Thursday, August 29, 2019

ED lifts middle finger to the European Union (EU)

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HISTORY has a tendency to repeat itself, but in Zimbabwe, the frequency is just phenomenal. The country has twice in a decade suffered hyperinflation as a result of bad governance.

For the second time in 20 years, Zimbabwe has lifted the middle finger to a major world power, the European Union (EU), at a public engagement. The country is sliding back into a pariah State status, albeit under a ‘new dispensation'.

The November 2017 coup brought a lot of hope and goodwill that with former President Robert Mugabe out of the equation, Zimbabwe would find its place among the international community and start an economic upward trajectory. However, nearly two years on, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has single-handedly dragged the country back to its pariah status after failing to implement political and economic reforms, but worse still, his haughty actions last Wednesday.

In a speech at the Durban World Sustainable Development Summit in 2002, the former President rebuked then British premier Tony Blair in front of other leaders and the media with his infamous quip: "So, Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe."

On Wednesday, "reformist" Mnangagwa proved to all and sundry that he had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from Mugabe, when he chided EU High commissioner Timo Olkkonen in front of other delegates.

Olkkonen, in his statement, had said: "Unfortunately, we are witnessing these days several developments that put constitutionalism and the respect for the rule of law in question.

People's civil rights such as the right of assembly and the right to peacefully demonstrate and petition and also the right to due legal processes when suspected of crimes must be respected. Zimbabwe must show that it genuinely has made a break from the past."

To this, Mnangagwa responded: "Your Excellency, you referred to human rights, however, this platform was for corruption. I urge civil society to restrict themselves to their mandates. The rule of law observance is not needed for the purposes of pleasing other countries; we need it because it is proper for ourselves."

This sounded like Trumpism. Trumpism is defined by The Urban Dictionary as "a nearly incurable disorder when a Trump supporter blames everything else when someone criticises (United States President) Donald Trump."

Mnangagwa, instead of responding to the growing human rights crisis in Zimbabwe raised by Olkkonen, found it prudent to remind the EU diplomat that the platform was solely for discussing corruption issues.

It has become fashionable for politicians, especially from Zanu-PF, that every time an issue is raised about their conduct, they always have a ready response -  sanctions.

Could Mnangagwa's new found bravery be a result of the 39th Sadc Summit communiqué in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which said: "Summit noted the adverse impact on the economy of Zimbabwe and the region at large, of prolonged economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, and expressed solidarity with Zimbabwe, and called for the immediate lifting of the sanctions to facilitate socio-economic recovery in the country. Summit declared October 25 as the date on which Sadc member States can collectively voice their disapproval of the sanctions through various activities and platforms until the sanctions are lifted."

Curiously, Sadc has only offered solidarity to Zimbabwe in the last 20 years, yet it is the same EU that, through the Centre for Applied Legal Research, supported Zimbabwe's constitutional and parliamentary reforms and offered millions of dollars in humanitarian support targeted at agriculture development, water and sanitation facilities.

One thing is, however, clear. Mnangagwa and his administration have thrived under the economic chaos and sanctions. The sanctions have created enough cover for corruption and arbitrage under the guise of sanctions-busting.

There is ample evidence of certain key figures in the regime who personally benefited from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) mineral heist during the 1998-2002 war.

The United Nations has a detailed report that researched into the DRC diamonds mining and placed seven Zimbabweans under the sanctions list for suspected crimes.

While Sadc may urge Zimbabwe on against the EU and United States, evidence abounds that many Sadc member-States, including South Africa, have in that period signed economic partnership agreements with the EU and continue to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

If this diplomatic row escalates, Mnangagwa's reformist agenda will go up in flames. Mnangagwa like Mugabe, if the outburst is contextualised, seems ready to burn bridges that he harped with no end during his 2018 election campaign and in his inauguration speech on re-engagement.

The continued shredding of diplomatic etiquette is bad for Zimbabwe. Diplomacy, since time immemorial, is not about scoring brownie points before the media, but a well-developed science of engagement far from the madding crowd and letting the results speak for themselves.

For now, the people of Zimbabwe are on their own as leaders hog the media limelight, but all for the wrong reasons.

It should and must be realised sooner that the "let me keep my Zimbabwe" mantra will not get us anywhere.

Hopefully, some diplomats somewhere are burning the midnight oil trying to contain the damage caused by the ugly spate that could have been avoided in the first place.