‘No’ to opaque deal with infamous dictator

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President Robert Mugabe this week interrupted his annual vacation to receive Equatorial Guinean dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who was in the country on a two-day official visit.

Reports say President Mugabe’s long meeting with President Nguema culminated in the signing of bilateral co-operation deals. As usual, diplomatic speak was employed to explain the nature of the co-operation agreement which included “debt-settling”, “mutual understanding and co-operation” and “promotion of joint ventures”.

It was reported that the two countries agreed to co-operate in education, public administration, defence and security, industrialisation, agriculture and livestock production. The agreement also covers mining, infrastructure development, communications, commerce and energy.

That is a very broad agreement whose actual details unfortunately remain shielded from the generality of the public.

Worse still, the MDC component of the unity government says it was not part of this project. Ministers from the MDCs dealing with education, industry, energy and finance were excluded from the discussions which further clouds the deal.

In essence, we do not know what the Zanu PF government is committing the country to with these numerous bilateral agreements.

We are aware that after Nguema’s 2006 visit to Zimbabwe — when he came to thank President Mugabe after the capture of Simon Mann and a group of mercenaries who wanted to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea — a bilaterial agreement was penned.

The agreement saw Zimbabwe importing fuel from the West African country, but President Mugabe’s government has failed to pay for that fuel and as of 2008, the debt had ballooned to $222 million.

The visit in 2006 also culminated in local hotel group Africa Sun making forays into Equatorial Guinea in a bid to construct and manage hotel facilities.

This project has since collapsed, amid allegations of a payment dispute between Nguema’s government and the hotel group.

Africa Sun is being sued in Zimbabwe by contractors who had been hired to execute the task.What kind of mutual understanding and co-operation is that?

One can only speculate that under the new bilateral agreement, Zimbabwe is keen to mortgage national resources to retire the debt. This we saw in Zimbabwe’s ties with Libya when the country parcelled out land and shareholding in State enterprises to pay off debts.

The new deal with Equatorial Guinea must be fully explained to the country. Benefits thereof must be publicised and evaluated.

An opaque deal with an infamous dictator may not be in our best interests.