Since taking over power from long-time leader Robert Mugabe in a military coup in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has sought to end Zimbabwe's pariah status through an international re-engagement process. The country has been in isolation since early 2000 following the chaotic and often violent land reform programme widely condemned by the international community. Mnangagwa's point man on the diplomatic front, Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo (SM), has, despite the continued isolation, made frantic efforts to re-engage with Western countries. The international community has demanded time-bound political and economic reforms, while pressuring Zimbabwe to be serious and move fast. The crackdown on civilians by the military on August 1, 2018, which resulted in six civilians being fatally shot and the January 2019 crackdown which saw 17 people killed, among other brutalities, put a dent on the country's re-engagement drive. Political reporter Nyasha Chingono (NC) interviewed Moyo, who spoke about the re-engagement and possible re-admission of Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth. Below are the interview excerpts:
NC: The engagement drive has been ongoing in earnest since 2017. What has been the major drawback in your quest to end Zimbabwe's pariah status?
SM: The major setback is that we have not been pulling together as a nation. We have got some speaking a different language, like some talking something else. When we speak as a nation with one voice and if we want to re-engage, let's do so. But re-engagement will strengthen the position of Zimbabwe economically, that is the national interest which we want for our people. Let us differ on tactics down there, but the national interest must be reconciled so that we can achieve. So that's the first issue.
NC: The European Union and the US have complained about the slow pace of implementing political and economic reforms. Why is government taking long to reform and take advantage of low hanging fruits like media reforms?
SM: There are certain countries where we are re-engaging, but they are saying they would like to fully engage with Zimbabwe after certain pieces of legislation have been repealed, like Posa or Aippa and so forth. So these are the issues and impediments. They say maybe Zimbabwe is not reforming on those issues too quickly, but in reality Zimbabwe has got a busy schedule of programmes and it is following its own systems of changing laws, conforming them to the constitution. You cannot hurry certain systems.
There is cabinet committee legislation on these things and there is the Attorney-General's office. There must be parliament which must go to all the 10 provinces and all that. The whole system will take time because tomorrow there will be observation that you hurried this legislation and therefore it was not thoroughly scrutinised. But the world must be patient with us as we undertake our reforms.
The President has clearly stated that we don't regret the process we have undertaken of reforming. Never. And that we are not going to change. We are not going to change. Therefore, we are going to continue with political, legislative and economic reforms.
NC: Can you give us timelines when government will fully implement political reforms, which seem to be the doorway to full re-engagement with the West?
SM: Reforms are continuous; take, for instance, the ease of doing business. You can never say you are now perfect and therefore, you should sit on your laurels. We continue reviewing issues that are an impediment to business and then adjusting them.
That is the ease of doing business. Those are part of the reforms. If the potential investors see that these are part of the problems which they face, then we deal with that and this is equally so in political reforms. If there are issues on elections, which need to be corrected and so forth, then we must review our electoral laws so that our electoral laws are efficient.
NC: In January, Britain withdrew its support for Zimbabwe's re-admission into the Commonwealth after the security services clampdown in January. What is the current status of the country's application?
SM: As you might have heard as I addressed the parliamentary committee, we approached the Commonwealth to observe our elections. The Commonwealth body, we were not expelled but instead we moved out of the Commonwealth.
We then said the Commonwealth must come back and observe our elections. But the Commonwealth could not observe a non-member state. We had to express interest to rejoin the Commonwealth.
When the Commonwealth observer mission came, that was the first assessment and the second assessment is the one which came two weeks ago, while I was having a meeting with secretary general of the Commonwealth. Now depending on what the second assessment report says, that is what is going to determine whether we go back into the Commonwealth or not.
NC: The January incidents were widely condemned by the international community while some have called for the de-militarisation of the state. How has this impacted your quest to engage the West?
SM: Incidents are events. They are not a continuous process which characterises a nation. They are only events. Even in the Commonwealth there are events taking place. That cannot be a basis of expelling a member state out of the Commonwealth. So that's my position.
NC: Recently you were attacked by a group of Zimbabweans living in the UK. Why do you think Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are bitter with this regime? What have you done to engage with nationals abroad?
SM: Let me tell you that the majority of Zimbabweans in the UK are in line with what government wants to do in terms of development. On that same day, I managed even to address a lot of Zimbabweans.
At one point they had to restrict entrance into Zimbabwe House because of the large turnout.
These Zimbabweans, who unfortunately are slightly misguided, who are very few, are the same ones who are always singing at the embassy every Wednesday and every Saturday so that they can be given food by the white man. These are the same Zimbabweans who would undertake that kind of unceremonious kind of behaviour. We feel pity for them.
It's sad because it's far much better for them to come back home so that we build this country together instead of getting a few pounds to sing and wait to embarrass a minister who has come to address a public forum. The whole idea was to try and slow down the impetus which we had achieved in our re-engagement in the UK so that they can make news with that kind of small incident. So that is why it's a non-event.
NC: Several Zimbabwean envoys have over the years been evicted from their places of residence due to non-payment of rentals by the state. What are you doing to ensure a decent existence for the ambassadors?
SM: The answer is we have what we call a Triple P concept which would mobilise resources even from Zimbabweans.
There are many Zimbabweans from the diaspora who want to contribute towards the refurbishment of their chanceries. A chancery in a country represents Zimbabwe. It must look presentable. It must look nice and look presentable.
Under this scheme we have got options where companies can actually rebuild the ambassadors' houses in certain countries. When we have got the money that we use now for rentals, it's the same budget we use for refurbishing the house. We stick within our budget which we are being allocated now and we continue to develop the real estate.