'GNU helped stabilise Zim economy'

HARARE - Netherlands this week celebrated the Queen’s day and on the occasion the Daily News staff writer John Kachembere (JK) caught up with Barbara Joziasse ((BJ), Netherlands ambassador to Zimbabwe to discuss various issues concerning the relations between her country and Zimbabwe.

Below are the excerpts of the interview.

JK: How has it been possible that Netherlands has continued to support Zimbabwe albeit the sanctions imposed on the country’s leaders and companies by the European Union, EU in which you are a member?

BJ: The Netherlands, and the European Union (EU) for that matter, has indeed remained steadfast in its support to the people of Zimbabwe.

The friendship between our people is warm and longstanding.

Many Dutch people supported the liberation movement through food assistance, blankets for liberation fighters and campaigning against the Rhodesian rule.

It is our dream that every person in your country — and in the world — enjoys freedom and respect for his or her rights.

EU member states, including the Netherlands, have signalled their concern about large-scale human rights violations. And indeed, the EU restrictive measures affect only 10 individuals who if serious, can guide Zimbabwe into a situation of prosperity and sustainable peace.

In Zimbabwe, we have always sustained our support to the people of Zimbabwe. Throughout the tough times, thousands of Zimbabweans continued to study in the Netherlands, trade persisted between our countries, and last year, KLM reopened direct flights to Harare.

The Dutch development Bank recently also injected capital into the Zimbabwean bank, NMB where a loan facility was opened for companies. This will benefit the people as healthy companies bring jobs and food to the table.

Since the start of the Government of National Unity (GNU) we spent around $74m to support the people.

I realise that this is a mere drop in the ocean, also in light of the $2,6bn that the countries that are part of the friends of Zimbabwe contributed to the well-being of the Zimbabwean people.

To be honest, I think that relations are improving between our governments. I am fully committed to creating more opportunities to support this.

Zimbabwe, like my country, needs to be embedded in the international community. Participation in UN-affairs is key for countries like ours.

JK: What plans do you have to improve relations between our two countries?

BJ: I am here to represent my country. You will have noticed that I have gone through great efforts to engage all political parties. This is important because sustainable peace in Zimbabwe requires cooperation across the political divide.

You might also be aware that we provide assistance to a number of ongoing home-grown initiatives, especially those supporting the peace process in Zimbabwe.

For example, we were one of the first countries that provided assistance to Copac and Jomic. We support these structures because they created an avenue for constructive dialogue between the parties in the coalition government: Zanu PF and the MDCs.

The EU has made a number of positive movements with regards to the restrictive measures. Over the past few months, member states have signalled that we are ready to move forward with our relationship with Zimbabwe.

I think the EU, of which we are a member state, has been very clear that we have a commitment to work with a government formed as a result of a peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process.

JK: From the time that you have been in Zimbabwe, what is your perception of the Zimbabwean economy?

BJ: The economy holds many promises and many challenges. As you know, the Zimbabwean economy depreciated for several years. It only started to grow again following dollarisation and a peace process which gave birth to the GNU. In turn, this helped to stabilise the economy.

Thus, when I arrived in 2010 the economy grew by about nine percent and slowed down again to five percent last year.

Although the GNU has helped a lot to stabilise the economy, I think there is a lot more potential for sustainable growth that benefits and empowers all.

However, what is needed is clarity on a number of issues, especially with regards to private property rights. Any investor, whether Zimbabwean or foreign, wants certainty. They want to know whether the dollar or euro that they invest will be protected.

Zimbabwe’s ranking on the doing business list is worryingly low. Political bickering is usually not helpful in that respect. Sound economic policy, respect for property rights, investing in agricultural development has proven to be propelling growth in other countries.

Yet, greed seems to dictate economic discussions in many countries, while real empowerment and distribution of income deserve more attention. Empowerment goes much deeper than what is often portrayed. It is about creating new wealth.

JK: The economic meltdown of the last decade hampered improvements in many sectors of the economy, how is your country assisting in rebuilding the economy of Zimbabwe?

BJ: Zimbabweans are first and foremost responsible for the rebuilding of the economy. We can support certain initiatives, but at the end of the day it is up to you to be the creators of your own destiny.

As mentioned earlier, we provide support towards peace processes because we believe that political stability and respect for rights and economic growth influence one another.

We receive more and more inquiries from Dutch businesses keen to do business in this economy. They have a lot to contribute to Zimbabwe in the field of agriculture, water management, transport and logistics.

My country is the third largest exporter of agricultural products worldwide, the biggest market floor for flowers and the seventh largest investor globally. We know what we talk about. I am convinced that business cooperation with Dutch companies benefits the average Zimbabwean.

Yet, respect for rights and respect of the Bippa between our countries are crucial. International business and respect for rights go together like a horse and carriage.

JK: Zimbabwe is set to hold general elections soon; in your view is the country ready to hold a credible, free and fair election?

BJ: Elections are meant to reflect the will of the people. It is up to all stakeholders to determine if the country is ready.

 This country, with support of Sadc, has made tremendous strides with regards to putting in place new mechanisms, frameworks and laws that prescribe how political players ought to act.

These institutions are home-grown and developed by the GNU. Implementation is key now. Implementation of what parties agreed upon.

Just one month ago a new constitution was supported by the people. Constitutionalism requires respect for the rule of law and the implementation thereof. Political will is what will breathe life into the new Constitution.

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