Lawlessness Expected to Put Aid on Hold

Continued land grabs likely to delay any financial assistance from western governments.

Lawlessness Expected to Put Aid on Hold

Continued land grabs likely to delay any financial assistance from western governments.

Thursday, 26 March, 2009
Zimbabwe’s new government is courting development partners among western countries as it grapples to secure crucial financial lifelines – but the signs are that it will draw a blank because of ongoing lawlessness in the farming sector.

In an effort to re-engage the European Union, which imposed targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his previous ruling cabal, the new government on March 16 played host to the Danish minister of development cooperation, Ulla Tornaes, while Norway, which is not a EU member, sent its environment and international cooperation development minister, Erick Solheim.

The two officials told journalists in separate press briefings in Harare that a new outbreak of farm invasions which have disrupted 100 of the 300 remaining white-owned farms does not augur well for the resumption of full international support.

Tornaes said her government would only consider new investments in Zimbabwe after the outstanding issues of farm property rights and the protection of commercial farms covered under bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements have been resolved.

Solheim said he was visiting Harare on a fact-finding mission following the formation of the inclusive government. “We are looking at the return to the rule of law and the release of all political prisoners,” he said.

Despite an agreement to end land invasions and to encourage food production on farms – part of the unity deal agreed to by Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara – the fresh wave of farm attacks has intensified in recent weeks.

Tsvangirai, who returned from compassionate leave on March 24 after a horrific motor accident killed his wife earlier in the month, is understood to have asked his office to investigate the farm invasions, which are blamed on hardliners in ZANU-PF and the former regime who are vehemently opposed to the new, inclusive government.

An interim economic blueprint that was released on March 16 has, among other things, demanded an immediate halt to the farm disruptions, in an effort to kick-start the country's economy.

The new government desperately requires five billion dollars to stay afloat after nearly ten years of bankruptcy by Mugabe's previous government.

Officials told IWPR the visits by the Danish and Norwegian delegations were part of the government’s move to coax the EU and the West to lift targeted sanctions against Mugabe to allow a free flow of aid.

But analysts said the lawlessness playing out in the farm invasions has killed any chances of getting substantial support from the international community.

“Nothing has changed as far as the international community is concerned,” said John Makumbe, a fiery critic of Mugabe who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe. “It would be madness to expect them to bail out the country when farms are being seized in front of their eyes and political prisoners still languish in prison.”

He said that chances that targeted sanctions would be lifted were next to nil.

Government sources said Tsvangirai’s office had been inundated with requests from EU countries to visit Zimbabwe to gauge the sincerity of the players involved in the Global Political Agreement signed on September 15, 2009 but that visit could be delayed by uncertainty over the restoration of the rule of law and other outstanding issues under the unity pact.

Zimbabwe’s minister of regional integration and international corporation, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, told IWPR the EU has indicated it was agreeable to engaging with Zimbabwe, adding that the visit by the Danish and Norwegian ministers pointed to the bloc’s seriousness to re-engage the country.

“But certainly these visits are less of political visits. The interest at this stage is to engage on development issues. I can’t say much on sanctions except that the minister of foreign affairs has indicated he will do what is necessary to seek formal engagement,” she said.

The new administration has set up a team comprising Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Misihairabwi-Mushonga, and Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube to revive international relations, which were severed by the sanctions.

Mumbengegwi told diplomats and journalists in Harare on March 18 that Zimbabwe needed the assistance of the international community to rebuild the economy.

“Our country faces a number of challenges we have to address which are well spelt out in the Global Political Agreement. We regard the diplomats and international community as friends and allies in this endeavour to rescue our country,” he said.

A World Bank and International Monetary Fund team has been in Harare since the start of March consulting on the economy.

Gorden Moyo, minister of state in the prime minister’s office, said re-establishing relations with the EU and other western countries was one of the priorities of the new government and the prime minister’s office would work flat out to achieve that goal.

“We expect more of these countries but the drive and thrust is to engage and build bridges,” said Moyo. “You are aware of the strained relations between Zimbabwe and the West. The prime minister’s office is dealing with issues that led to the imposition of targeted measures. We are also marketing the inclusive government. It is about reconnecting with these governments.”

Australia, which slapped Mugabe with targeted sanctions, has said it would review its stance and promised to pump in ten million US dollars to bankroll the administration.

While the EU is softening its position on Zimbabwe, the United States and Britain have extended sanctions by a year as a matter of foreign policy. James McGee, the US ambassador in Harare, said on March 24 “there is no reason and no way” Washington was going to lift sanctions anytime soon against Zimbabwe without “some very, very clear indication that the country’s new unity government is moving in the right direction”.

Until that takes place, he said, the US is "just not going to lift these sanctions. We have individual sanctions and we have sanctions against parastatals". Both types of sanctions, he said, "are there for a reason" because certain people and entities have been using the country for their own enrichment.

"The people of Zimbabwe – their needs are not being met. ... We have looked at it very carefully. The situation ... remains the same. So until we do see some change, the sanctions are going to stay in place," he said.

Mugabe has always said the sanctions were illegally put in place to punish his government for reclaiming land.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained journalist in Zimbabwe.
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