By Staff Reporter
- EU ends 12-year sanctions in response to Zimbabwe’s new constitution, but travel bans for African Union chair Mugabe and his wife remain in force
- Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attends the June Food Summit at the FAO headquarter, on June 3, 2008, in Rome, Italy.
- Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife are banned from travelling to the EU, but exceptions may be made for him to attend events in his capacity as AU chair. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
- The EU has offered a €234m (£174m) olive branch to Zimbabwe, with insiders privately acknowledging that 12 years of sanctions on President Robert Mugabe’s regime have failed.
- The aid is intended for development projects decided jointly with the government and, if certain conditions are met in the next few years, could lead to a resumption of direct budget support.
The pledge is likely to be seen as conceding the last laugh to Mugabe, long regarded as a pariah in the west but seemingly on the verge of coming back from the cold. Just days before his 91st birthday, the man accused of orchestrating ethnic massacres, political violence and vote-rigging appears more powerful than ever and was recently elected chairman of the African Union (AU).
The sanctions were imposed after elections in 2002 that observers said were rigged in Mugabe’s favour. But critics say that, far from bringing down the world’s oldest leader, they strengthened him with a propaganda weapon that allowed him to blame all Zimbabwe’s economic ills on western imperialists seeking regime change.
Donors have been quick to point out that they continued to provide aid through multilateral agencies and NGOs, bypassing the treasury. The EU also gradually eased restrictive measures on various individuals and companies, although it still has an asset freeze and a travel ban on Mugabe and his wife, Grace, as well as an arms embargo.
This week’s announcement was ostensibly a reward for Zimbabwe’s adoption of a progressive new constitution and an attempt to encourage further change. But it also marked the latest step towards normalising relations and working with Mugabe rather than against him. “After 12 years of sanctions, we have realised it is not going to work,” one western source said. “We do not have enough leverage to induce reform. Let’s try another way by engaging with the government in a more positive way rather than standing on the sidelines.”
The money will go towards boosting production in agriculture and improving health services as well as assisting with governance and institution-building over the next six years. While the projects will be jointly discussed by the EU and government, they will still be implemented by agencies such as the UN Development Programme and World Bank. But if Zimbabwe meets conditions relating to good governance and the rule of law, it could eventually receive direct budget support.
Philippe van Damme, the EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, said during a signing ceremony that the agreement opened a new chapter in Europe’s relationship with the country. But comparing it to the ups and downs of a marriage, he cautioned:
“Does this mean that everything is suddenly sorted out and that we are entering a new honeymoon? No; we have cleared some obstacles in our partnership and, as in any partnership, new problems may emerge, old problems may reappear, but what I can promise today is that I will continue applying, with all the conviction inspired by a happy marriage, the method of an open and frank dialogue, where necessary seasoned with a sound layer of humour, to overcome those problems.”
Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has long demanded the complete removal of EU sanctions, branding them illegal. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the aid marked a significant step but that the sanctions on Mugabe and his wife would continue to sour relations. “Zimbabwe Incorporated has a chief executive officer and as long as the chief executive remains under sanctions our relations remain poisoned and unproductive,” he added.
Chinamasa used the opportunity to appeal for direct foreign investment from EU countries. “Zimbabwe is open for business. I would therefore want to extend my invitation to European investors to come and invest in Zimbabwe.”
Mugabe, who has been in power for 34 years, continues to inch towards redemption. This month the EU said he may be authorised to travel to Europe under specific circumstances in his capacity as AU chair.
Last year, the EU invited him to attend an EU-Africa summit in Brussels, but he turned it down when his wife was denied a visa to travel with him.
Analysts said this week’s EU donation marks a significant repositioning. Piers Pigou, southern Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, commented: “In some respects this represents a shift in the EU from an emphasis on stick to an emphasis on carrot. It’s intended to foster reform but it’s not clear exactly what reforms we’re talking about.
“The money is coming at an important time, a moment of extreme political and economic instability in Zimbabwe. The EU has decided it couldn’t allow the situation to deteriorate any further.”Asked if the move represents a personal triumph for the president, Pigou replied: “If Mr Mugabe and his fellow travellers want to consider this a success and victory, the question has to be asked, at what cost? It seems to have cost him little personally but it’s had a devastating cost for the people of Zimbabwe, many of whom remain outside the country’s borders.”