HARARE – This week, in the Guthrie Munyuki Interview, we bring you British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Deborah Bronnert, whose country is fresh from hosting the Friends of Zimbabwe (FoZ) meeting in London. Below are the excerpts.
Q. Recently Britain hosted the Friends of Zimbabwe (FoZ) meeting in London which was attended by three representatives of the parties in the Zimbabwe inclusive government.
What are the positives that have come out of the meeting?
A. It’s about engagement and planning for a better future.
The Friends of Zimbabwe (FoZ) meeting brought together the international donor community to gain a shared understanding of events in Zimbabwe over the next crucial period when elections are due to be held.
It was a chance to consider together the best ways for us to continue working closely with any government that emerges from free and fair elections, to help accelerate its path towards prosperity.
Most importantly, this time, the three Zimbabwean ministers were invited and contributed, along with Sadc representatives, to the discussions to ensure that we all understood directly what the Zimbabwean parties wanted in terms of engagement and future priorities both in the run-up to the elections and afterwards.
Their contributions set the framework for all the discussions.
We also re-affirmed our support for Sadc’s lead role as guarantor of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in its efforts to secure peace and democracy for Zimbabweans, and all our governments’ continued strong commitment to the Zimbabwean people and support for a prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.
Finally, it was the first time in about 14 years that the UK government had invited a Zanu PF minister to London.
We have of course had Zanu PF ministers visiting the UK in that period and have had some political level meetings elsewhere as well. But it was still a further step forward in terms of engagement.
We were also very pleased that the MDC ministers were able to accept the invitation.
The presence of the three parties underlined to the international donor community how the Government of National Unity (GNU) is able to work together, despite the clear differences between the parties, and engage with external partners in discussions about the future of Zimbabwe.
Q. What are Britain’s and FoZ longer term development assistance areas?
A. Collectively, FoZ development support has amounted to around $2,6 billion between 2009 and 2012.
The UK bilaterally contributed over $120 million in the last UK financial year and this year; this is set to rise to around $175 million.
The focus is on health, education and other essential services, infrastructure — including access to water, as well as support for livelihoods.
For example, we have helped provide textbooks for all Zimbabwe’s schools and we have a $50 million project that will improve water and sanitation to millions of Zimbabwean families.
We’ve also helped with governance projects including the constitution-making process.
We and other donors provide the ministry of Finance with information about what is being done so they have an overview of donor spend.
You’ll have seen that minister Biti gives quite a lot of detail in his annual budget statement to Parliament about the various strands of support.
Since the inception of the GNU, assistance has already shifted in focus from humanitarian relief towards longer term development aid. We want this to continue.
Following the FoZ meeting, we are continuing our engagement to agree on the best way to use long-term development assistance, and the strengthening of our commercial ties, to help Zimbabwe accelerate on its path towards prosperity.
We are focussing on the best ways for aid to support Zimbabwe in building the strong, non-partisan State institutions that it needs — to achieve stability, growth and wealth creation.
We hope to see Zimbabwe one day become an aid donor, rather than an aid recipient.
Q. What is the FoZ’s shared understanding of how things are likely to unfold in Zimbabwe in the coming year given that the country will be holding elections later this year?
A. The FoZ Communiqué acknowledges the work done by the GNU to stabilise the economy and implement the necessary political reforms ahead of elections.
We look forward to continuing to engage constructively with the GNU and the region in order to support the Zimbabwean people in achieving a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.
We recognised the key importance of the referendum on the new draft constitution in March.
But also that much remains to be done to implement the reforms agreed by the three GNU parties in the GPA.
We welcomed calls by Zimbabwe’s political leaders for peace and non-violence and the statements by party leaders that Zimbabweans should be able to choose their own government in free and fair elections, and to be able to vote without fear or intimidation.
We highlighted the importance of all Zimbabweans, including State institutions and the security sector, heeding the calls of the party leaders.
We also expressed concern about the current harassment of civil society and reports of political violence and made clear that we think such incidents should cease.
We also stressed the importance of a vibrant civil society to Zimbabwe’s development.
Again, we are very clear on Sadc’s leading role here. Our key hope for the year ahead is that there will be free and fair elections and that Zimbabweans will be able to make their own choices, without fear or intimidation, about who governs them.
Q. How significant was the London meeting?
A. The timing of this year’s FoZ meeting is clearly significant.
It came 10 days after Zimbabwe’s successful constitutional referendum and comes in an election year.
For the first time at a FoZ meeting, members of all three parties of the GNU attended.
This demonstrated a commitment to engagement and partnership and a desire to have fruitful exchanges from across the political spectrum on issues that affects them all ahead of polls and about the future.
Q. Are there signs on the ground that the Zimbabwe leadership is prepared to help FoZ in their re-engagement efforts?
A. Members of all three parties of the GNU were invited. We were very pleased that the three GPA negotiators minister Chinamasa, minister Mangoma and minister Misihairabwi-Mushonga attended.
This demonstrated a real willingness to have fruitful exchanges from across the political spectrum on issues that affect all parties ahead of polls and engage in conversations about the future.
Q. Britain is blamed by President Robert Mugabe for drawing up sanctions and seeking to remove him by allegedly funding the mainstream MDC.
In the wake of the London meeting and EU’s removal of sanctions on his key allies in Zanu PF, what opportunities are there for Britain to rebuild ties with Zanu PF and its leader?
A. Our aim is clear: we want to support the Zimbabwean people and the implementation of the GPA in order to enable free and fair elections and a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.
Before I came to Zimbabwe, my Prime Minister told me that he wanted me to engage with everyone.
I talk to all parties from across the political divide and am ready to engage with everyone.
There have also been ministerial meetings and, as I have already noted, we were pleased that minister Chinamasa came to London and participated both in the FoZ meeting but also, alongside his colleagues, with other political meetings, including with the FCO minister Mark Simmonds (MP).
Q. We have heard and been told repeatedly that Britain refused to honour its “agreement” to help fund and raise money for land reforms during the Harare donor conference held in September 1998.
Did the frosty relations arise from this meeting?
A. The UK Government has never agreed to accept responsibility for compensation to those whose land was compulsorily acquired, often having legally purchased it after Independence.