Time for Zim, West to fix strained relations

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DESPITE the qualified seal of approval on President Robert Mugabe’s recent poll victory by the African Union and Sadc, it’s high time Zimbabwe and the international community opened up lines of communication and put their frosty diplomatic relations behind them.

Candid Comment with Brian Mangwende

Incoming Sadc chairperson Malawi President Joyce Banda was right when she said Zimbabweans have suffered a lot over the years and the situation needs to be normalised.

This is what needs to be done.

Now that Mugabe has been sworn in, his government needs to seriously engage the international community to restore full diplomatic relations with Western countries. The time for posturing for elections purposes is over and people must now get real. But relations must be based on principles and values, not convenience.

Clearly, Zimbabwe and the West need each other, even though the former needs the latter much more, and thus they must do something to fix their relations strained by Harare’s policies which the West sharply criticised, particularly land reform, human rights abuses and economic devastation.

The reality on the ground is that Zimbabwe needs Western countries more than they need it.

Yes, Zimbabwe, after Western sanctions, has been looking East to China and Russia, for instance, for investment, but if the truth be told, Western countries still play a major role in the world and the Zimbabwean economy, including in those countries Harare is leaning on.

Western companies still dominate the Zimbabwean economy. Zimbabwe needs foreign direct investment from all over the world, including the West.

China is partly what it is now because the world’s biggest multinationals have long been active there. Smaller Western companies are turning East too because of good business environments. Western companies are pouring investment into China and other countries in the East.

In other words, while Zimbabwe is looking East, the East, after grasping the bigger picture on global economic dynamics, is now looking West. That’s how the real world works. Indigenisation is good, but it can’t happen in isolation.

So where does Harare start now that Mugabe has been inaugurated? This mustn’t be all that difficult. Just recently, in March, Zimbabwe held serious re-engagement talks in London with the so-called Friends of Zimbabwe on the way forward.

The Friends of Zimbabwe group includes EU member states, Australia, Japan, Canada and the US, and there were representatives from the IMF, World Bank, UN and African Development Bank in observer roles.

After the talks, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said Zanu PF was keen on the need “to turn a new leaf” on the relations between Zimbabwe and Western countries. Western countries at the time said they would work with whoever won the general elections provided they were free and fair.

However, as we now know, the EU and US have rejected the outcome of the recent polls. So the question is: what is to be done?

The London meeting and overtures with the US before elections which saw US President Barack Obama dispatching former UN ambassador Andrew Young and civil rights activist Jessie Jackson to Harare must provide a good starting point so that the problem is resolved to mutual benefit. Jackson was right when he said: “When there is growth and investment … everybody wins.”

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