PHILIPPE Van Damme, the European Union head of delegation until August this year, was a straight shooter, who did not hold back in his assessment of what he saw as the problems facing Zimbabwe, a trait which made him unpopular with those in authority at various times.
For example, the Lima Plan became synonymous with Zimbabwe’ s plan to pay-off arrears to multilateral lenders, which it presented at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Lima, Peru in 2015. The plan entailed the clearance of $1,8 billion arrears with the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which would put the country in line for a fresh funding programme from the global lenders.
The plan was endorsed by the boards of all the three lenders, who also accepted Zimbabwe’s self-imposed deadline of July, 2016. The deadline came to pass. While Zimbabwe cleared its arrears with the IMF following a $110 million payment in 2016, it still owes the World Bank and AfDB among other lenders.
But in his last interview with our sister paper, The Zimbabwe Independent at the end of his term in August, Van Damme noted that in crafting the Lima Plan, the Zimbabwe government had committed itself to political reforms at the same time, which the government has so far ignored.
“On the political front, we have the alignment of the constitution which government has made commitments on, the electoral environment as well as the media environment. You have a truckload of political reforms on the table and you know them,” Van Damme said in the interview published on August 24.
This may explain why, when re-imposing limited economic sanctions against Zimbabwe and re-affirming the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), the US said the country had no “culture of democracy”.
Some of the serious obstacles to re-engagement are political, specifically political reforms and the Zanu PF government has been resistant to those, particularly those relating to the electoral environment.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa wants to build an inclusive political atmosphere, and at the weekend, revealed that he plans for Zimbabwe to adopt the Westminster system and officially recognise the “leader of opposition,” in Parliament, a position which comes with perks.
We hope that is only the beginning of starting to deal with those reforms that have become an albatross to the country’s bid to engage with the international community.
Such reforms cannot just be for political expediency, but must pass the test of time and prove that the toxic nature of Zimbabwe’s politics is a thing of the past.