The relations have also been tense due to London’s forceful condemnation of Harare over political repression, human rights abuses and disputed election results which led to the imposition of sanctions by the European Union.
Zimbabwe Independent senior reporter Owen Gagare (OG) spoke to the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Deborah Bronnert (DB) about Zimbabwe-UK relations, the current political situation in the country and elections, among other issues. Excerpts:
OG: You arrived at a time (last year) when relations between Zimbabwe and Britain were strained. What have you done to normalise the situation?
DB: Britain has a very strong commitment to Zimbabwe and our development programme (which stood at US$140 million last year) is part of that evidence. There are clearly problems at the political level, although this isn’t just a UK-Zimbabwe issue but goes much wider, and our views are shared by many.
Part of my job is to try and ensure there is good communication between both sides. I want to ensure the UK has an up-to-date view of Zimbabwe. For example, when I was in London (recently) I spoke to a number of audiences in the British parliament, business and civil society about what is happening in Zimbabwe now.
OG: What is your assessment of the country’s political situation? Is Zimbabwe on the right path? What is your country’s view on the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA)?
DB: I have heard lots of frustration about the lack of progress on full implementation of the GPA, but I think the inclusive government remains the most credible means of taking forward reforms and transforming Zimbabwe’s prospects until the next elections. The inclusive government has a lot to be proud of — the economy has grown, inflation is stable and basic education and health services have been pulled back from the brink of collapse. There has also been some political reform and reports of human rights abuses seem to have fallen. Of course, we hope that reforms which have started will be seen through.
OG: What is your assessment of Sadc and South African President Jacob Zuma’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe?
DB: We very much welcome his personal leadership and the work to produce an election roadmap and we fully support him and Sadc in their efforts to create the conditions for credible and properly monitored elections in Zimbabwe.
OG: How do you relate with Zimbabwe’s political players across the divide?
DB: I talk to everybody and I’ve generally found that ministers from across the political divide have been very happy to talk to me and exchange views. We obviously don’t always agree but all exchanges have been courteous.
OG: Most European countries have been sceptical about Zimbabwe’s indigenisation programme; what is Britain’s position?
DB: I’d start of by saying it’s really important ordinary people in Zimbabwe benefit from investment and economic growth. So the idea of sustainable and inclusive economic growth has to be right and has to be particularly important in the context such as Zimbabwe’s. I’m concerned, and I have said this to the relevant ministers, about the way the indigenisation policy is being implemented and reports that I’ve heard from business that it’s undermining the business confidence and deterring investment that the country clearly needs.
OG: Would you say the policy has stopped British investment from flowing to the Zimbabwean economy and to what extent?
DB: It’s up to individual companies to make their own decisions, but recent figures (from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2011) suggest the Sadc region (excluding Angola) attracted some US$10 billion in foreign direct investment in 2010. Some neighbouring countries apparently received nearly US$1 billion each compared to just over US$100 million in Zimbabwe. This may be an indication that the Zimbabwean government needs to work harder to improve the business climate, including implementation of its indigenisation policy.
OG: There have been reports that Britain and the EU are desperate to re-engage Zimbabwe so that they benefit from its rich resources which include diamonds, in the face of massive movement by the Chinese, hence the removal of travel restrictions on Zanu PF ministers who are part of the re-engagement team. Is this the case?
DB: No. The UK and the rest of the EU want to see a stable and prosperous Zimbabwe. Of course, we’d like the political relationship to improve. On China, we welcome investment from China in the UK and China is playing an important role in the growth and development of Africa. Like China, we see trade as vital in helping African economies grow and exit poverty. But for countries to grow and develop, they require not just infrastructure but skills, improved health and better governance and institutions.
OG: Zimbabwe is likely to hold elections by the end of next year. Given what is going on in the country, do you think the country is ready?
DB: This is really for Zimbabweans to decide, but clearly in terms of what the rest of the world thinks, we would be looking at implementation of the GPA, and clearly the prospects for credible elections will be greater if sufficient time is allowed for important reforms.
OG: Does Britain see itself playing any role in these elections?
DB: We are ready to assist in monitoring efforts in Zimbabwe, including through multilateral partners such as the Commonwealth, but the UK will only come at the invitation of the government of Zimbabwe. I should just say in the UK when we have national elections we have a lot of international observers and the reason we do that is that we think it’s a good part of the democratic process. It’s important for countries to demonstrate both to their own systems and to the rest of the world that they are open and are proud of their democratic process and, therefore, they are comfortable with other people looking at what they are doing.