‘Play ball, we can be a happy family’
HARARE – “But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. — Matthew 5:39
This is exactly what the European Union in Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Aldo Dell’Ariccia has done to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Vilified and maligned for imposing sanctions that include travel and economic bans on Mugabe’s colleagues both in Zanu PF and associated companies, the EU has been pilloried relentlessly.
Yet, the EU has stumped $1 billion in development assistance since the consummation of the inclusive government in 2009.
EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Dell’Ariccia sees an opportunity to improve relations and play a pivotal part in supporting the booming-but-much-criticised diamond industry.
There is a key underlining word, though, that Mugabe must play ball so the EU and Zimbabwe can become a “one happy big family”.
“When we had the first visit of the re-engagement team to the European Union in July 2010, the European Union committed itself to respond(ing) to the implementation of the GPA and every time there was significant progress we would respond with a gesture from our side,” Dell’Ariccia told the Daily News in light of the sanctions lifted off six ministers and 21 individuals associated with Zanu PF.
“So the EU welcomes the agreement reached by the Principals on the constitution and the fixing of the date of the constitutional referendum considering these elements as an important step in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement adding momentum to this process that should lead to peaceful, transparent and credible elections later this year.
“We have also maintained the suspension of the application of article 96, which did not permit to have cooperation with the government of Zimbabwe. Which means we can proceed with the preparation for our future cooperation with the country. This decision has to be seen as an encouragement to the government of Zimbabwe and also an encouragement to the South African facilitation team and Sadc to continue in their commitment of ensuring the implementation of the Global Political Agreement,” said the EU envoy.
Dell’Ariccia insisted the EU was not benchmarking but just taking note of what the Principals to the GPA had agreed on.
Mugabe has justifiably and unjustifiably, launched withering attacks on the both the EU and the United States for imposing sanctions which his supporters claim are meant to topple him.
Both the EU and the US have maintained that the “restrictive measures” are meant to force Mugabe and his colleagues in Zanu PF to respect the rule of law, human rights and espouse good governance principles.
Since the formation of the inclusive government, the EU has been, every February, reviewing the travel bans and restrictive measures against progress made by Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy, Arthur Mutambara.
“We are just responding to the fact that Zimbabwe is progressing in the implementation of the GPA.
This is why the European Council has reiterated that a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would represent an important milestone justifying an immediate suspension of the majority of all remaining restrictive measures against individuals and entities. We will respond to a peaceful and credible referendum with a major gesture on the measures,” Dell’Ariccia promised.
“The position of the (EU) council is an immediate suspension of the majority of the measures. If the referendum is peaceful and credible as we wish, it will be very fast. I will say a week after the referendum”.
But Mugabe has maintained that the EU and its allies have no justifiable reasons for continuing with the sanctions.
He has an ally in Finance minister Tendai Biti who does not see “sense” in continuing with them, citing the inclusion of diamond firms on the list.
While Biti has accused Zanu PF and the military for their “involvement” in the mining of the Chiadzwa gemstones, he still sees improvement of finances from the trade of the diamonds which he says is opaque at this point in time.
Citing the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) as being one of the firms remaining on the EU blacklist, Dell’Ariccia said the decision was unanimous.
The irony of that decision, though, is that Antwerp, the world diamond trading hub, is reeling from the effects of ZMDC inclusion on the sanctions list.
“It’s evident that Antwerp being one of the world’s major hub for the trade, polishing and cutting of diamonds and the fact of it not being able to purchase diamonds produced by companies owned or co-owned by the ZMDC is something that affects the situation in the European Union,” the EU boss said.
“However, the reason for which the ZMDC is still on the list is that the European Union considered that they were not yet in a position to be delisted.
The reason for which individuals and entities are listed is because they are considered to be involved in or associated with policies and activities that undermine human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
“In this respect it was considered that the ZMDC could not be delisted. And I would like to insist that the decisions in foreign policy of the EU are taken by consensus, so there is unanimity. Which means that all the governments of the EU, including the government of Belgium, considered that ZMDC could not be delisted?
“We hope the reasons for which the ZMDC is maintained on the list will no longer be there which will permit not only to establish a healthy and a transparent trading of diamonds between Marange mines and the EU but also would permit the European Union to provide assistance that might be necessary today in this area in terms of technology, know-how and also possibility of ensuring that the value edition of diamonds remains in Zimbabwe. This is what we hope will happen”.
The EU envoy who was recently named diplomat of the year, expressed disappointment at the raids on civic society organisations (CSOs) by police.
Police last month and at the beginning of March launched a blitz on CSOs suspected to be distributing shortwave radios in urban and rural communities.
The shortwave radios are popular with citizens who tune in to news broadcast on Zimbabwe by the Washington-based Studio 7 and the London-domiciled Short Wave Radio Africa (SW Radio).
Police say these radios are smuggled and contravene broadcasting laws — opining they could be used to “sow seeds of disharmony” ahead of the watershed elections expected later in the year.
Last Friday, they swooped on Radio Dialogue offices in Bulawayo and seized 180 radios in a move which has heightened fears among the civic groups that there could be relapse to the 2008 period.
“We are deeply concerned about what is happening in these incidents involving the civic society. The searches, arrests, detentions and undue use of force, are disturbing. The EU is convinced that a dynamic and independent civic society which is able to operate freely is an essential element of any democratic process,” said Dell’Ariccia.
“Of course, these organisations have to work in compliance with the law. So, the elements like freedom of assembly, freedom of association, respect of diversity of political opinion, which are laid down as a matter of fact in the in the GPA, are an essential part of the process that Zimbabwe is committed to.
“We see that there are incidents that raise concern especially if you place it in the context of the preparation of the elections, because all the organisations that have been affected are more or less directly involved in voter education and in convincing the people to register.
“So there is interest in having them involved in the process. We hope the zeal in enforcing the law from the side of the police is not a sign of intimidation.
The president himself has called for peace and reconciliation.
We think these calls have to be followed in order to avoid incidents that will polarise the situation and that will deteriorate the general environment in order to have peaceful transparent and credible elections.
The issue is yes, on one side there must be compliance with the law and on the other hand we think these incidents are based on charges that are very weak and dubious.
“They should be stopped,” said the EU chief.