of the two parties. Any well-meaning Zimbabwean should thus be supportive of the engagement that is set to create and foster mutual understanding and open doors of robust trade and economic development through investment from Western countries.
A good rapport between Zimbabwe and the EU holds promise of increased investment, trade opportunities and would surely strengthen and enhance transparency.
Earlier this year, both SADC and the African Union have called for the removal of sanctions saying their continued existence stifle efforts by the new administration to undertake a new trajectory.
In a statement issued in February, SADC chair, Namibian President Hage Geingob said the regional bloc was against the continued existence of economic sanctions.
“Since coming to power, the new government of Zimbabwe has continued with concerted efforts to address socio-economic challenges and transform the economy, particularly through the Zimbabwe Transitional Stabilisation Programme, and to consolidate unity and peace in the country,” President Geingob said.
Geingob further said the Zimbabwean government’s efforts to transform the economy and bring about prosperity to the people of Zimbabwe were being negatively affected by illegal sanctions that were imposed on the country since the early 2000s.
So ultimately, the talks should eventually lead to the removal of sanctions as indications of President Mnangagwa’s sincerity in instituting reforms are apparent. These reforms include repealing of constrictive laws, the opening up and easing of the business environment, liberalisation of the media environment and dealing the scourge of corruption.
Already, the government has signed up to an IMF monitoring programme where it has committed itself to political and economic reforms in a bid to set a track record of fiscal discipline likely to result in debt reduction and future financing opportunities.