NETHERLANDS Ambassador to Zimbabwe Gera Sneller (GS), who presented her credentials to President Robert Mugabe barely two weeks ago, says she is organising a media diversity campaign aimed at fostering a positive change of attitudes towards the ideas and practices of cultural, political, economic and social diversity in Zimbabwe.
NewsDay Acting Editor Wisdom Mdzungairi (ND) spoke to Sneller to find out her country’s position about media diversity, politics and the economy.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
ND: Ambassador, we understand you are organising the media diversity campaign under the theme ‘Media Diversity – Broaden your Horizon’ – what are your views regarding media freedom in the country and what is Netherlands doing to ensure diversity of the media?
GS: First of all, thank you for offering me this opportunity to talk about our Media Diversity Campaign, because I am quite excited about the campaign myself.
In my view, media diversity is about two things; first of all it means that a wide array of media reaches everyone across the country, irrespective of gender, age or socio-economic background. Secondly, it means that all voices within a society are heard.
What is often forgotten is that media diversity is not just good for citizens to be aware of what is going on in their country or to share their opinion. A diverse media also benefits decision-makers.
When a diverse media landscape exists, decision-makers know what issues are on people’s minds and they can be held accountable for their actions. As such, a diverse media serves as a tool for decision-makers to improve policy.
Indeed, as you just mentioned, the Netherlands Embassy is organising a campaign called ‘Media Diversity – Broaden your Horizon’. On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. Together with our local partners, we celebrate this every year on December 10.
In the past years, the embassy has always organised something on the day itself or around that day.
This year, we decided to run a campaign throughout the month of November with various activities taking place. Just to highlight a few events that we are organising: the official kick-off event will take place on October 29 and we have invited Minister Jonathan Moyo (Media, Information and Broadcasting Services) to officially open the Media Diversity Campaign. We really hope that he will accept our invitation, especially given his recent outreach towards the broad spectrum of the media in Zimbabwe.
ND: What programmes have you put in place to build capacity for journalists and other media workers to ensure diversity of the media?
GS: Apart from the campaign, we have been promoting media diversity through, for example, in-house training for journalists. I am very proud to say that it is our support that has made these training sessions possible over no less than the past 10 years. Next to this, 18 journalists have obtained a Masters’ degree at various universities in the Netherlands with our help. The embassy has funded several media organisations to raise awareness, provide platforms for discussion and strengthen lobbying efforts on media freedom from the Constitution to the arts.
ND: Media, Information and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo, Deputy minister Supa Mandiwanzira and Presidential spokesperson George Charamba have been on a charm offensive to bridge the divide with the private media. What is your take on this?
GS: I was very pleased when I heard about the invitation of the Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo to engage with media stakeholders and talk about the future and its possibilities. I think his message to end polarisation between public and private media is a very positive message and I am confident that this will lead to the opening up of space for the media in Zimbabwe and that ultimately, the people will be given a stronger voice.
ND: Briefly, tell us about the bilateral relations between Zimbabwe and your country, and what form of assistance have you rendered in the past — any figures; in what areas?
GS: The relations between our two countries have been good from before independence. We were one of the first countries to open an embassy in Zimbabwe. During the years that Zimbabwe was one of our partner countries for development cooperation, we supported among others the health, agriculture, water and education sectors. Over the last few years, we supported several democratic processes under the GNU, like Jomic and Copac. Support has also been provided to the World Bank Multi-Donor Analytical Trust Fund (MDTF) which is aimed at establishing the groundwork for re-engagement by development partners in Zimbabwe.
During recent years, the embassy has also funded activities aimed at furthering the respect for human rights and supporting human rights defenders.
ND: What does Netherlands largely export to Zimbabwe and the world?
GS: The Netherlands is one of the biggest exporters of agricultural products in the world, but we also export a lot of chemical products, high-tech and services in various areas of expertise, of which water is maybe the most well-known. I think there are opportunities for Zimbabwe’s exports of both agricultural products as well as for several raw materials. There is a constant flow of horticultural products going to the Netherlands already, but this can easily be increased. Zimbabwe would definitely profit from our knowledge and expertise on agriculture, water and engineering as well as from financial services and investments.
