The European Union, since its inception, has been highly regarded by people around the world, especially the poor and downtrodden, as a bastion of freedom, justice and fair play.
Sunday Opinion with Pius Wakatama
This image is being tarnished by a slow, but steady, erosion of its once high values.
This started when it became a financial union with the Euro as the official currency for the whole group of nations.
Since then, the diplomatic goal of the organisation has been overturned by financial considerations.
This can be clearly observed in the case of Zimbabwe where its ambassador, Aldo Dell’Ariccia is taking sides with the government against ordinary Zimbabweans and opposition forces, both political and civic, who are saying the country has a serious humanitarian crisis.
Speaking at a conference organised by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Dell’Ariccia categorically claimed that there was no crisis in the country.
He said, “If we had a leadership crisis, there would be chaos. We still have a leader who manages to keep at bay these forces that are very much contradictory.” He also accused civil society of being anchored in the past. “The civil society has a role to play but I have the impression that you are a little bit anchored to the past where instead of being NGOs, one perceives AGOs, Anti-Government Organisations.”
What kind of love potion [mupfuhwira] does His Excellency, [President Robert Mugabe] really have? Once a sworn enemy has tea with him, it is over. He or she becomes an adoring hero-worshipper. First, it was Morgan Tsvangirai who, after several cups of the brew, declared, “Mugabe is a very wise leader!” Today it is Dell’Ariccia.
Tsvangirai was lulled into sleep by Mugabe who assured him that if he lost the last elections he would concede defeat and help him into the presidential seat. He needed not, therefore, worry about such mundane things like the voters’ role or reforms.
In the meantime, Zanu PF was doing what it knows best. It was busy “Nikuving” and come elections, Tsvangirai did not know what hit him. However, Dell’Ariccia was not sung lullabies.
His eyes, and those of the European Union, which he represents, are wide open. Maybe they are just dazzled by all the diamonds and other strategic minerals that Zimbabwe is endowed with.
All along, the EU was hoping that sanctions, coupled with a robust opposition led by the MDC, would usher in a new government which would introduce reasonable economic policies and the EU would also benefit from normal business activity in Zimbabwe. This did not happen. Sanctions did not faze Zimbabwe. In fact, Zimbabwe stood to benefit from them because now all its self-inflicted wounds and failures could be blamed on “illegal sanctions”. As for the opposition; it turned out to be a damp squib. It is now confused, divided and fighting against itself.
In the meantime, the crafty Chinese, are busy carting away tonnes and tonnes of diamonds, and other precious minerals, to their homeland, for a song. This was just too much for the EU to watch from the sidelines. All the talk about democracy and human rights was pushed aside. They decided, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
The move to also access Zimbabwe’s riches began by the gradual removal of EU economic sanctions targeted at selected individuals and corporations. When these sanctions were first imposed, the EU said they would be removed only after certain conditions having to do with political reforms, the rule of law, the carrying out of free and fair elections and other requirements were met. However, just before the July elections, European Union foreign ministers met and agreed to lift some of these sanctions.
They lifted an asset freeze and travel ban against 21 Zimbabweans out of 112 and one firm out of 11 off the list. I understand some more moves have been taken to remove sanctions and at present it is only President Mugabe and First Lady Grace, who remain on the list.
The truth is that Zimbabweans do not care whether the European Union removed sanctions on Zimbabwe or not. They did not affect them in personal ways. In fact, many, including yours truly and opposition parties, are on record saying sanctions should be removed unconditionally because they did not serve any meaningful purpose.
More tangible action was needed if Zimbabwe was to change its course. In fact, these sanctions were God-sent to Zanu PF because they were now blaming all their failures, even the most unlikely, on “these illegal sanctions”.
Dell’Ariccia has indeed raised the ire of Zimbabweans by saying, “There is no crisis in the country, progress has been made and Zimbabwe is now a normal, peaceful and democratic state.”
In a press release, the Zimbabwe Social Democrats denounced the ambassador’s statements as a denial of the truth to justify the EU’s continued engagement with the Mugabe regime and promised reward from the regime of EU access to the country’s diamonds.
Charles Mangongera, a respected policy analyst, who was present when Dell’Ariccia said his unfortunate words, said, the diplomat was wrong in saying civil society was against government. He said the NGO’s were right in identifying the government with the Zimbabwe crisis and was “well within their mandate to do so.”
Zimbabweans understand and accept that the EU needs to engage with Zimbabwe to further its own interests. However, this should not be done at the expense of the already suffering population. It should not lie to the world that Zimbabwe is now a “normal, peaceful and democratic” country.
What Dell’Ariccia is calling peace is not peace at all. It is an exterior quietness, brought about by fear, while underneath there is an ominously roaring inferno.
The veracity of this can be proved by even a cursory look at Zimbabwe’s social media. If the EU is to regain the confidence and respect of Zimbabweans it must recall this diplomat and appoint a more professional and tactful representative who will stick to non-partisan diplomacy.