EU-Zimbabwe dialogue: Building hope and unity?

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EU and Zimbabwe delegation at the formal political dialogue launch. Credit/ZOOM Zimbabwe.
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Should the EU-Zimbabwe formal political dialogue precede dialogue between ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe’s main opposition political party, MDC-A? Grace Kwinjeh provides a compelling argument for an internal dialogue to precede any other external re-engagement processes, if there is to be unity and hope in Zimbabwe.

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The European Union and the government of Zimbabwe launched a framework of political dialogue on 5 June 2019. This followed years of acrimony and false-starts in dialogues aimed at normalizing political relations between the two. Jointly chaired by Zimbabwe’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, James Manzou and Timo Olkkonen, the EU Head of Delegation to Zimbabwe, the talks excluded other stakeholders such as civil society and opposition political parties. 

Considering the multilayered nature and complexity of the crises in Zimbabwe, inclusivity of all relevant stakeholders would have gone a long way in setting the agenda and delineating issues for dialogue and set the process to deal with accountability, build consensus, legitimacy and acceptability that are the root of the crises in Zimbabwe.

At a broader multi-lateral level the head of the EU Zimbabwe delegation, Timo Olkkonen, told journalists that discussions with the government of Zimbabwe will focus on issues such as economic development, trade, investment, rights, rule of law and good governance, with the next meeting slated for November. The EU is therefore working within a broader and futuristic context not just about a political dispute between the MDC-Alliance and ZANU-PF but how it also secures its trade and economic interests.

The launch of the formal political dialogue process was in terms of the Cotonou Agreement (2000). The Cotonou Agreement governs relations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP). Because it is set to expire in February 2020, the dialogue between the EU and the government of Zimbabwe need to be understood from a global perspective.

The dialogue has been initiated at a time of shifting global power dynamics – this is obvious, especially with China’s growing influence in Africa. More importantly, the African Union (AU) is on a serious reform agenda. The reforms include, according to the AU website, “ a clear division of labour between the AU’s myriad structures; improving implementation of decisions following AU Summits; focusing on fewer thematic priority areas; strengthening the current sanctions mechanism; streamlining management and recruitment processes; auditing bureaucratic bottlenecks and inefficiencies; and, implementing the Kigali Financing Decision. The last item on this list is a financing plan for the AU, which entails a 0.2% levy on all eligible exports of member states. This has been a controversial matter, as experts have argued that Africa needs to fund its own institutions, such as the AU, which are too dependent on European funding. In that respect, these radical AU reforms set the stage for a reformed new EU-ACP multilateral agreement that suits contemporary and future local and global conditions.

The Zimbabwe dialogue process can therefore serve as a litmus test in shaping future relations between the EU and the ACP, in particular the AU.

The AU has often shown disdain over the imposition of targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe at the height of farm invasions in 2000. In 2002, the ACP countries refused to take part in talks with the EU that excluded Zimbabwe. Members of the European Parliament had voted to bar Zimbabwe from the  EU-ACP talks in Brussels. ZANU-PF has often capitalized on this support to shore up its international image abroad, while using it to pacify Zimbabweans and abrogating responsibility for their economic mismanagement and corruption which have resulted in currency shortages, fuel queues, power-cuts, and soaring prices. EU’s talks with Zimbabwe might be an attempt to pre-empt any potential challenges with the ACP countries.

Consequently, while the dialogue with Zimbabwe has been initiated, this is not outside other vested interests and processes in which the EU seeks to play its cards well, this includes the ongoing formal negotiations for the future of EU-ACP relations.

As the economic crisis intensifies in Zimbabwe, the Mnangagwa regime is growing restless and resorting to violence and arbitrary arrest of political opponents. Yet, more recently, there is growing consensus within ZANU-PF ranks that corruption by senior government officials is the root cause of economic problems in Zimbabwe. Even Emmerson Mnangagwa has conceded that corruption is the source of the rot that has crippled the once vibrant economy. In a half-hearted response to the corruption challenge, the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC) recently assumed arresting powers. It revealed that 38 high profile cases of corruption were reported in the last two months. In addition, ZANU-PF big wigs controlling fuel and forex cartels have been operating with impunity – and even in cases where they have been implicated, no investigations, arrests and convictions have been made.

Being an alternative, the Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-A) led by Nelson Chamisa has proposed a dialogue process to deal with the political and economic crises in Zimbabwe. The position go the MDC-A is that any political dialogue process should be inclusive and led by an independent mutually acceptable mediator – an eminent person from the AU. This internal dialogue should therefore come before the launched formal political dialogue between the Mnangagwa regime and the EU. To kickstart the internal dialogue process and offer guidance to external actors eager to engage the government of Zimbabwe, MDC-A has put forward a five-point plan, which includes,

  • The return to legitimacy, demilitarization and agreement on a roadmap to such a change;
  • Agreement on a comprehensive reform platform and agenda;
  • Agreement on resolution of the economic and humanitarian crisis;
  • Resolution on the agenda of nation building, national healing; and
  • International reengagement and ending Zimbabwe’s isolation and integration in the international community.

The MDC-Alliance will also launch its economic blue print aimed to steer Zimbabwe out of the current crises – the Roadmap to Economic Recovery, legitimacy, Openness and Democracy (RELOAD ).

There is a precedence to what the MDC-A is proposing. In Sudan, the AU mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt has successfully brokered a power sharing deal between the military and the opposition. Based on the agreed road map, there will be new elections. The result has been an end to weeks of civil strife in which scores have been killed.

However, as was the case in Sudan, the military factor remains a major threat to Zimbabwe’s stability. What is worrying are recent suggestions that unless the men-in-boots are also on the negotiating table, the process remains futile and only a continental muscle can achieve that. It is therefore imperative that the internal political dialogue in Zimbabwe under the auspices of the AU precedes the EU-Zimbabwe political dialogue because a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe will add value to both the AU and the EU. That will only be achievable through a well thought out brokered transition acceptable to all Zimbabweans.

Grace Kwinjeh is a journalist and founding member of the MDC. She is currently the MDC Representative to the European Union.

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