THE absence of Zimbabwe’s main opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa in the current political dialogue initiated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to resolve the country’s economic and political crisis is a major handicap and will affect the quality of the outcome, a top foreign diplomat has said.
Speaking on Alpha Media Holdings’ HSTV radio in Harare yesterday, European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen said the current talks by Mnangagwa and other political parties were progressive, but without the MDC, it remained a serious handicap to the Zanu PF leader’s engagement efforts.
“We think Polad (Political Actors) dialogue is important in its own right. It’s good that political parties are discussing, but obviously, we are missing the second largest political party and the biggest contender in the last election. I think it’s a major handicap to those discussions,” Olkkonen said.
Mnangagwa is currently leading dialogue with mostly fringe political parties that participated in last year’s general elections, but failed to garner representation in Parliament.
Chamisa has spurned the talks, demanding that Mnangagwa’s legitimacy should be the talking point; a demand vehemently rejected by the ruling Zanu PF party. Chamisa is also demanding that the talks be presided over by a neutral mediator and at a neutral venue.
Olkkonen said the talks would be crucial in ending the problems facing Zimbabwe, calling on a more national and inclusive dialogue which would include Chamisa.“I think the issue about what is discussed within those fora is less important than the actual reform agenda and what is actually happening on the ground in terms of respecting rights. I think those are more crucial. I think those issues such as dialogue and a national dialogue, and we would hope to have a real comprehensive national dialogue, would be a means to an end of taking Zimbabwe forward,” he said.
The international community, particularly EU member countries, recently voiced concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe, saying they were taking the country into the dark past.
The EU and the United States last week issued strong statements that invited a backlash from government, with counter alleged meddling by the international community in internal affairs.
Olkkonen stood his ground, saying the Zimbabwe government has to investigate the abductions, torture and assault allegations and bring perpetrators to book.
“The reasons why we publish these reports is exactly to voice our concern, which is mirrored in the capitals of Europe that we want to see Zimbabwe taking off in a positive trajectory of leaving these troubles of the past. And obviously, these kind of events then dent that belief and hope that why we hope all these problematic issues are tackled seriously and investing in all these events of human rights violations are investigated, the truth is brought to life and the culprits are brought to justice,” he said.
Recently, Sadc called on the US and EU to remove sanctions against Zimbabwe, but Olkkonen said the political statements by Sadc would not change anything and movement will only come if Zimbabwe reforms.
“Well, Sadc has the liberty of stating what it wants. That is their political statement that they came out with recently. When you look at the factual assessment about the facts, because the Sadc communique talked about the economic effects and the unfairness of it, from that perspective we will not be convinced because of the limited effect of the economic restrictions that the economic measures would have,” he said.
The pressure on the EU and US to soften their stance on Harare will only be determined by how Mnangagwa responds.
“We have been discussing with the government about the reform agenda hoping that it will move forward, that we will have reforms on the political side. We are looking at the legislative agenda and also other issues and I think a lot of issues about how Zimbabwe is perceived and I have to say that its recent perceptions about limitations of democratic space and human rights violations are not helping because one has to remember that the reason why the restrictive measures were put in place were related exactly to these same issues,” he said.
In a separate statement, the US said its disappointment with Zimbabwe’s government keeps growing amid the heavy-handed response of the authorities to any form of opposition, a senior State Department official said on Monday following a crackdown last week on protesters.
“The disappointment just keeps getting worse and worse, unfortunately,” said the official, speaking on background to reporters in Washington. “The government seems to be getting even more violent in their response to any form of opposition.”
— Additional reporting by Reuters