This is the first time Australia has publicly stated that it wanted to see the back of Mugabe. The country sees Mugabe as the “major obstacle” to democratic reforms in Zimbabwe.
Australia’s move comes ahead of a meeting on Zimbabwe on June 1 in Oslo, Norway, of a group of Western donors led by the United States (US) and Britain, known as the Fishmongers.
America, Britain, Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Holland, Norway, Canada and Australia make up the Fishmongers Group and their meeting on Tuesday will deliberate on the state of the inclusive government, debt relief, public finance administration and the controversial economic indigenisation regulations.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent in Canberra on Tuesday, Australia’s Foreign Affairs minister Stephen Smith said Australia wanted Mugabe to go before financial aid for reconstruction can be extended to Zimbabwe.
“Our position is that Mugabe should move off the stage to allow a new beginning,” he told the Independent on the sidelines of Africa Day commemorations at the Botswana high commission. “Zimbabwe has no elected government. The coalition government has failed to implement the global political agreement in full because of Mugabe. He should move off the stage if the country is to reengage with the international community.”
Smith said Australia wanted democratic reforms to take root in Zimbabwe, leading to free and fair elections.
In a recent ministerial statement in parliament, Smith said Australia was looking forward to seeing “a full and fair” election in the southern African nation.
“Despite Zimbabwe’s modest recent progress, Australia remains deeply concerned that Zanu PF is not motivated to adhere to its obligations under the global political agreement,” Smith said. “Many of its actions are designed not merely to frustrate but to sabotage key aspects of the agreement. For that reason, Australia’s long-standing position on financial and travel sanctions will not change.”
The sharp-talking minister was adamant that Zimbabwe would not “move forward”.
“Much more significant progress will be required before the Australian government undertakes any broader review of Australia’s sanctions with respect to Zimbabwe,” Smith said. “Australia places the utmost importance on the need for real and demonstrated improvement in economic and political governance. The modest progress made so far is fragile.”
The fractious unity government is haggling over outstanding issues of the GPA, among them the re-hiring of central bank governor Gideon Gono, appointment of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and provincial governors, and the refusal by Mugabe to swear-in MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett as deputy Agriculture minister.
Like Australia, the European Union and the US say more improvements were required before Zimbabwe’s relations with the international community could be normalised.
Smith said his government was alarmed by the January gazetting of economic indigenisation regulations and described them as a “scheme designed only to benefit Zanu PF and its cronies. Its effect will be to unravel recent reforms and to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy”.
“As I have said, at some point in the cycle President Mugabe will leave the stage, removing the major obstacle to the reforms that Zimbabwe so desperately needs,” Smith said. “The international community, including Australia, will then be able to fully assist with the difficult task of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economic social and political fabric.”
He said his government had a responsibility to support Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and ministers from his party in their efforts to bring change to Zimbabwe.
“We have a responsibility to bolster the cause of reform,” said Smith, who met Finance minister Tendai Biti in London on January 28 to discuss ongoing reconstruction efforts in Zimbabwe. “Late last year, Australia decided it would consider opportunities for ministerial engagement on a case-by-case basis with those Zimbabwean ministers making a genuine contribution to the country’s social and economic recovery.”
Australia had since the formation of the inclusive government offered humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. In March it announced that it would look beyond emergency relief to longer-term measures to help restore capacity in essential services, such as water, education and health care.
Diplomatic sources in both Harare and Canberra told the Independent that the Fishmonger group at their Tuesday meeting were likely to increase humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe.
The Fishmongers, also known as Friends of Zimbabwe, the sources said, would not extend any financial help to revive the comatose economy “unless and until” the country returns to democracy.
Smith confirmed the Tuesday meeting and predicted that the group would not move on its stance on Zimbabwe as long as the GPA is not fully consummated and democratic reforms not undertaken.
The group is chaired by German ambassador to Zimbabwe Albrecht Conze who is expected to hand over the chairmanship to Barbara Richardson of Canada at the end of the Oslo meeting.
The meeting would be attended by ambassadors of the respective countries, among other senior foreign affairs officials.
Constantine Chimakure in Perth, Australia