Mugabe scouts new friends after sanctions snub

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HARARE – President Robert Mugabe has expanded relations in the East, as the West refuses to completely ease financial and travel sanctions imposed on the 89 year-old and his inner circle.

Government last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to seal business ties with Arabic leader Sheikh Saud Bin Sapr Al Qasimi of Ras Al Khaimah (Rak), targeted at injecting investment into six local ministries.

The Arabic leader has already sealed a MoU with mining minister Obert Mpofu and a Rak mining parastatal.

Other ministries set to “benefit” from the MOUs are Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Energy, Health and Tourism.

Saud’s visit to Zimbabwe comes after Vice-President Joyce Mujuru officiated at a business forum in Rak last December.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) overtook China to become the second largest purchaser of Zimbabwe’s tobacco after South Africa, according to figures on the market outlook released by the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board.

The tobacco industry is critical to Zimbabwe’s economy and other African countries and supports an estimated 1,1 million farmers in southern Africa.

Analysts have said the move to welcome the Sheikh is a clear market expansion of ties in the East as the West is making trade conditional.

Local economic analyst Issis Mwale said the emergence of the Middle East as a trading partner is Mugabe’s way of penetrating new markets in an attempt to shun the West.

“The first sector specific MoU was signed with the mining ministry. This is strategic in light of European Union foreign ministers’ continued sanctions on state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), which operates diamond mines in the Marange fields,” Mwale said.

She also said the fact that the UAE is set to host a major diamond conference in less than four weeks shows a clear “further look East Policy expansion”.

Kumbira Kaitano, a United Kingdom-based political and economic blogger concurs with Mwale.

“It is clear there is a move to shun Western markets in favour of the East. However, the wisdom behind the decision is questionable as Belgium, the biggest diamond trading city is controlled by the EU,” said Kaitano.

Apart from the MoU with the Mines ministry, other sector specific agreements are to be concluded by March 14.

There has been uproar on the social media with some Zimbabweans complaining that the deals are shrouded in mystery. Others fumed at the non-disclosure of the terms of the agreements.

Many such secretive agreements are with China.

Mugabe enjoys a warm relationship with China and turned to the country for sanctuary after the West imposed an economic embargo against Zimbabwe over alleged gross human rights violations.

At the moment the country does not have concrete figures on its trade with members of the UAE.

While, China has several investments in various sectors of the country’s economy there has been a general feeling in some quarters that the Asian country has not invested enough to match the level of cordial political relations with Zimbabwe.

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