HARARE - At the end of this month, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, the European Union (EU) ambassador to Zimbabwe bids farewell after “successfully” navigating the stormy waters in which he helped improve relations between Europe and Zimbabwe while angering some within the pro-democracy movement who felt the EU was removing sanctions very fast.
Here he speaks to the Daily News Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki about his tenure and below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: What was your first impression of Zimbabwe after presenting your credentials to President Robert Mugabe?
A: I was appointed to Zimbabwe when the EU had started shifting its position towards Zimbabwe, after the subscription of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) between Zanu PF and the opposition, and the establishment of the Government of National Unity (GNU). So I knew that I had to deal with the great challenge of implementing this new EU approach immediately upon arrival.
In this framework, my first impression of Zimbabwe was that of a country with huge potential, in a very peculiar political transition that should have been permitted to achieve this potential.
I also understood that a lot needed to be done in order to implement the approach decided by the EU and improve the relations between the EU and Zimbabwe.
Q: How did you manage to work together in the early stages with Mugabe and Zanu PF considering that the EU’s relations with Zimbabwe were strained because of sanctions?
A: It was a progressive work of communication and engagement with the GNU. The combination of the exchange with the authorities, derived from our development cooperation and the pursuit of political contacts, including through high level visits from headquarters, did permit to open a dialogue right from the beginning.
Then the EU Council progressed on the matter of measures, demonstrating the EU’s genuine willingness to move forward towards the normalisation of our relations with Zimbabwe, responding to the evolution of the situation in the country. The improvement we observe today would not have been possible without a positive response from the side of the
Q: Were these sanctions really justified or they were just a way of responding positively to both the United States and Britain who had slapped Zimbabwe with the same?
A: The EU imposed restrictive measures on Zimbabwean individuals and companies because of the violence and serious violations of human rights that occurred during the electoral processes in 2000 and 2002 and during the fast-track land reform.
I would like to insist that the EU is not against the land reform processes but in the case of Zimbabwe the repossession of land was carried out with brutality and bloodshed; this is what contributed to the imposition of the measures.
The EU measures of 2002 were approved by all the member states of the EU, not just by one or two nations. All the subsequent council decisions on the measures have always been taken by consensus, as all the decisions on external policy of the EU.
Q: What was your most difficult moment as the EU ambassador in Zimbabwe and how did you manage your way out of it?
A: Possibly the most difficult task was to maintain the EU engagement and find a way forward in front of the many real challenges that the situation in the country presented.
After a successful referendum last year, which did permit to progress further in the EU response, the 31st July elections, constituted a real missed opportunity in the efforts to improve on the relation between the EU and Zimbabwe.
Thanks to the presentation of the preliminary results of the African regional observers, the Sadc’s and the AU’s Election Observation Missions, which critically assessed the process, highlighting the irregularities and shortcomings of the election, that we managed to find a balanced position in the difficult context. This was reflected in the declaration by the High Representative of the European Common Foreign and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton.
New violent farm invasions and the lack of respect of Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (Bippas) also constituted a serious test for the EU commitment to support the government in achieving a more prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.
Q: What difficulties did you encounter during your interaction with president Robert Mugabe’s administration and pro-democracy groups, including civic society and opposition political parties?
A: We never had significant difficulties in interacting with the authorities or with the opposition, or the civil society organisations. The only problem has been the interpretation of some of the EU’s decisions.
The challenge has indeed been to present the EU position in a convincing way. Some sectors within the ruling party, for instance, consider that as long as President Mugabe is on the list of restrictive measures, “all the country is under sanctions”, which demeans the importance of the meaningful steps taken by the EU towards the normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, certain sectors in the opposition were misinformed about the EU stance and thought that we were going “too far, to fast” in our re-engagement with the government. We have worked hard to correct these misperceptions.
Q: How do you sum up Zimbabwe’s progress during your tenure?
A: In economic terms we have seen a very fast recovery from 2009 until 2012 followed by a serious slow-down. The EU is particularly worried by the present conjuncture and we are seeing with the government and the private sector how we can support the country to come out from this difficult situation.
Unfortunately, we note that some essential decisions that should permit to restore the confidence of international investors have not yet been taken by the cabinet.
We trust that with our renewed political dialogue, we will be able to encourage these changes, which are crucial to attract foreign direct investment to the country.
From the political point of view there have been ups and downs. I think that the general situation of the human and political rights has improved, even though much remains to be done, for instance to combat impunity. The major challenge now appears to be the respect of the social and economic rights of the general population.
The new Constitution endorsed by the popular referendum in 2013 is another meaningful step in the right direction.
The challenge for the authorities now is to align the national legislation to the fundamental chart. The EU is ready to support the government in this crucial endeavour.
Q: Are you leaving Zimbabwe as a happy man and why?
A: My tour of duty in Zimbabwe has been a very interesting one and gratifying from a professional point of view. I think that with the staff at the delegation we have managed to implement in a proper way the spirit and the letter of the EU policy towards Zimbabwe. It is, however, still work-in-progress.
Q: To what extent will the EU-Zim re-engagement help Zimbabwe rebuild its international ties and struggling economy?
A: If in November the European Council decides to lift the appropriate measures (which do not permit to have direct development cooperation with the government), the EU will be in the position to sign with the government the National Indicative Programme of our assistance to Zimbabwe for the period 2014-2020, under the 11th European Development Fund. 234 million euros have been earmarked for the cooperation programme that will focus on health; rural-based economic development (with a particular attention to resilience, food security and nutrition and with chain values); and governance. This would represent an important boost for the economy of the country.
The EU is also cooperating with the International Financial Institutions to find a solution to the problem of the Zimbabwean external debt.
The total normalisation of the relations would permit to achieve the aim of EU cooperation with the country, which is to contribute to a prosperous, democratic and peaceful present for the people of Zimbabwe.
Q: How much did the EU invest in Zimbabwe during your tenure and which areas were of priority?
A: Since 2009, the EU and its member states have provided over one billion euros in development assistance to Zimbabwe. The main areas of support have been health, education,
water and sanitation, private sector development and governance.
Q: Civic groups and opposition parties were not happy with your statement that Mugabe is like glue which keeps Zimbabwe together. Do you still stand by that statement?
A: The reaction of certain groups was due to the fact of taking some parts of my statements totally out of the context in which I made them. This has been clarified by now and I do not think that it is necessary to go back to that.
Q: How did you react to this criticism considering the EU’s message of de-polarising Zimbabwe’s toxic political environment?
A: I repeat that the issue has been clarified now. I did not react to the criticisms; I just clarified the situation, putting the record straight and this should have demonstrated that the criticisms were unfounded.
Q: What are your views on the infighting in the MDC?
A: The division of the opposition is never a good prospect in a democracy.
Q: How does this infighting impact on both the MDC and other political parties’ credibility in the eyes of the voters?
A: This is a question that you should ask the voters.
Q: How do you see the future of Zimbabwe post Mugabe?
A: For the moment we are still very much engaged in the present.