Zim re-engagement drive almost dead in the water

Relations between Zimbabwe and the European Union (EU) and the US have been frosty since 2000 with the southern African country accused of gross human rights violations.

KUDZAI KUWAZA THE negative spotlight on Zimbabwe’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 30th meeting of the 50th session in Geneva, Switzerland, has put President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive into further jeopardy.

Since taking over as President in 2017, Mnangagwa has made re-engagement with Western countries, particularly the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US), a key objective of his tenure.

Relations between Zimbabwe and the European Union (EU) and the US have been frosty since 2000 with the southern African country accused of gross human rights violations.

This has led to the European Union and the US imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe with the UK imposing more restrictions after it exited the EU.

Member states and observers took turns to present their opinions and recommendations on the outcome of Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) where concerns were raised about the country’s commitment to guaranteeing human rights.

The consideration of the outcome on Harare was based on the report of the working group on the universal periodic review on Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has only accepted 127 out of 264 human rights recommendations from the UN.

The government’s re-engagement efforts are futile given the country’s checkered human rights record, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

“The re-engagement, in the sense of normalising relations with the West, appears to have been off the rails, especially with the USA,” Masunungure said.

“The largely negative UN human rights report further tarnishes the country’s image and reinforces the hardline view that Zimbabwe is not ready for serious and genuine re-engagement until it changes course by improving its governance and human rights practice. To put it bluntly, re-engagement is now almost dead in the water.”

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said it was concerned about the shrinking civic and democratic space in the country as Zimbabwe prepares for general elections in 2023.

“There has been an alarming rise in police brutality with the context of the 2022 by-elections, peaceful protests and assembly of human rights activists, opposition leaders, and political activists are banned and criminalised through selective abuse of restrictive laws,” ISHR said.

This comes at a time that the government has been under trenchant criticism for the arrest of several senior members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

CCC chairperson Job Sikhala and Chitungwiza North legislator Godfrey Sithole were arrested over violent clashes at Nyatsime in Chitungwiza following the death of Moreblessing Ali.

CCC organising secretary Amos Chibaya is facing charges of convening an unsanctioned meeting in April this year.

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure was apprehended over the murder charges emanating from the death of Roy Issa, who allegedly fell from Jameson Hotel’s seventh floor in 2016.

This has raised eyebrows as the courts had dismissed any foul play, while then police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, had confirmed Issa threw himself while drunk and died immediately after the fall.

Amnesty International this week condemned the arrest of Sikhala and Sithole.

“The continued detention of Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole and the denial of their lawyers’ access to meet them is an absolute travesty of justice,” Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda said in a statement.

“There is an emerging trend where critics of government and members of the opposition are consistently harassed and denied bail by the courts, brought to court in legs irons and at times denied access to their lawyers.”

The widespread criticism has, however, not deterred the government’s re-engagement efforts as evidenced by the recent visit of Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava to the UK.

“My visit to London last week saw me having good conversations with (Minister for Africa, Latin America and Caribbean) Vicky Ford and the Westminster Africa Business Group,” Shava wrote on microblogging site Twitter.

“By maintaining open lines of communication we continue to sustain momentum in our re-engagement for the benefit of business and the people.”

The Zimbabwe Peace Project in May alleged that Zanu PF perpetrated the majority of human rights abuses across the country in the month of April.

The arrests of political opponents and activists, who include Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume for organising a protest on July 31, 2020 as well as alleged abductions of civil rights activists, opposition party members and even comedians has frustrated re-engagement efforts and has further widened the rift between Mnangagwa’s administration and western countries.

The crackdown by the government on opposition parties has prompted regular widespread condemnation from various quarters, which include the EU, US, the United Nations, the African Union Commission and the church, further damaging the country’s chances of improving relations with western countries as well as attracting significant levels of investment.

Political analyst Effie Ncube said the concerns expressed at the United Nations Human Rights Council have an adverse impact on the government’s re-engagement drive.

“The concern over the country’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council is consistent with what is happening on the ground where we are seeing serious violations of human rights,” Ncube said.

“These observations will have a serious impact on the government’s re-engagement efforts because the observations paint a picture of a government not willing to change things on the ground. This makes it difficult to justify why these countries should re-engage with a government that is unwilling to change.”