GOVERNMENT is set to splurge ZW$80 million (US$4,5 million) on the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad)’s foreign trips which will see members of the controversial grouping visiting various global capitals, including Washington, London, Brussels and Paris on an international re-engagement drive.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, which has already spent millions of United States dollars hiring public relations consultants in the West to spruce up the government’s image, is desperate to regain the goodwill of the international community.
The re-engagement drive is also meant to improve Zimbabwe’s soiled reputation as an investment destination.Diplomats who have been speaking to the Zimbabwe Independent, however, say Mnangagwa needs to speed up economic and political reforms instead of paying lip service to the reform agenda.
As part of its international travels, the Polad re-engagement sub-committee will be in the US from March 24 to 26, where it will, among other tasks, lobby for the removal of sanctions.
The committee comprises Thokozani Khupe (chairperson), Willard Mugadza (deputy chairperson), Kwanele Hlabangana (rapporteur), Aplonia Munzverengwi (committee member) and Khaliphani Phugeni (spokesperson).
It will also visit South Africa, United Kingdom, and several other European countries.The team has so far met with the European Union (EU) ambassador Timo Olkkonen, British ambassador Melanie Robinson and American embassy officials.
According to a Polad handbook, the removal of sanctions “will go a long way in diffusing perceptions about Zimbabwe and give a new impetus to both the economy and opportunities for its people”.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said the cost associated with the Polad re-engagement committee’s mission was nothing compared to the cost of Western sanctions.
“Now you say ZW$80 million. How much is that compared with the cost of sanctions? They are chasing a programme to have the sanctions removed. And remember they are going to be paying in United States dollars where they are going, they need to pay for accommodation, food, travel,” Charamba said.
“It is a mission, and they are actually pulling a pillar policy of the Second Republic. It is part of their commitment on areas they wanted to look at, including the legislative reforms, policy reforms, uniting the nation and economic recovery. It is part of a solution to a common challenge.”
Responding to a question on what the public relations firms hired by the government had achieved, Charamba said it was a work in progress.
“The problem is people expecting a magic wand, it doesn’t work like that. They were working on removing the pariah state tag Zimbabwe had. So they are different interest groups that we are reaching out to, including business. You have to put several irons in the fire,” he said.
“And, of course, they have to work with Foreign Affairs (ministry) because when they visit those capitals they have to touch base with the embassies and the embassies will arrange meetings. We have been reforming and we reform for the good of Zimbabwe, not for other nations.”
This comes as US Senators Jim Risch (a Republican from Idaho), chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chris Coons (a Democrat from Delaware), member of the sub-committee on Africa and global health policy, sent a letter last week to Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the US Department of the Treasury update the list of sanctioned persons in Zimbabwe.
“While the United States has been the top provider of humanitarian and development aid to meet the needs of Zimbabwe’s people, the government of Zimbabwe has implemented a misinformation campaign blaming the country’s woes on targeted sanctions programmes implemented by the United States,” the senators said.
“It is important that the United States communicate to the people of Zimbabwe that our sanctions programmes are aimed at deterring human rights abuses, public corruption, the undermining of democratic processes or institutions, and political repression in Zimbabwe. They are not aimed at the Zimbabwean people.
“Given the developments in Zimbabwe over the last two years, we urge you to consider enhancing the tools at your disposal, including the use of targeted sanctions, to incentivise changes in behaviour by the Government of Zimbabwe … An update to the list of the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list should incorporate a balance of new designations with appropriate removals.”
The US imposed sanctions on Zanu PF-linked individuals and entities known to facilitate human rights abuses, undermine the rule of law, and engage in the looting of state resources for personal or political gain.
The US has however continued to invest in humanitarian and development aid for Zimbabwe, spending more than US$2 billion over the last 10 years.
Mnangagwa appeared on course to normalising relations with the West soon after claiming power on the back of a military coup which toppled Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
However, the hope quickly fizzled out when the government deployed soldiers to quell violent demonstrations which erupted in Harare on August 1, 2018, resulting in six unarmed civilians being shot and killed on the streets. The majority of the victims were shot in the back while fleeing the soldiers.
Protestors took to the streets to demonstrate against the alleged rigging of the presidential election by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in favour of Mnangagwa.
In January 2019, government again deployed its security apparatus to crush protests over an increase in the price of fuel, leaving 17 dead and dozens injured.
The clampdown resulted in global condemnation and the souring of relations between the West and Harare.
Mnangagwa has forked out over US$2,3 million to pay four lobby and public relations firms in Britain and the US in a desperate bid to spruce up Zimbabwe’s battered international image and bolster diplomatic re-engagement.
The results of the work being done by the PR firms are yet to be seen, not least because the Mnangagwa administration has failed to implement reforms it promised.