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Zim’s diplomatic offensive off the rails

LAST week’s damning testimonies in the United States senate on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe have thrown President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s international re-engagement agenda off balance, as Washington insists on the implementation of far-reaching political and economic reforms.

Nyasha Chingono

Since last November’s coup which ended president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, Mnangagwa has spearheaded an international campaign meant to bring Zimbabwe back into the community of nations.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Matthew Harrington last week said the ball is “squarely in the government’s court” to demonstrate commitment to a reformist path. But a year into the “new dispensation”, little has been done to transform the political and economic landscape. Rather, the US says reforms were moving at snail’s pace.
The US also argues that Mnangagwa had failed to take advantage of low-hanging fruits like media and electoral reforms to prove his serious intent to ushering sustainable change into the country.
“Today, the Republic of Zimbabwe renews itself. My government will work towards ensuring that the pillars of the State assuring democracy in our land are strengthened and respected. We fully reaffirm our membership to the family of nations, and express our commitment to playing our part in all regional, continental and international organisations and arrangements in order to make our modest contribution towards a prosperous and peaceful world order,” Mnangagwa said during his inauguration speech last November.
He promised to “hit the ground running” and tackle international re-engagement as a matter of urgency. Zimbabwe’s economic resurgence depends on its ability to unlock fresh lines of credit from multilateral financial institutions upon completion of its arrears clearance programme, slated for end of 2019. Political analyst Eldred Masunungure told the Independent this week that Mnangagwa needed to “put his house in order” for commencement of the re-engagement talks. He said government had failed to address the fundamental requirements of the Zimbabwe Democracy Economic Recovery Act (Zidera).
“Government has not addressed fundamental compliance issues to ensure re-engagement with the US. I did not see government respond to those conditions that matter,” he said.
Zidera, initially enacted in 2001 following the controversial fast-track land reform programme, was amended this year by US President Donald Trump, piling pressure on Mnangagwa’s regime to embrace genuine reform.
Last week’s US senate deliberations pointed to the continued existence of Zidera, as senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons maintained that the country had not shown signs of change since Mugabe’s ouster.
“The senate sub-committee to review US position on Zimbabwe showed that there were deficits in observing Zidera. It was also clear the Zimbabwean government is far from being compliant and, therefore, premature to consider US policy change towards the country,” Masunungure said.
Political analyst and senior consultant at the International Crisis Group (ICG) Piers Pigou said although the door for engagement was still open, Mnangagwa’s government has to demonstrate clear progress on areas of concern.
“The door remains open for the government to make this case if it so chooses. If, as expected, the US maintains this line, this adds additional pressure on the ED administration to demonstrate clearer progress on these areas of concern,” Pigou said.
Following the coup, Mnangagwa showed determination to kick-start his re-engagement drive and his first stop was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.
But since the August 1 post-election killings by the military, where six civilians were shot dead in central Harare, the over-riding sentiment towards Zimbabwe in the international community has tilted towards concern rather than re-engagement with Mnangagwa’s regime.
Harrington and Centre for Global Development senior fellow Todd Moss, who is also a former US State Department official, said the snail’s pace at which Mnangagwa’s reform agenda was moving had failed to inspire confidence.
The US officials last week also indicated that sanctions would remain until Mnangagwa entrenches genuine reforms.
Washington slapped the Zimbabwean government with fresh sanctions on the eve of the July 30 elections, demanding critical reforms like the repealing of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act. Both laws have been castigated for failing to guarantee free expression and the right to unfettered assembly.
Political analyst Vince Musewe argued that keeping Zimbabwe in isolation would worsen the economic plight of its citizens.
“I think Americans underestimate the sincerity of our President and some of enlightened citizens who are aware of what needs to change in Zimbabwe. Keeping our country isolated does not expedite anything. The longer the economy is starved of capital and opportunity, the worse the ordinary Zimbabwean becomes,” Musewe said.
The latest re-engagement offensive by Mnangagwa’s government, through Finance minister Mthuli Ncube was at the October 14 Spring Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, where the Cambridge-trained professor of economics presented a raft of economic reforms and pledged to clear the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) arrears in 12 months.
Zimbabwe owes the World Bank US$1,4 billion and US$600 million to AfDB.
The diplomatic community has been insistent on reform-dependent economic and developmental support. Last week, Australian ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bronte Moules, said her country would only invest in Zimbabwe on the back of political and economic reforms.
She said Ncube had presented “good ideas” in his Mid-Term Plan (MTP), but Australia has continued sitting on the fence in terms of helping Zimbabwe.
Moules added: “If its good reform, if its good quality reforms, we will back it,” Moules said. The French have also demanded timeous reforms.
“The Zimbabwean authorities have to move, we need concrete plans, and we need reforms,” French ambassador Ricgard Boidin told the Independent recently.
The European Union (EU) has also been vocal on the need for time-bound reforms, with incoming ambassador Timmo Olkkonen insisting on quick action and “walking the talk”.
“That would definitely improve the country’s perception in Europe if quick action is taken both on the political and economic side. What we have seen now is that there is a positive agenda that has been set on paper; we would like to see those translated into action,” Olkkonen told Independent.

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