FORMER colonial master, the United Kingdom (UK), says when President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed office in November 2017 he gave hope to suffering Zimbabweans, but has since reneged on implementing political and economic reforms.
The Daily News on Sunday Senior Staff Writer Blessings Mashaya last week spoke to UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Melanie Robinson on the UK-Zimbabwe relations. Below are the excerpts.
Q. Since 1980 what has the UK contributed to the social and economic development of Zimbabwe?
A: Over the last 10 years, the UK has spent more than US$1 billion in aid to Zimbabwe.
This makes the UK one of the largest bilateral aid donors to Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe one of the most significant recipients, per capita, of UK aid.
In 2020/2021, our total aid to Zimbabwe is approximately US$175 million.
This reflects the very strong ties between the UK and Zimbabwe, given our shared history and strong economic and people-to-people links.
This support is focused on protecting the most vulnerable in Zimbabwe, be that through humanitarian aid after Cyclone Idai, technical and practical support in the face of Covid-19 or supporting people through food aid or cash when food is scarce.
For example, the UK is providing cash transfers to 413 000 extremely vulnerable people in rural areas and 100 000 living in urban areas.
UKAid is also used to help Zimbabwe’s people build a better future.
Let me give you some more numbers. Between 2012 and 2024, the UK will have contributed over US$220m to the education sector, helping over 1,4 million disadvantaged children each year.
Over the last five years, 2,6 million people have been provided with clean water and 1.8 million children and women have improved nutrition.
Between May 2017 and March 2022, 5.4 million women and children will have received sexual, reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health and nutrition services.
And we support people’s livelihoods — for example, helping farmers grow crops in a way that is resilient to the changing climate and so they can access markets.
Finally, we are supporting work to help build a better Zimbabwe.
We put a commitment to democracy, human rights and accountability at the heart of our approach, working with organisations which seek to uphold Zimbabwe’s constitutional rights and tackle corruption.
We support economic reforms and business development leading to greater trade and investment. And — as we enter the year when the UK is hosting the global climate change conference — we’re helping Zimbabwe work out how to leapfrog dirty coal technologies and take advantage of its amazing sunshine and the low cost of renewable energies to have reliable and clean power.
It’s not only about aid. Total trade between UK and Zimbabwe was US$356 million in the last financial year.
As the UK comes to the end of the transition period with the EU, the UK-Zimbabwe Economic Partnership Agreement will help smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe take advantage of this duty and tariff-free trading arrangement to make sure that Zimbabwean’s excellent export crops continue to stand out on British supermarket shelves.
Q. Why are you still maintaining sanctions on Zimbabwe?
A: We currently have targeted sanctions, with the EU. They’re on the Zimbabwe Defence Industries and there’s an arms embargo.
In the past we’ve had sanctions on a small number of individuals responsible for significant human rights violations. Those involve travel bans and asset freezes for those individuals only.
UK sanctions will be retained as long as the human rights situation in Zimbabwe justifies them.
The UK continues to be concerned by the continued poor human rights environment in Zimbabwe. Examples of this include:
λThe State’s response to the protests in August 2018 and January 2019, including the death of protesters and, after the fuel protests, dragnet arrests.
λThe lack of accountability for these actions, including very limited implementation of the Motlanthe Commission recommendations.
λHeavy-handed approaches in the ongoing cases against journalists and opposition political activists
λAllegations of abductions by State agents, with no credible evidence or follow up allowing that possibility to be dismissed.
As we prepare for the end of the transition period, ministers are now considering our approach to our future sanctions regime in Zimbabwe.
They will do so in the context of the new Magnitsky-style regime that focuses on serious human rights violations or abuses.
Q. Do you agree with the Zimbabwe government that the genesis of the tiff between your country and Zimbabwe is a result of the land reform?
A: No. We have always recognised that land reform in Zimbabwe is essential for improving agricultural productivity and broader economic development.
We have consistently made it clear that, as part of the international community, we would support a fair, transparent and pro-poor land reform policy.
We have no interest in seeing land reform reversed.
We note the government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to compensate those farmers who had their land forcibly taken, though we have serious doubts about how they will sustainably finance that commitment given Zimbabwe’s significant debt arrears to international financial institutions such as the World Bank.
