Zim on brink of diplomatic row with US, Germany

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Bernard Mpofu

A fresh diplomatic row could erupt between Zimbabwe and western governments after Harare threatened to expel envoys from the United States and Germany for allegedly funding protests across the country which claimed the lives of four people.

This could also throw Zimbabwe’s reengagement efforts with bilateral and multilateral creditors off-balance.

This week, Information secretary Nick Mangwana said government could invoke Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on diplomats meddling in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.

“Over the past few weeks, government has closely monitored activities of a coalition of non-governmental organisations in the country, especially in and around Harare. It has become obvious that there is a deliberate plan to undermine and challenge the prevailing constitutional order born out of the 2018 July 30 harmonised elections which were democratic, free and fair, and which were subsequently upheld by the highest court of the land,” Mangwana said.

“This brazenly unconstitutional plan which sought financial support from some regime-change organisations based in America and Germany, among other countries, represents a serious threat to our consolidating democracy, to the rule of law in our country, and to the authority of Government and the State. Government is under no illusion as to the intentions and import of this plan, which is being partly orchestrated through social media.”

Mangwana added: “Should that happen, the State, through the government of the day, is mandated to step in with appropriate firmness, and on the strength of a mix of lawful instruments at its disposal, to protect and restore law and order in the Republic for the benefit of the ordinary citizen. This is more so when intelligence available to government clearly points to a foreign hand bent on aiding and abetting such chaos. Government is aware of the involvement of non-citizens in the orchestration of this futile exercise. Government will not hesitate to take action against such persons by withdrawing their visas, deporting them and declaring them persona non grata.”

The article states that ‘the receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission. A person may be declared non grata or not acceptable before arriving in the territory of the receiving State.’

But analysts warned that should government expel the diplomats, Zimbabwe could be further isolated from the international community.

“If Article 9 is invoked, the relations would have soured. What is at stake in Zimbabwe is breaking with the past. Moving away from the politics of isolation is what the new government undertook to do but if Zimbabwe is not integrated into the international community, chances of prosperity remain remote,” University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Lawrence Mhandara said.

“The primacy of politics is very important. Zimbabwe should strike a balance between national interests and observing the law. Zimbabwe should opt for engagement not confrontation.”

University of Johannesburg academic Pedzisai Ruhanya also concurred.

“Firstly, there is no evidence against those diplomats and in any case, people do not need Western funding or any other funding to stand against state-engineered social injustices that threaten their livelihoods,” Ruhanya said.

“Threatening to fire Western diplomats over cooked-up allegations will throw Zimbabwe back to its pariah status. Efforts to re-engage the international community will be up in smoke. It’s taking Zimbabwe back to the dark period and dark politics under former president Robert Mugabe.”

In the 2005, Mugabe threatened to expel former United States ambassador Christopher Dell after accusing the diplomat of attempting to destabilise Zimbabwe.

Germany is one of the country’s major bilateral creditors while the United States is the largest shareholder of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Relations between Germany and Zimbabwe turned sour at the turn of the millennium when the latter embarked on the land reform programme and expropriated land belonging to German farmers despite the fact that they were protected by Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements.

Germany, along with the European Union, suspended budgetary support to Zimbabwe in 2002 citing allegations of rights abuses by former president Robert Mugabe’s administration. The EU has since lifted the sanctions, citing improvements in the political environment after the adoption of a new constitution in 2013.

As at 2017, Zimbabwe owed €465 million ($507 million) to the German Development Bank (Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau — KfW).

KfW, which is majority-owned by the German government, is also owed €40 million euro ($43 million) by the mothballed Ziscosteel which borrowed the funds to construct a steel plant in 1998.

According to the IMF, the US is the largest shareholder of the 189-member financier, controlling 16,52 percent, closely followed by Japan (6,15 percent) and France and United Kingdom (4,03 percent apiece). Zimbabwe, which has been in arrears since 1999 has a 0,17 percent stake.

The US is also a member of the Paris Club where it has the power to veto any decisions. And Zimbabwe owes the most amount to the Paris Club of around $3,2 billion.