Zim, EU must move for­ward

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

ON AU­GUST 3, 2017 Zim­pa­pers Tele­vi­sion Net­work en­gaged Head of the Euro­pean Union Mis­sion to Zim­babwe Am­bas­sador Philippe Van Damme on the EU’s in­ter­est in African elec­tions, Zim­babwe’s re­la­tions with the bloc and whether the def­i­ni­tion of democ­racy in Europe is the same in Africa. The fol­low­ing is the first in­stal­ment of Am­bas­sador Van Damme’s con­ver­sa­tion with Zim­pa­pers Head of Tele­vi­sion Nomsa Nkala.

*** Q: Your as­sign­ment in Zim­babwe be­gan in 2014, what were your thoughts re­gard­ing the coun­try then? A: My man­date started with for­mal en­gage­ments with the Gov­ern­ment of Zim­babwe, with the lift­ing of ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures on devel­op­ment co-op­er­a­tion, which opened new val­ues of en­gag­ing on pol­icy di­a­logue with Gov­ern­ment. So, that was a very ex­cit­ing mo­ment and time to come over. My man­date fin­ishes af­ter the elec­tions in 2018, so that is a per­fect frame for my pres­ence here. l very much en­joy it.

Q: And your ex­pec­ta­tions?

A: My ex­pec­ta­tions, in­deed, that we can progress in our en­gage­ments. That means we can progress in a num­ber of pol­icy re­forms, par­tic­u­larly the po­lit­i­cal field so that we fur­ther our re­la­tions. That’s the ul­ti­mate goal of a re­la­tion­ship.

Q: Are you mak­ing progress in that area?

A: Maybe not as quickly as we would have liked. That’s quite ob­vi­ous. But on the other hand, we have a cou­ple of devel­op­ment pro­grammes that are run­ning in the coun­try. That gives us a lot of sat­is­fac­tion be­cause they di­rectly ben­e­fit the pop­u­la­tion of this coun­try. No­tably in ru­ral ar­eas, we have a lot of food se­cu­rity re­silience-build­ing pro­grammes where we help small­hold­ers get ac­cess to mar­kets and build up a vi­able liveli­hood. We con­tinue the con­tri­bu­tion to the health sec­tor through Unicef-man­aged health devel­op­ment funds and try at in­sti­tu­tional lev­els to make progress. We are work­ing on jus­tice is­sues, hu­man rights, con­sti­tu­tional align­ment and finance man­age­ment. They are all com­pli­cated and chal­leng­ing.

We would have liked to progress more rapidly, and now we have the Lima Agenda that the Gov­ern­ment pre­pared and pre­sented at four meet­ings of the IMF and World Bank in October 2015, which cre­ated a lit­tle bit of mo­men­tum. Un­for­tu­nately, that mo­men­tum got a lit­tle bit lost, so we try to keep it alive and urge the Gov­ern­ment to con­tinue on that track be­cause we hon­estly be­lieve that is the only way for­ward.

Q: What, in your view, is stalling progress?

A: That is up to the Gov­ern­ment to make that as­sess­ment. We try to find in­di­ca­tors that are will­ing to go to the part of those re­forms. l guess there are all kinds of rea­sons that ex­plain the slow­down and that pro­cess, and l guess, of course, pre-elec­toral moods are never — any­where in the world — favourable for struc­tural re­forms. But we still try, no­tably in the po­lit­i­cal field; it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to con­duct elec­tions in a free and trans­par­ent way so that we can con­tinue build­ing on that pos­i­tive en­gage­ment af­ter the elec­tions. Q: Can you share with us your thoughts on Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe. What was your first im­pres­sion of the man in 2014? A: Clearly Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe is a charis­matic per­son, and l have to say he has a sense of hu­mour and I like peo­ple who have a sense of hu­mour. We had a very in­ter­est­ing chat. I will never for­get that his­tor­i­cal en­counter to con­nect with a per­son of the lib­er­a­tion move­ment pe­riod in Africa. But l can’t re­veal what we dis­cussed.

Q: Do you be­lieve he is a cred­i­ble leader?