Q. What is the solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis in your view?
A: There’s no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe is very worrying across the political, economic, social and humanitarian fronts.
For the situation to improve, Zimbabwe needs to implement the political and economic reforms set out by President Mnangagwa when he came into office.
Central to this will be ending the use of repressive and coercive techniques which limit Zimbabweans’ fulfilment of their rights under the Zimbabwean constitution.
So too is work to close the loopholes and end the inefficient subsidies which enable such high levels of corruption and illicit financial flows and undermine macro-economic stability, combined with directing those increased resources to investments which will support Zimbabwe’s people.
If the US$7bn which (National Assembly) Speaker (Jacob) Mudenda suggested could have been lost to corruption and other illegal activities between 2009 and 2017 could instead have been used to invest in the health, education, water, infrastructure and more, Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans would have had a much better chance to flourish.
Q: What kind of reforms should be undertaken by Zimbabwe?
A: Exactly the reforms the government and president of Zimbabwe has committed to in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, the constitutional alignment process and now the National Development Strategy 1 — powerful measures to stabilise the economy, protect the poorest and most vulnerable, and respect the human and political rights enshrined in the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution.
Q. Have you approached the Zimbabwe government and raised issues about lack of reforms and what was their response?
A: I continue to have frank and open conversations with the government of Zimbabwe ministers and senior officials, most recently with Honourable Foreign Affairs Minister SB Moyo on December 3 and Honourable Justice Minister Ziyambi (Ziyambi) on December 10.
They pointed out where progress has been made and of course it’s important to acknowledge that: some of the most repressive laws of the past, such as Posa, have been repealed.
The country has started to achieve a level of macroeconomic stability, including through setting up a currency auction and starting to remove distorting subsidies in fuel and agriculture.
The creation of an investment agency, ZIDA, has the potential to unlock some of Zimbabwe’s investment opportunities.
However, I also respectfully share that, as we look back on the last three years, our overriding sense is that important opportunities for deeper and long-lasting political and economic reforms have been, and continue to be, missed.
And that it is these reforms which will be most important to Zimbabwe’s future.
Q: Give us your take on accusations by the Zimbabwe government that the UK, EU and USA are part of the regime change agenda hence raising issues of human rights violations?
A: The UK does not back parties, factions or individuals in Zimbabwean politics.
Our approach is to support the policies that would lead Zimbabwe on the path to a more peaceful, prosperous, democratic and inclusive future.
And which would open the door to re-engagement with the international community.
On this, we speak with one voice along with our EU and US colleagues.
Q: How about Zimbabwe’s readmission application in the Commonwealth?
A: The Government of Zimbabwe has signalled its intent to apply to re-join the Commonwealth.
The final decision on whether Zimbabwe re-joins the Commonwealth is for all Commonwealth members.
The UK is clear that we would only support readmission to the Commonwealth provided Zimbabwe meets the admission requirements, complying with the values and principles set out in the Commonwealth Charter and Harare Declaration.
Human rights violations and excessive use of force by security forces in January, 2019 and August 2018, as well as recent reports regarding the abduction and torture of opposition activists, are clearly inconsistent with the Charter.
Q: Your assessment of Mnangagwa’s rule?
A: President Mnangagwa’s inauguration in November 2017 offered a clear opportunity for change. From the use of coercion and repression to retain power to all of Zimbabwe’s citizens enjoying the freedoms and rights in their constitution.
From economic mismanagement, patronage and corruption to an economy which would work for all Zimbabweans, and once again attract high quality international investors.
From underinvestment in Zimbabwe’s roads, schools, clinics and people, to Zimbabwe’s development once again being a shining example on the continent.
Whilst there has been some recent progress on these reforms, as we look back on the last three years, our overriding sense is that important opportunities for deeper and longer lasting political and economic reform have been, and continue to be, missed.
As we look forward, we continue to hope that Zimbabwe will move firmly onto the path towards a more peaceful, prosperous, democratic and inclusive country. We will continue to stand by Zimbabwe’s people through our aid, to promote trade and investment and to cherish our people-to-people links.
And we will continue to value open lines of communication and free and frank exchanges with the government of Zimbabwe.
But, for more significant international re-engagement, we believe the onus is on the Zimbabwean government to show they are willing to enact the genuine change they committed to. And from which Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe’s people would so greatly benefit.