EU re-engagement hangs in balance

priscilla-misihairabwiBULAWAYO — Re-engagement talks between Zimbabwe and the European Union (EU) hang in the balance following last week’s expiry of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which paved the way for the resumption of dialogue between Harare and Brussels.
The swearing-in of President Robert Mugabe last week to lead Zimbabwe for the next five years following his party’s resounding victory in polls held on July 31 signified the end of co-operation on the matter between ZANU-PF and both formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), signatories to the GPA.

Reengagement efforts between Zimbabwe and the 27-member bloc had intensified after the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009 — nearly a decade after relations between Harare and Brussels had soured. This followed allegations of human rights violations at the height of the chaotic land reforms and in the run-up to the elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008.

The inclusive government had succeeded in reaching out to the European governments during its tenure, with its representatives shuttling to Brussels, the EU headquarters for talks, with reciprocal visits to Zimbabwe.
The last visit to the Belgian capital was in May this year, when outgoing Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa (ZANU-PF), Regional Integration and International Co-operation Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC) and Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma (MDC-T) met a number of EU top officials including Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

Though having been criticised for progressing at a snail’s pace, the EU-Zimbabwe dialogue culminated in the bloc removing over two thirds of individuals and companies from the sanctions list while easing some of the travel bans and restrictions on ZANU-PF top officials.
President Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe, service chiefs and war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda and some companies such as the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation still remain under sanctions.
With ZANU-PF having won the mandate to single-handedly govern the country for the next five years, further re-engagement has been dampened by the bloc’s refusal to endorse last month’s poll outcome.
Two weeks ago, President Mugabe acknowledged that he does not see the remaining sanctions being lifted.

He said he was fed up with the West’s attitude, in particular, towards Zimbabwe, arguing it was high time he hit back by imposing restrictions on western companies operating in the country.
Outgoing Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi has long accused the EU of lacking commitment and negotiating in bad faith.
Rugare Gumbo, ZANU-PF’s national spokesperson, this week said his party was open to engagement.

“Our minds are open; we have never excluded any dialogue with anybody, even with those that imposed sanctions on us,” he said.
“However, the ball is in their (EU) court; it is not us who have to seek engagement but them.
“But we would like to stress that the removal of sanctions is key to any successful discussions.”
EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, said the bloc was awaiting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union’s final reports on the just-ended elections before deciding on the way forward.

In its preliminary statement following the July 31 polls, SADC said the elections were peaceful and free, but the question as to whether they were fair would be addressed in a month’s time.
Political analyst, Anglistone Sibanda, said dialogue was likely to continue considering that President Mugabe is desperate to leave a legacy.
Sibanda said Zimbabwe and the EU needed each other adding that the latter was losing a lot of business opportunities to China and other countries in the East owing to frosty relations between Brussels and Harare.
“I am foreseeing both parties trying to make compromises in order to reach out to each other,” said Sibanda.

Thomas Sithole, another political analyst, said Zimbabwe needs the EU more than the latter needs it to revive its ailing economy which makes the need to re-engage extremely important.
“We cannot only look east; we need more players in our economy that can bring foreign direct investment. Our industries are still to be given a lifeline despite our more than 10 years of looking east,” he said.
Emmanuel Ndlovu, a political analyst, said he envisages ZANU-PF pursuing talks with the EU because the party was desperate for international acceptance.
“They have already indicated their desire to mend relations with the West,” Ndlovu said.

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