CANADA is one of the Western countries which imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe following the violent and chaotic post-2000 land reform programme. Since then, relations between the two countries have been frosty. In the wake of political changes in Zimbabwe which necessitated re-engagement with the global community, hopes have been high relations between the two countries would be normalised. Our reporter, Andrew Kunambura, sat down with Canadian ambassador to Zimbabwe René Cremonese this week for a wide-ranging interview to interrogate and unpack the North American country’s current position on Zimbabwe and related issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:
AK: I understand there was a delegation from Canada which was in Harare recently. What was its mission?
RC: The delegation was led by Marc Andre Fredette, director-general at Global Affairs Canada for Southern and Eastern Africa. He was accompanied by Thomas Cassart, the deputy director for Southern Africa. They met with a wide range of interlocutors including with the permanent secretary for Foreign Affairs, James Manzou, political and economic analysts, representatives from the diplomatic community and international financial institutions, as well as a number of civil society organisations. The delegation was here to listen and learn about the current situation in Zimbabwe and to better understand the opportunities and challenges the country faces moving forward.
AK: What is your assessment of Zimbabwe’s current political and economic reform agenda, especially in light of the political changes that have taken place in the country over the past year?
RC: Canada was pleased to take part in the European Union electoral observation mission and take note of the mission’s findings and recommendations. We also took note of the reports of other observer missions such as from the Commonwealth, International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute, the African Union and Southern African Development Community. The activities and reports of domestic observer organisations were also extremely important. We look forward to the implementation of reforms, which respond to observer missions’ recommendations, such as levelling the playing field, as well as commitments to align a large array of Zimbabwean legislation with the 2013 constitution. President Mnangagwa made reference to a number of important human rights reforms in his inaugural address, including implementing the law against child marriage and criminalising marital rape, among many others. It is our sincere hope that these commitments lead to concrete and timely action on the part of the government. We are also keenly aware of the economic challenges facing the country and note with great interest the budget statement recently presented to Parliament by the Finance minister.
AK: Until now, Zimbabwe’s relations with Canada have been characterised by bilateral problems. Are the changes that have been introduced by government sufficient for Canada to reconsider mending bilateral relations with Zimbabwe?
RC: Canada-Zimbabwe relations have been and are characterised by a number of important ties. Canada established diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe in 1980 following Zimbabwe’s Independence and has been here ever since. In 2016-2017, Canada invested almost Canadian $19 million in development funding and humanitarian relief, mainly through multilateral channels. There are also strong people-to-people ties between our two countries with many Zimbabwean students choosing to study in Canada, creating warm personal relationships between our two countries.
AK: What can be done to improve trade relations between the two countries?
RC: In late 2017, we witnessed a marked increase in interest from Canadian companies in Zimbabwe, particularly in the extractive sector. While some companies have taken concrete steps to explore commercial and investment opportunities, many appear to be tracking developments related to the business climate and economic reform before advancing with their plans. Improvements in the rule of law and security of investment, including land tenure, ease of repatriation of revenues, availability of foreign exchange, and stabilisation of the country’s currency challenges are among the areas being cited by potential investors and traders.
AK: We still have a sizeable list of high-profile Zimbabweans, especially former ministers and senior Zanu PF officials appearing on the Canadian sanctions list. What will it take for Canada to lift those sanctions?
RC: In 2008, Canada adopted Special Economic Measures Act (Zimbabwe) Regulations with respect to Zimbabwe. These measures prohibit arms trade with Zimbabwe, and impose sanctions against listed Zimbabweans and entities. These measures will remain in place until there are positive shifts in Zimbabwean policy that result in improvements in human rights, democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.
AK: Currently, can you explain which development projects could Canada be interested in and what are your views on the current economic thrust in Zimbabwe?
RC: Total Canadian International Assistance in Zimbabwe in 2016-17 totalled almost Canadian $19 million. About $6 million of that went to assistance related to fighting Aids, tuberculosis and malaria and to promote education. Canada also contributed significantly to multilateral drought relief efforts in 2016. In the context of the 2018 elections, Canada is funding two modest initiatives to address elections-related gender-based violence and to provide an assessment of post- elections Zimbabwe.
Through our embassy-run fund for local initiatives, this year we have contributed to eight small projects countrywide that all focus on the empowerment of women and girls. Some of these projects focus on assisting survivors of gender-based violence; others focus on economic empowerment and improving women’s participation in local and national governance.
Considering that this interview is being conducted during the annual 16 Days campaign against gender-based violence, it is fitting as well that we underline the importance of this issue for Canada in Zimbabwe. This is a global problem, certainly one that is all too common in Canada, which demands concerted action. The embassy of Canada will be part of awareness-raising events related to projects we are supporting by Zimbabwe civil society organisations. For example, Shamwari YeMwanaSikana will be organising a Gender Symposium in Marondera District on December 7, 2018, bringing together women and girls, men and boys, local leaders and decision-makers to discuss how to promote gender equality, foster sexual and reproductive health rights and counter gender-based violence. The Southern African Parliamentary Trust is organising a meeting to assist women and girls in putting forward their needs and demands to female members of the new parliament.
AK: How do you rate Zimbabwe in terms of promoting and upholding human rights, particularly the rights of women and children?
RC: Canada was encouraged by the court ruling banning child marriage in Zimbabwe in 2016. As in all countries, promoting gender equality is an ongoing process that requires consistent efforts of both men and women. We are concerned about the situation of women in Zimbabwe, where, according to UN statistics, one in three girls is married before the age of 18, and almost seven out of 10 women report experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime. There remain a number of barriers to women’s empowerment and meaningful engagement in the political sphere as well. These are institutional, financial and cultural.
Improving the situation of women and girls in Zimbabwe requires consistent and meaningful action at all levels of society and in all spheres from the household to the church, from the courts to the parliament.
We have participated in the past in the regular Universal Periodic Review for Zimbabwe — a process to which each UN member has committed. As well, we have noted views expressed by civil society and other non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe concerning priority areas for reform related to both political and economic rights.
A key element in this regard, which has been acknowledged by government, is the need to align laws to the 2013 constitution. Such an initiative will also necessitate analysis of Zimbabwe’s adherence to international norms with respect to human rights such as those embodied in Sadc and African Union instruments.
As with any government, announced intentions represent positive movement forward, but the ultimate test comes through public consultation on which reforms are needed and then concrete implementation in a timely manner through appropriate channels.