A delegation picked from all political parties in the coalition government earlier this month met European representatives to boost dialogue that started in June last year, but had stalled because of disagreements between the 27-nation bloc and Zimbabwe over slow political and economic reforms.
Both the EU and the Zimbabwe delegation agreed to intensify the dialogue, raising hopes of a quick normalisation of ties with the world’s largest importer and exporter of goods and services.
But Mugabe poured scorn on the efforts barely a week after the Cabinet re-engagement committee had met with EU representatives, urging coalition government partners to abandon “futile initiatives”, in reference to the ongoing re-engagement efforts.
The EU, on the other hand, has on several occasions expressed displeasure at the slow pace of democratic reforms, and accuses Mugabe’s Zanu PF and anti-reformists within his clique of slowing down progress. Mugabe confirmed as much when he told members of his central committee on Thursday last week that Western countries would remain hostile to Zimbabwe because of his presence in government.
“We have friends in other parts of the world… let us work with those for progress and let us turn our back on those who do not want to work with us.
…let our partners in the inclusive government get that, so we do not waste our efforts on useless initiatives,” Mugabe said.
Takura Zhangazha, a political commentator, said Mugabe’s statements were not surprising, but served as a reminder of his lack of commitment to the global political agreement (GPA)…the power sharing agreement that requires coalition partners to engage the international community to end isolation.
Zhangazha said political reforms agreed to under the GPA were at a standstill, while intimidation and harassment of activists, including some from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party, would further harden the EU’s stance.
The impasse, commentators say, is further entrenched by hard-line positions from both Mugabe and the EU, creating a Catch 22 situation.
“The EU is sceptical about Mugabe’s commitment to the GPA,” said Zhangazha. “The EU and its allies are not really keen on making it substantive for the fact that Mugabe still seems to be completely in charge of the affairs of the government. Mugabe, on the other hand is suspicious of the manner in which the EU gives preference to the MDC and does not fully engage him on the issue of sanctions.”
He said the issue of sanctions would remain contentious because the EU says it will remove the restrictions only after Mugabe has fully implemented the GPA, while the octogenarian leader and his party have insisted on no further reforms until the EU removes the sanctions.
“Re-engagement is very important for this government given the general isolation it has suffered since 2000,” Zhangazha, a former student leader and media freedom campaigner said. “What is however more important are the issues that are to be tabled around the re-engagement debate. The issue for Zanu PF is sanctions.
However, it must first seek an independent assessment of the impact of these sanctions, either through parliament or an independent commission to convince us that this is an issue that can hold back the country’s re-engagement efforts.” Commentators such as Earnest Mudzengi, the director of the National Constitutional Assembly, said Zanu PF viewed re-engagement as an MDC agenda and therefore lacked serious dedication to the process.
“What Mugabe is doing by dismissing the re-engagement is to confirm the incoherence that is affecting the government,” Mudzengi said. “Mugabe in particular and Zanu PF in general have not changed a bit since entering into the coalition government. They have maintained their hard-line stance. The only time Zimbabwe will be able to successfully re-engage the international community is when fresh elections, which are internationally supervised and a result of a truly democratic constitution are held.”
Gabriel Shumba, an exiled lawyer and human rights campaigner, said the MDC needed to be more forceful in pushing its coalition government partners to respect re-engagement as a GPA issue.
“The political parties in government are functioning too much on the basis of their individual interests much to the detriment of the betterment of the lives of Zimbabweans,” Shumba said. “Re-engagement is an issue that both Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed up to under the GPA. The onus is on the MDC to respond by saying so and thus tame Mugabe’s statements both for the public and in cabinet.”