BEHIND the scenes government is desperately engaging the international community including the European Union and multilateral institutions as it seeks to attract crucial foreign direct investment to ease the liquidity crunch gripping the country, but the authorities seem to have somehow perfected the art of throwing spanners in their own work.
Recent events have brought to the fore rule of law, human rights and property rights issues.
As part of the re-engagement thrust, the cash-strapped Zimbabwean government is also pleading for direct budgetary support and debt relief, pledging to adhere to its commitments under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP) to prove its sincerity.
Under the SMP, government has committed itself to strengthening its external position as a pre-requisite for arrears clearance, resuming debt service and restoring access to external financing.
Government has also pledged to consolidate its fiscal position, accumulate international reserves and mobilise international support for resolving the country’s external debt situation, while also restoring confidence in the financial sector and improving public debt and financial management.
In addition, it has promised reforms to enhance the business climate, boost productivity and competitiveness as well as build confidence.
An IMF delegation last week said Zimbabwe was on course to meeting its targets, which appears another step in the right direction.
But while government’s re-engagement efforts are laudable in that they may result in the country normalising diplomatic and trade relations with the rest of the world and not just looking East, as it has tried with little to show for more than a decade, Zimbabwe still has a lot to do to cleanse itself and convince the teeming ranks of sceptics.
While the IMF delegation was in the country reviewing the SMP, Zimbabwe’s commitment to observing human rights was being questioned after a journalist and activist Itai Dzamara was abducted in broad daylight in Glen View, by what many believe to be state security agents.
Dzamara was increasingly becoming a thorn in the flesh for government — even if he was not a threat — as he was threatening to mobilise Zimbabweans to embark on street protests to confront government over its disastrous governance record.
In October last year, Dzamara delivered a petition to Mugabe’s Munhumutapa offices in Harare to demand that the president steps down immediately and pave way for fresh elections.
Last November he was brutally assaulted by police as he prepared to march in Harare’s central business district to raise awareness of the Occupy Africa Unity Square protest he had started the previous month.
Dzamara’s abduction made international headlines and was condemned by opposition parties, civil society organisations and the international community, including the EU, United States and Canada.
Government, through Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, also condemned the adduction while police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri described the kidnapping as barbaric. But many Zimbabweans felt they were merely shedding crocodile tears given past abductions and are demanding swift action.
Civil society organisations have threatened to lobby for the dethronement of Mugabe from both his Africa Union and Sadc chairships unless government brings back Dzamara.
“If the government fails to bring Itai Dzamara back immediately, civil society will lobby Sadc and AU to remove President Robert Mugabe from chairing those institutions,” said 83 organisations in a statement.
“Civil society has every reason to think that the state is complacent with such abductions as shown by the abduction and disappearance of human rights defender, Jestina Mukoko, in December 2008 who was eventually brought to Matapi Police Station in Mbare after 21 days and her perpetrators never apprehended.”
While the country’s human rights record was being questioned, its commitment to property rights was also under scrutiny given dramatic events at Maleme Farm in Matobo district, Matabeleland South where gutsy villagers mobilised to resist the takeover of a farm by a Central Intelligence Organisation official Rodrick Mashingaidze.
The villagers, with the support of their traditional leaders, demonstrated against the take-over and in a futile attempt to intimidate them, police arrested 40 members of the community, but this only emboldened the villagers.
Also attracting negative headlines, again concerning land reform which continues to be chaotic, was Tourism minister Walter Mzembi’s attempt to force himself onto Barquest Farm in Masvingo, which is the province’s largest hatchery project that produces 100 000 day-old chicks per week.
The Masvingo community resisted the take-over, forcing Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa to intervene.
Another high-profile land grabbing case involved the take-over of an Anglican Church farm where Cyrene High School is located. The church is threatening to close the school which has been operating since 1936 and whose chapel was declared a National Monument in 1987, arguing farming activities were sustaining the school.
The land grabs are in line with Mugabe’s hostile pronouncement during his 91st birthday celebrations in Victoria Falls that the government would take over farms and safari operations from remaining white farmers.
A European diplomat who spoke to Zimbabwe Independent, but asked not to be named, said some pronouncements by government officials were militating against the “good work” government has been doing.
“There has been a real desire by the government for dialogue. There is positive engagement and the impression that we are getting is that they want to normalise relations. Government officials are willing to discuss issues, including topics which were difficult to discuss such as the human rights situation,” said the diplomat.
“Generally, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation over the last few years, but then you get events such as Dzamara’s abduction. This puts the negative spotlight back on Zimbabwe.”
The diplomat added: “Of late there have been renewed questions concerning the country’s commitment to the rule of law and it does not help when the judiciary is threatened or when court orders are violated like we saw at Manzou Farm.
“The farm invasions suggest that property rights are still an issue in Zimbabwe. These are the things which the government must get rid of.”
Mugabe — whose hostile anti-West rhetoric clingers on — is livid at the challenge by his former comrades Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo who approached the High Court challenging the legality of the controversial Zanu PF congress held last December which led to their dismissal and demotion together with former vice-president Joice Mujuru to ordinary card-carrying members of the party.
Speaking recently Mugabe said: “If there is a magistrate or judge who will want to preside over this matter, then I would like to know where he/she went to school and where he/she got the powers to rule over Zanu PF.
“I will ask because this matter is not one for the courts. If we say we no longer want you in our party and want you to leave, is that a problem?”
Eddie Cross, an economist and MDC-T legislator, says government should be commended for engaging the international community. He, however, warned it may not reap the desired fruits if it does not respect the rule of law, human rights and property rights.
“The first thing is to note that the efforts by the president to engage are not only welcome, but very critical. The economy is in a precarious position, everywhere you look disaster is looming,” he said.
“The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe announced that mining is contracting, and actually the economy is contracting. Revenue to the state has declined by 20% since July last year and about 92% of government revenue is going towards recurrent expenditure, mainly salaries.
“This calls for immediate support from the international community and multi-lateral institutions. Therefore the move to re-engage makes complete sense. It’s a must.”
But Cross said efforts by government officials such as Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa could count for nothing in the end.
“While this is going on we are still having ridiculous farm grabs throughout the country. The disappearance of Dzamara is also very serious. It suggests that we are back to the dark old days.”
“As long as there is no respect for the rule of law, human rights and property rights, the desired results will be difficult to achieve. What is happening is actually sabotage of the re-engagement programme,” he said.
Another economic analyst Takunda Mugaga said Zimbabwe is in a catch-22 situation such that it had no choice but to engage with the international community.
Mugaga said all economic indicators were signalling a very tough 2015 as all indices were pointing downwards, including agriculture which had done well in previous years, making it imperative government re-engages.
“This means that the government has to climb down from its lofty position. It also has no choice but to streamline its operations to cut its wage bill.”