THE appointment of Frederick Shava as Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister will not bolster the government’s re-engagement drive unless President Emmerson Mnangagwa implements significant reforms demanded by Western democracies.
Shava replaces the late Sibusiso B Moyo, who succumbed to Covid-19 complications last month. He comes with a wealth of experience in international affairs having been an ambassador to China and to the United Nations.
However, Shava faces a Herculean task driving the country’s re-engagement drive at a time relations between Harare and Western countries are at the lowest ebb.
His appointment comes soon after the United Kingdom joined the United States in slapping sanctions on Mnangagwa’s allies.
These allies are State Security minister Owen Ncube, Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe Republic Police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, and the former commander of the Presidential Guard, Anselem Sanyatwe.
The US also recently slapped sanctions on several Mnangagwa cronies who also include Ncube and businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei.
This is a far cry from the goodwill the septuagenarian leader enjoyed when he assumed power in 2017 declaring that his administration was the new dispensation.
During that period the British government advanced a US$100 million loan through the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), the UK’s development finance institution and Standard Chartered Bank to Zimbabwean private companies to re-equip and increase capacity utilisation.
The financial package, the first direct commercial loan by the UK to Zimbabwe in over 20 years, was seen as a massive vote of confidence in Mnangagwa.
However, the honeymoon period was short-lived as the killing of six civilians during protests over the delayed announcement of the 2018 elections on August 1 that year severed relations between Harare and Western capitals.
A commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe probed the August 1 post-election violence.
The commission blamed the security forces for the deaths.
This was worsened by the killing of 17 people by armed forces in January 2019 during a protest against a 150% increase in the price of fuel prompting widespread criticism.
The arrests of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono over plans to hold a protest on July 31 last year further weakened the government’ re-engagement drive.
Western capitals recently demanded an investigation into the 2019 shootings.
The US embassy issued a statement calling for the sanctioning of soldiers and police responsible for the January 2019 killings.
“Two years? When will Zimbabwe investigate, prosecute, and convict government security forces accused of rape, torture, and killing civilians in January 2019?” the US embassy said in a statement.
“Two years is too long to seek justice, answers, accountability.”
The Zimbabwe government has demanded the removal of sanctions which it says are illegal and the cause for a deteriorating economy. Western countries say sanctions will only be removed when the government implements reforms and deals with corruption.
It is into this toxic environment that Shava takes office to mend frosty relations and get the re-engagement programme back on track.
However, the chances of Shava succeeding are slim, according to economist Godfrey Kanyenze.
“These issues need to be resolved from the top. We need development leadership; everything starts and falls with leadership. The hard reality is that we need structural and governance reforms which begin at the top,” Kanyenze said.
“The minister of Foreign Affairs is just a mere cog. Moyo tried to re-engage, but he had nothing to sell. To expect a mere minister to drive re-engagement is like expecting the tail to wag the dog.”
He said there is a need to implement reforms well documented in numerous government blueprints.
Shava takes up the post as the country’s chief public relations man with the added challenge of his past conviction over corruption.
He was implicated in the Willowgate scandal in 1988 by the late then Chief Justice Wilson Sandura Commission over the importation of cars and resale at inflated prices.
Shava resigned from the government after giving false testimony to the Sandura commission.
He was convicted and imprisoned but was set free after being pardoned by the late former President Robert Mugabe.
Already questions are swirling as to how the country’s chief diplomat will be respected with such a nefarious background.
Shava’s task of re-engagement will be made more difficult as the country has no coherent re-engagement policy according to political analyst Tawanda Zinyama.
“For me it is not clear whether the engagement strategy was driven by any particular philosophical ideology. It seems rather haphazard because we want to be everything to everyone,” he said.
“In an increasingly polarised world, countries have had to choose sides between major powers especially China and the United States. Unfortunately Zimbabwe seemed to be all over the place trying to befriend all but with little success.”
It would make sense, he added, for Zimbabwe to choose a global power to partner with going forward given the scepticism at the sincerity of the current administration to re-engage.