A: l don’t have to com­ment. I al­ways say to peo­ple I am not a jour­nal­ist; I am not a colum­nist. So, I am not com­ment­ing on the qual­ity of lead­ers or qual­ity of po­lit­i­cal per­son­nel from wher­ever and l am not com­ment­ing on do­mes­tic poli­cies. Q: You came into the coun­try soon af­ter a gen­eral elec­tion which was won by Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe’s Zanu-PF party and im­me­di­ately af­ter that elec­tion, the United States and some coun­tries in the EU chal­lenged the cred­i­bil­ity of that poll. What par­tic­u­lar man­date were you given by the EU in light of its po­si­tion on that elec­tion and the Zim­babwe Gov­ern­ment? A: First of all, Amer­ica is not part of the EU and the EU has a com­mon po­si­tion which it ex­plained at that time. There has been an ob­ser­va­tion mis­sion of Sadc and the African Union, and both of them un­der­lined the peace­ful con­duct of those elec­tions, but both of them also high­lighted some anom­alies and prob­lems and we took stock of that.

So, we said let’s move for­ward, but there are things to be done and part of the po­lit­i­cal agenda is for the rec­om­men­da­tions of th­ese ob­server mis­sions have to be im­ple­mented. Q: The EU, in par­tic­u­lar, said, “We are con­cerned about the al­leged ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and re­ports of in­com­plete par­tic­i­pa­tion as well as iden­ti­fied weaknesses in the elec­toral pro­cess and lack of trans­parency.” Sadc and AU ob­servers de­ter­mined that the elec­tion re­sult in­di­cated the will of Zim­bab­weans. So, you didn’t agree with those two ob­server mis­sions? A: This is not en­tirely in­com­pat­i­ble. You can, in­deed, high­light some prob­lems and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and still think that, over­ally, the re­sults re­flected — broadly speak­ing — the opin­ion of the peo­ple. So, this is not nec­es­sar­ily in­com­pat­i­ble. But as I said when I ar­rived here and ex­plained to the Pres­i­dent dur­ing our dis­cus­sions when I pre­sented my cre­den­tials, I am not here as a his­to­rian mak­ing as­sess­ments of the past. I am here to look for­ward and see how we can im­prove our re­la­tions and the fu­ture of the peo­ple of Zim­babwe. Q: So, es­sen­tially, the EU recog­nises Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe as the duly elected leader of this coun­try? A: I pre­sented my let­ters of cre­den­tials to the Pres­i­dent of this coun­try, so we con­tinue, we en­gage and we dis­cuss. Q: The Zim­babwe Gov­ern­ment re­jected the EU’s pro­posal to ob­serve the last elec­tion on the ba­sis that ac­cept­ing such a mis­sion equalled ac­cept­ing for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in

the county’s elec­toral pro­cess. Do you feel Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion was jus­ti­fied?

A: The EU ob­serves elec­tions through­out the world, and that can be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to con­fi­dence-build­ing which is some­thing very of­ten in­cluded in this coun­try, valu­able as­sets. So, EU ob­server mis­sions are not there to in­ter­vene be­cause they have a very spe­cific man­date which is to ob­serve and not to in­ter­vene. The pres­ence of ob­servers can have an ap­peas­ing im­pact on elec­tions.

My pre­vi­ous post­ing was in Guinea-Con­akry, and l was present through­out two elec­tions. And each time the elec­toral ob­servers were as­sessed by all sides, it was ex­tremely use­ful to en­hance the cred­i­bil­ity and con­trib­ute to over­all ap­pease­ment.

So, this is not about in­ter­fer­ence, but it’s about the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — whether Sadc, AU or EU or other in­ter­na­tional ob­server mis­sions — to con­trib­ute to the con­sol­i­da­tion of democ­racy. Q: African coun­tries are never in­vited to ob­serve elec­tions in Europe. Why is that? A: If African coun­tries would re­quest to ob­serve the elec­tions, I don’t think there would be any ob­jec­tions. There have been elec­tions ob­served by ex­ter­nal ob­server mis­sions even in Europe, within the EU and that’s not an ex­cep­tion. We don’t have any ob­jec­tions to that. There might not be a ne­ces­sity for that be­cause the elec­tions don’t cre­ate ten­sions and don’t re­quire th­ese type of con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures, but (Africans) are al­ways wel­come. Just like the Amer­ica elec­tions, they have ex­ter­nal ser­vice par­tic­i­pat­ing in their elec­tions. There is no ide­o­log­i­cal prob­lem here.

Q: It is not a ca­pac­ity is­sue, is it?

A: I don’t think we have ca­pac­ity prob­lems to or­gan­ise elec­tions in Europe. I am Bel­gian, it’s a com­pli­cated coun­try with three com­mu­ni­ties and three re­gions with lin­guis­tic dif­fer­ences and thoughts, but we man­aged to or­gan­ise our elec­tions. Full in­ter­view on www.ztn.co.zw To be continued next week

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