Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa’s Govt Has All but Trashed Re-Engagement Drive

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has effectively abandoned its international re-engagement agenda as evidenced by public confrontations with the European Union (EU) and United States, reminiscent of former president Robert Mugabe’s era during which relations with the West were punctuated by vitriolic exchanges, plunging Zimbabwe into diplomatic isolation.

When Mnangagwa took power in 2017 through a military-backed coup, he pledged a clean break with his predecessor’s hard-line stance towards the West. He pledged to roll out a reform agenda anchored on a re-engagement drive aimed at bringing Zimbabwe back to the community of nations.

The reform agenda, enunciated in his inauguration speech on November 24 2017, was predicated on the urgent need to tackle graft, return Zimbabwe to constitutionalism and protection of property rights and investment.

At that time, Mnangagwa said: “We will take definite steps to re-engage those nations who have had issues with us in the past. Above all, all foreign investments will be safe in our country and we will fully abide by the terms of Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPA) which we have concluded with a number of nations. I ask you to join us in exploiting our potential to make a difference in the lives of our people.”

However, barely two years at the helm, Mnangagwa, seemingly having learnt nothing and forgotten everything from Mugabe’s bellicose stance against the West, has ratcheted up hostilities, particularly with the US.

Washington, for its part, has stuck to its guns, adding a member of Mnangagwa’s inner circle, state security minister Owen Ncube, to its sanctions list, while reminding Harare that the embargo will only be lifted when government earnestly begins implementing the reform agenda it spelt out following the toppling of Mugabe.

Only last week, Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo, who rose to fame after announcing the 2017 millitary coup on national television, effectively threatened the US without spelling out the options available to Harare should matters spiral out of control.

“We genuinely seek dialogue with all well-meaning countries as part of our re-engagement efforts, but our openness and innate generosity of spirit of all Zimbabweans should not be taken for granted and should certainly not be abused.

“We have the means to bring all this to an end should we deem it necessary or should we be pushed too far,” Moyo said.The abrasive rhetoric from Zimbabwe’s top diplomat came after government, battling to contain an intractable economic crisis, organised an anti-sanctions march which was in solidarity with Sadc’s call on the US and the EU to scrap the embargoes.

In the aftermath of the march, the US dismissed the anti-sanctions campaign as a propaganda gimmick designed to mask the root cause of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

In its criticism, the US chronicled numerous episodes where Mnangagwa’s administration, in its two years in power, had grossly violated human rights while crushing dissent.

Looming large in the catalogue of human rights abuses on Mnangagwa’s watch is the fatal shooting of six civilians by the millitary in the aftermath of last year’s disputed polls when protestors took to the streets demanding the immediate release of election results. Although Mnangagwa instituted a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe to establish the circumstances surrounding the killings, government is still to compensate the victims of the shootings and prosecute the killers.

In addition to the August 1 2018 and January 2019 killings totalling 23, several human rights activists have been abducted by suspected state security agents.

The US, leading the chorus of condemnation against Harare’s checkered human rights record, has blamed Mnangagwa for lacking the sincerity to implement reforms which are regarded as low-hanging fruits that could fast-track Zimbabwe’s return to the community of nations.

Among the quick-win reforms which the West has called on Harare to embrace is the need to harmonise laws in line with the new 2013 constitution.

The West has also implored Mnangagwa to scrap from the statutes repressive laws which have been employed to clamp down on dissent as well as entrenching property rights which Mugabe subverted during his 37-year rule.

With Zimbabwe now having taken a confrontational approach against the West, analysts fear the country is sliding back into isolation, squandering the golden opportunity to reset relations with the international community, seen as key to resolving the southern African country’s multifaceted economic and political crises.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Tawanda Zinyama said in the wake of utterances by Moyo championing Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive, Harare must abandon its belligerent stance, if it is to restore its fraught relations with the West. He cautioned that Harare was on a slippery path, with relations with the West set to deteriorate if Mnangagwa’s government does not backtrack from its hostile stance.

“The relations will worsen further. We must understand that the Americans are not beggars. It is Zimbabwe which is begging. Zimbabwe must try to rectify on its checkered human rights record, improve freedom of association and assembly as well as uphold property rights,” he said.

“I do not understand who stands to gain. Zimbabwe stands to lose. When Moyo said what he said, he was not sober. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also worried about the human rights record. If Zimbabwe decides to discontinue dialogue with the West, it will be regrettable. The success of the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) is predicated on re-engaging with the US,” Chinyama said.

As Zimbabwe struggles to normalise relations with the West as well as multilateral financiers, the country is finding the going tough in meeting key benchmarks of the IMF’s Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP).

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said following Moyo’s statement and Zimbabwe’s hostile stance, the southern African country could plunge into a fresh crisis of isolationism.

“Zimbabwe will be worse off after that statement by Moyo. It has serious ramifications on the country. It was undiplomatic, not to mention the implicit threat,” Mandaza said, noting that Moyo’s statement threatened to derail the re-engagement drive, seen as key towards extricating Zimbabwe from global isolation and economic ruin.

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