ND: The indigenisation law has been a source of contention with the West and its allies. What is your country’s position on Zimbabwe’s indigenisation programme
GS: The concept of indigenisation itself is not a problem for the Netherlands government, nor for Dutch investors, and it shouldn’t be. Many countries have policies in place to ensure that the country’s wealth primarily benefits its own people. However, the problems lie in the uncertainties that surround this concept in Zimbabwe and in the ever-changing conditions by which it is applied to investments in different sectors. Once the Zimbabwe government succeeds in making the legislation around it more transparent and when it can guarantee uniform application of these rules, I am quite sure many investors will be willing to work along the lines of the indigenisation model. The best way to empower the people is by creating more employment; foreign direct investment can play an important role in this respect if it is given the chance.
ND: There are prospects that 2,2 million Zimbabweans will need food assistance soon? What contribution is Netherlands making towards that development?
GS: The food security situation in the country presents the government with a huge challenge. The international community is assisting the country to face this challenge. Annually, the Netherlands contributes substantial non-earmarked funds to the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and to Unicef, which are used by the organisation to fight food insecurity, also in Zimbabwe. Your question on how Zimbabwe can return to its bread basket-status is a matter of further developing sustainable land use policies.
My impression is that the land reform in Zimbabwe was never fully completed, and as long as the policies for this are not further developed in consultation with all stakeholders, I am afraid that Zimbabwe will be forced to import maize for the next years to come. The issue of land tenure and the ability to access credits for (small holder) farmers is crucial to the solution of this challenge.
ND: Going forward. Where do you foresee Zimbabwe in the next five years?
GS: That depends very much on the willingness of the new government of Zimbabwe to work with all stakeholders, both nationally and internationally. The government of the Netherlands is willing to engage and to improve our relations. Ambassador I see this as my main challenge. During my conversation with President Robert Mugabe on October 10, when I presented my credentials, I had the strong impression that he also wants this and that he is open for dialogue.
ND: Ms Ambassador, what is your view of Zimbabwean politics?
GS: I think we have seen many positive developments in Zimbabwe over the recent years, but much still needs to be achieved. In short, implementation of the reforms started during the Government of National Unity and as laid down in the Constitution, need to continue.
ND: Do you believe that restrictive measures as you call them on Zanu PF and Mugabe really worked?
GS: Actually, I had the honour to meet President (Robert) Mugabe two weeks ago when I was presenting my credentials to him. It was the first time we spoke and I must say that he appeared to me as someone who has many ideas and plans in mind for the future of Zimbabwe.
ND: There have been allegations of Western countries, yours included, of dabbling in local politics. Zanu PF accuses you of funding the opposition MDC-T led by ex-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Do you regard the July 31 elections as having been free, fair and credible?
GS: I think that a further opening up of the democratic space in Zimbabwe is key. Every citizen of Zimbabwe should be able to take part in the democratic process of the country, including elections. The EU recognised the inclusive elections as peaceful, which is an important step forward compared to 2008. However, given the problems many voters encountered when trying to register for these elections, it cannot be concluded that all citizens were indeed able to take part in this democratic process.
Also, in their preliminary reports both the AU and Sadc observation missions touched upon issues of concern, such as the voters’ roll which was not made available in an accessible way, the large number of turned away voters and assisted voters as well as the untransparent use of voters’ slips.
We are currently awaiting the final reports of both observation missions. President Robert Mugabe has recently been inaugurated for his 7th term in office. As a result, he has taken up the responsibility to care for the people of Zimbabwe for another five years to come.
The Netherlands is willing to cooperate with the government of Zimbabwe to improve the lives of Zimbabweans through economic development and by further enlarging the democratic space.
I can say that the ties between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe remain strong.
During our meeting two weeks ago, the President himself assured me of this. I expect to meet with various members of government in the coming weeks to discuss issues of mutual interest to our countries.