Since the formation of the unity government, Zimbabwe and the EU have opened re-engagement talks. The Zimbabwe Independent editor, Constantine Chimakure (CC), on Wednesday spoke to the newly appointed EU head of delegation to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia (AD), in the capital on the issue, among others. Below are excerpts from the interview.
CC: Were you sincere when you were quoted in the state media soon after presenting your credentials to Mugabe that there was press freedom in the country?
AD: My intention was to give some kind of positive message and my view is that the private media in this country show some vibrant independence. Your newspaper, for instance, is an excellent source of information and an example of media vibrancy in the country.
If you look at NewsDay, the Independent and the Financial Gazette there seems to be no self-censorship and in my view this demonstrates press freedom, although I am not saying there is complete press freedom.
There is still a monopoly in broadcasting which should be ended by legislation and reforms captured in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
CC: Can you talk of press freedom when we still have draconian laws in our statutes which inhibit it, journalists still in exile while others are facing criminal charges in the courts?
AD: I presented my credentials after I had only been in this country for nine days. My impressions were for those nine days. I have now been here for two months and I still believe that some of the things written demonstrate media independence and vibrancy.
I am informed there are legislative reforms taking place to improve the environment. It’s a long process but we hope of improvement. I see it from the optimistic point of view that the government of national unity is aiming at getting a better environment, generally in the country.
I will try to meet the authorities of the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to see how we can possibly support this process.
On legislation, it is a matter of a sovereign state to decide.
CC: Let’s turn to the latest impasse in the inclusive government on recent key appointments, among them, governors, ambassadors, etc. Tsvangirai has written to Western capitals, the EU and the UN saying the ambassadors should not be recognised. What is the EU stance on the issue?
AD: When we had the briefing by Mr Tsvangirai about these issues, I asked him if this was meaning that the GPA was no longer in force and his answer was very clear –– the GPA goes on. He said his party was still in the government of national unity. That was very important because it is on the basis of the GPA that we have established the re-engagement process with the country.
We have six ministers dealing in the re-engagement dialogue who have attended high-level ministerial meetings in Brussels and now the process will continue here in Harare …
The issue (Tsvangirai’s letter) is being analysed by our protocol service.
CC: Is the EU happy with the implementation of the GPA?
AD: The GPA to us is very important because it is the basis of our re-engagement with Zimbabwe in the process towards normalisation of relations.
We have seen positive outcomes of the GPA. There are outcomes which were very important like the establishment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Human Rights Commission.
We don’t interfere with the functioning of the GPA, but we are pleased that there are efforts of finding joint ways of moving the process forward in the development of the country. There are some results that are tangible.
My team and I have the task of reporting to our headquarters on the evolution of the GPA. There have been ups and downs, but we hope for positive things.
CC: Can I have dates of the Zim-EU re-engagement meeting in Harare?
AD: No, no, there are no dates yet. We have started discussing the matter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…
CC: When can we expect the lifting of sanctions?
AD: What sanctions? First of all, they are not sanctions but restrictive measures. The measures have been in force since 2002 and were a result of certain circumstances. They are reviewed every year to assess how the situation has evolved. The last review was February 2010. The measures were imposed on people who violated human rights and during the last review some people and companies were removed from the list.
These restrictive measures are not a stumbling block to the economic development of Zimbabwe. These are targeted sanctions, targeted on certain individuals and certain companies and not the population of Zimbabwe.The interesting point in the debate is that there are accusations that the restrictive measures are to blame for the slow pace of the development of the country, that they have an impact on goods and services prices, etc. There is no evidence of that, there is no demonstration how the EU restrictive measures have an impact on the economy.
The support of the EU to the Zimbabwe population has been sterling. The EU is the main development partner of Zimbabwe.
CC: Is it not that the EU has been bankrolling humanitarian projects only in the country?
AD: It’s not correct. The issue has been that because of the restrictive measures, we cannot channel our cooperation through government. We channel our cooperation through international organisations and non-governmental organisations. Nevertheless, this is done under the national development plan and all the projects are implemented with the cooperation of line ministries.
So, even though there is no direct support to the government, our cooperation goes into the strategic development of the country and it goes largely beyond strictly humanitarian aid. Just yesterday, the EU announced a 13,8 million euros envelope to go into the sugar industry. It is very important because beneficiaries of this project are smallholders. The money is for boosting production in the sugar sector.
Trade between Zimbabwe and the EU has been increasing steadily. I am pleased to say the EU has been the second most important trading partner of Zimbabwe after South Africa.
CC: Do you think Zimbabwe can have free and fair elections next year given the violence that erupted during the constitution-making outreach meetings recently?
AD: It is very difficult to extrapolate one event to the other. But in order to have elections that satisfy and reflect the will of the people you must have certain conditions in place and it is important for us to see if the conditions are fulfilled or not. You must have an electoral commission which is functioning properly, you must have a voters’ roll which is complete and clean, you must have voters’ education.
The violence was very worrying, more so to the people of Zimbabwe. The violence demonstrated that there is some more homework to be done to make sure there is no repeat of such incidences, especially during elections.
CC: According to Mugabe, your mission here is regime change?
AD: The position of the EU is that we do not interfere with internal affairs of the country. We believe that the people of Zimbabwe have the political maturity and are literate to chart their destiny without us coming to tell them what to do.
We are pleased when there is progress towards democracy, development and the will of the people is granted.