Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma (MDC-T), Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa (Zanu PF) and Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC) led the re-engagement team in talks with the EU in the Belgian capital.
Talks have been ongoing since 2009 as part of broad efforts to implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) to restore political and economic stability before free and fair elections are held.
Negotiations are going on within the framework and context of the EU-Africa Cotonou Agreement, Article 96, which says “political dialogue concerning respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law shall be conducted within the parameters of internationally recognised standards and norms”.
“The parties may agree on joint agendas and priorities. Benchmarks are mechanisms for reaching targets through the setting of intermediate objectives and timeframes for compliance,” it reads.
The EU slapped President Robert Mugabe and his top allies and associated companies who either owned, controlled or were linked to Zanu PF with the measures in 2002, citing rampant political violence and gross human rights violations which it said hindered the holding of free and fair elections in the country.
The targeted sanctions specifically followed the expulsion of EU election observer Pierre Schori, a Swedish UN diplomat whom the group had designated head of its proposed 150-strong team for the disputed March 2002 presidential polls.
In defiance of Zimbabwe’s demands that the EU’s team be part of that of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, the European bloc dispatched Schori to Harare but government refused to accredit him, saying he could only stay as a “tourist”.
Zimbabwe also banned election observers from Germany, Finland, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, citing their alleged bias against the government, and further specified the joint ACP-EU team should be led by an ACP official.
Then Foreign Affairs minister, Stan Mudenge, said the government regarded the Swedish diplomat as a tourist visiting the country, and ruled out accreditation of the EU separate from the specified joint ACP-EU team.
Prior to that, the EU and Harare had been fighting over chaotic land seizures, political repression and human rights abuses ahead of the election. Instead of further dialogue, Zimbabwe formally declared a dispute between the two sides under Article 98 of the ACP-EU partnership agreement, allowing it to seek independent arbitration.
The EU retaliated with targeted sanctions.
However, analysts say unless Zimbabwe fully implements the GPA, which tackles issues in EU-Africa relations, the Cotonou Agreement, sanctions would remain. Political analyst Charles Mangongera said implementation of the GPA was crucial to the removal of sanctions.
“The key to Zimbabwe in normalising its relations lies in government tackling all outstanding issues in the GPA. That should be the basis of re-engagement with the EU,” he said.
“The critical thing which needs to be assessed right now is whether the GPA has delivered democracy or not in Zimbabwe, otherwise there hasn’t been any change in political attitudes and no fundamental changes in behaviour of those under the targeted restrictions to warrant their removal.”
Another analyst, Alexander Rusero, a Harare Polytechnic lecturer in Mass Communication, said Mugabe needed two things from the inclusive government, namely legitimacy of his presidency after the disputed June presidential election run-off and removal of sanctions.
The two MDC formations and Zanu PF agreed to a raft of reforms, including amending electoral and media laws and drafting a new constitution, to pave way for free and fair polls.
However, work on the new charter has run in fits and starts with Zanu PF being accused of trying to frustrate the process to force an early election under the Lancaster House constitution.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has accused Zanu PF of stalling the reform process, but maintains he would not quit and continues to insist on reforms.
However, Rusero believes even if there were no meaningful reforms in Zimbabwe, the restrictive measures should be lifted given that Zimbabwe now has an inclusive government.
“Though the EU is clear that Mugabe’s administration has to deliver on the reforms for it to consider lifting the restrictions, the measures would not achieve anything because the political dynamics have changed since the formation of GNU,” he said. “The EU has to note that it is no longer about Zanu PF but a government of national unity and this also means holding free and fair polls.”
Although Zanu PF has hailed the re-engagement process, the EU has already ruled out lifting the measures, saying only free and fair elections could change the situation.
“The punitive measures were taken after taking into consideration the electoral situation and serious human rights abuses committed in 2002,” said the EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia.
“The EU has been very clear that these measures will be lifted when credible elections, where people can express their wishes freely, as well as results which are respected by stakeholders, have taken place,” he said.
However, the EU diplomat said while Europe noted the progress in Zimbabwe since the formation of the coalition government in 2009, more needs to happen.
Dell’Ariccia also said only the elimination of the causes that led the EU to impose the sanctions would lead to the full removal of these measures.
Political commentator Ernest Mudzengi argues Zanu PF lacks the political will to implement reforms to facilitate free and fair elections. “Zanu PF is by no means doing better in relation to political reforms and neither is it doing any better in terms of its commitment to implementing reforms,” said Mudzengi.
“This push by Zimbabwe shows the sanctions are indeed biting the individuals on whom they have been imposed.”
International Crisis Group’s Trevor Maisiri stated that Zanu PF has been manipulating the restrictions issue politically and using it for propaganda purposes as part of its efforts to frustrate reforms and mobilise against perceived internal and external enemies.
“Zanu PF argues that reform is contingent on the removal of sanctions and accuses the MDC-T of reneging on GPA commitments to facilitate this,” Maisiri said. “It is true that there are no meaningful reforms on the ground that can persuade the EU to revise the restrictions but lifting these measures can also be a measure to build confidence or motivate political parties to move forward, although the lifting has to be progressive.”
National Constitutional Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku concurred, saying he believes the EU has to act so as not to continue giving Mugabe a pretext to undermine or block reforms.
“Nothing on the ground has really changed politically but the EU should remove the restrictions so that it does not continue to give Mugabe a voice,” said Madhuku. “The GNU warrants the removal of these measures as well.”
However, deputy Justice and Legal Affairs minister and MDC-T senator Obert Gutu says the inclusive government should adopt reforms to warrant the lifting of restrictions.
“There should be reciprocity, meaning the GNU should proceed to fully implement the outstanding issues of the GPA, which include media reforms and repealing of the offending provisions of Posa and Aippa, amongst other issues. Then and only then, should these restrictive measures be lifted.”