Comment: Tangible reforms needed

IT was useful to learn that the French embassy had distanced itself from claims in the Herald that outgoing ambassador Laurent Contini had called for the removal of sanctions when he bade farewell to acting President Joice Mujuru last Thursday.

The French have in recent years proved much more responsive to democratic imperatives in Zimbabwe than was the case six years ago when President Jacques Chirac welcomed President Mugabe to the Elysée and it would be disappointing to assume they had jumped the gun on deliberations leading to the review of the common EU position on Zimbabwe scheduled for next month.

These deliberations will obviously focus on the issue of sanctions which were imposed in 2002 when the head of the EU’s election observer mission, Pierre Schori, was booted out of the country for identifying electoral manipulation and violence in the presidential poll.

The EU is currently engaged in dialogue with the government of national unity with a view to normalising relations. But one central problem remains. What reforms do EU member states see in Zimbabwe that will lead to a stable and democratic state in line with the principles set out in the Global Political Agreement?

Contini was careful to say that Zimbabwe, in addition to its EU talks, must mend fences with individual EU states, an obvious reference to Britain. But the EU as a whole will only arrive at a revised formula that all states can live with. That is going to be difficult in the absence of tangible reforms.

Reports from the inter-party talks that took place from November 23 to December 6 suggest a disappointing lack of progress, a tendency to defer important issues, and a worrying lack of commitment to democratic principles.

Great emphasis for instance was placed on pressing regional states to close down “pirate” radio stations, and for those stations to be repatriated and registered here, but nothing was said about guaranteeing a safe and unimpeded return for Zimbabwean journalists exiled in the Diaspora who mostly run those stations.

This is a nettle the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, has persistently declined to grasp.

Meanwhile, individuals appointed to the statutory commissions don’t always match the standards they are mandated to uphold.

For instance, the appointment almost unnoticed of former Chief Immigration Officer Elasto Mugwadi to the Human Rights Commission represents an egregious failure to include human rights values in fashioning a future society.

He was responsible for disregarding High Court orders upholding the rights of Guardian correspondent Andrew Meldrum who was illegally abducted, detained and deported in 2003 following his successful defence against prosecution under Aippa.

It was a brutal act of revenge by a delinquent regime.

The remnants of that regime continue to preside over the public media, misleading and lying to the public of Zimbabwe about the talks recently taking place and the reasons why sanctions were imposed eight years ago.

As a result there is little useful debate over such vital issues as constitution-making, human rights and democratic governance. Editorialists linked to the Zanu PF regime have publicly scorned these values.

Meanwhile, land reform is blocked because powerful barons from the ancien regime don’t want an ownership audit that will expose their careers in greed. Evictions based on race have not only damaged the country’s productive capacity but have discredited it as well. The same goes for the continued power matrix in JOC which has no mandate from the GNU.

Here lies the weakness of the current dialogue with the EU. Zimbabwe’s rulers want recognition and funding from the Europeans in fulfilment of both the GPA and the Cotonou process.

But they have little or nothing to show from the inter-party dialogue except upbeat statements where the wish is father to the thought. They can’t for instance agree on something as simple as chairmanship of the cabinet in Mugabe’s absence. The MDC has agreed to a number of questionable assertions such as denouncing “external interference” in Zimbabwe’s affairs when the country more than ever needs external assistance.

The South Africans who have been mediating have adopted a similar approach, full of optimism but no substance.

It is difficult in the circumstances to see how the EU can agree to blanket lifting of sanctions when so much needs to be done, particularly in the media, human rights and constitutional sectors.

The Europeans and Americans want to be helpful. It would be useful if they could be assisted in this by evidence of commitment on all sides to a democratic society and tangible reforms — which is why the GNU was established in the first place.

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