UNITED Nations (UN) special rapporteur Alena Douhan this week turned down offers by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to pamper her with executive luxuries as she began her 10-day mission in Zimbabwe to assess the impact of Western sanctions on Harare, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights arrived in Zimbabwe on Monday, after which she met Mnangagwa.
As a top diplomat, Douhan is said to have been offered security details, police escort and a delegation of top civil servants to accompany her.
But the Belarusian is said to have indicated to her hosts that she was comfortable travelling with UN staff and a low-ranking staff from the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Her stance could have been a blow to Harare, which has been desperate to portray itself as a victim of international conspiracy by big powers that have stood in Zimbabwe’s way as it tries to tackle economic malaise following two decades of embargoes.
A top diplomatic source told the Independent this week that “she wants to assert her independence; so she has refused even security details or police escort services”.
The source went on: “Douhan is moving around with her own team, but is being accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as part of protocol arrangements.”
Foreign Affairs Deputy minister David Musabayana confirmed yesterday that the envoy turned down government offers.
“She said she doesn’t want anyone to be involved,” Musabayana told the Independent.
“We don’t even accompany her wherever she is going because she wants to have unfettered access or unlimited access to whoever she feels and thinks that they need to be consulted.”
Musabayana said while Mnangagwa and some cabinet ministers met her, there was an agreement that the government would not influence her movements.
“As a government, we are not even privy to whom she is going to meet. She just said non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civic society groups or any other interested groups would also be involved,” he said. “As government, we have been asked to stay away from her. We have not looked for her or phoned her. I don’t even know where she is and what she is doing because it is her independent research. She has her own systems on how she is going to navigate, to get the leads and get the information that she needs.”
Musabayana said the government would be waiting for her final report.
Her arrival, Musabayana said, proved the government’s readiness to go under any form of official scrutiny. Previously, he said such visits had not been allowed.
He added that the fact that Zimbabwe allowed the mission to come indicated that Harare had nothing to hide. However, he fired a broadside at MDC for calling for sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The envoy arrived as skirmishes between MDC Alliance (MDC-A) and Zanu PF supporters entered their second week, with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa continuing his nationwide rallies.
The MDC-A leader’s vehicle was damaged during the first leg of his visit in Masvingo, where Zanu PF supporters accused him of seeking global attention as the envoy arrived.
But the MDC-A leader said he was on a genuine tour to assess Zimbabwe’s poverty-stricken rural communities, some of which Zanu PF says have been hardest hit by sanctions.
“This is our point of view (that the opposition invited sanctions) and it’s a reality because even the MDC acknowledges that. There is video footage proving that they actually called for the sanctions for their own reasons, so it’s an open secret. Even the MDC officials do not deny that,” Musabayana said. “This is not the first time we are hosting a UN special rapporteur and her report could have influenced a follow-up on the effects of sanctions on the people of Zimbabwe.”
Two years ago, Zimbabwe hosted UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver.
“She was the first one to call for the removal of sanctions because the sanctions were now hurting the ordinary people of Zimbabwe,” he said. “This after going around seeing and interviewing the people. I believe this influenced the special rapporteur to come and follow up and see if that is true.
“It is not only the UN, South Africa also said they were doing their own research on the impact of sanctions on Zimbabwe because they still claim that they are targeted while others are saying they are not targeted. Then in the US, some organisations are saying they are going to conduct some research on the impact of sanctions on Zimbabwe. There is general consensus on the issue that people want to know how these sanctions have affected Zimbabwe.”
Douhan’s visit was expected to coincide with October 25, a day set aside by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to campaign against the imposition of Western-imposed sanctions against Harare.
In 2013, Zanu PF estimated that sanctions had cost the southern African country up to US$42 billion between 2000 and 2013. But many observers have argued that corruption and economic mismanagement are behind economic crises that have rocked Harare since 2000.
Even before the onset of the Covid–19 pandemic, the economic and climate shocks had caused extreme poverty and inequality to rise sharply, underpinned by a rapid rise in basic necessities and a decline in production.
Post-Covid-19, Zimbabwe has seen poverty levels worsen because of job losses and income shocks, mostly in non-farm family businesses and urban households.
The World Bank said poverty levels in Zimbabwe were higher than the African average.
Zimbabwe hoped to use the diplomat’s visit to highlight these and other problems and indicate that these were being fuelled by the sanctions.
MDC-A secretary for international affairs Gladys Hlatshwayo said the party would present its view to Douhan.
“Contrary to retrogressive elements’ claims, the souring of relations between Zanu PF and Western countries has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Zanu PF authoritarian tendencies, including human rights abuses, lawlessness, rigging of elections, impunity, among other grossly undemocratic shenanigans,” Hlatshwayo said.