Perhaps the biggest news in Zimbabwe last week was the opening of dialogue between the European Union and the Government of Zimbabwe. This represents the first real dialogue between the two entities in nearly 2 decades. At the height of hostilities, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe used to take every opportunity to denounce the EU, The US and former colonial power Britain.
Times have changed but Zimbabwe’s problems have not. The nation currently gripped by high inflation and economic trouble reminiscent of the early 2000s – the period the last economic meltdown which culminated in 2008 started to look dire. New President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration went to great lengths to emphasize their desire for reengagement with parties such as the EU. This represents putting to paid to such promises.
Timo Olkkonen, EU ambassador to Zimbabwe said they would discuss issues including economic development, trade, investment, rights, rule of law and good governance. The first three mentioned there are areas which Zimbabwe desperately seeks help with from the outside world while the latter three are things the country must look internally to fix.
Commentators were quick to heap praises following the development as many were excited that it would open up Zimbabwe to investment and perhaps debt forgiveness going forward. Something else the Zimbabwean government struggles with carrying huge domestic and foreign debt balances.
Some have however pointed to the pretext that President Mnangagwa’s administration has at best dragged its feet when it comes to making the changes which their dialogue counterparts have found as sticking points in their relations. The human rights abuses and rule of law. It is interesting to see if the dialogue will yield anything other than a reiteration of the problem as was the case post elections when they hoped the US would repeal or soften the ZIDERA Act which slapped sanctions on Zimbabwean entities and persons closely linked to the government.
The EU delegation expressed some pleasure at Zimbabwe agreeing to a Staff-Monitored Program with the IMF. The dialogue would open up semi-annual meetings going forward for the two. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has shown a desire for dialogue of late as this represented the 2nd dialogue occasion of the week after they signed the Tripartite negotiating forum Bill to bring government business and labour to the table while also engaging in a political actors dialogue. All this while the country experiences crippling foreign currency shortages, the second highest inflation rate in the world, electricity & fuel shortages and widespread economic turmoil.