Zimbabwe: War of Words in Public - Mnangagwa, EU Relations Cracks Widen

European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen presents his credentials to President Emmerson Mnangagwa (file photo).
21 August 2019

The Zimbabwean government and the European Union (EU) could be headed for collision as relations between the two seem to have broken irreparably with the latest diplomatic exchange of words between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Head of Delegation on EU, Timo Olkkonen during an anti-corruption awareness launch in Harare.

Since November 2017, Zimbabwe and the EU have been working on repairing broken relations which took a nosedive during the violent land reform at the turn of the millennium.

However, there has been tension between the two in the wake of human rights abuses at the hands of the state on opposition members and civil society leaders.

The EU leader, whose organization is funding a 15-month long Anti-Corruption awareness campaign, had no kind words for the Zimbabwean government which he said should do more in upholding the rule of law and escalate the fight against corruption.

He said the EU's support is based on the promise by Zimbabwe to adhere to the constitution and uphold the rule of law.

"Unfortunately, we are witnessing these days several developments that put constitutionalism and the respect for the rule of law in question.

"People's civil rights, such as their rights to assembly and their right to peaceful demonstrations and petition, and also their right to acquire legal processes when they are suspected of crimes must be respected.

"Zimbabwe should show that it genuinely has made a break from the past," said Olkkonen.

He said Mnangagwa's government has not been doing enough to tackle the scourge which has affected public institutions and called on the state to afford civil society organizations and the public at large to be given the democratic space to fight corruption.

"Civil society and citizens have a key role to play in fighting corruption through monitoring government actions, whistle-blowing, demonstrating and to petition among other actions.

"They should be afforded democratic spaces to fully participate lawfully and peacefully without unnecessary restrictions and without being beaten, unlawfully arrested and detained.

"The EU calls on the government to improve efforts towards bringing perpetrators to book following due processes in accordance with the law," he said.

However, Mnangagwa shot back during his address telling the EU envoy that the focus of the day was not on human rights abuses but on corruption.

He said civil society organizations should stay in their lane and told the EU bloc that the rule of law should be upheld not to please them but for the benefit of Zimbabweans.

"It's therefore, imperative that these partners also conduct their affairs with integrity for the corrective good of our people

"Your Excellence (Timo Olkkonen) You referred to human rights, however, this platform was for corruption. May I urge civil society to restrict themselves to their mandate.

"The rule of law observance is not needed for the purpose of pleasing other countries, we need it because it is proper for ourselves," Mnangagwa sharply shot back.

This follows a hard-hitting condemnation by the Head of Diplomatic missions yesterday on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

The European Union expressed its deep concerns by the intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians.

However, the government responded in a manner that suggested that they cared less about it.

Last week, hundreds of armed police beat up members of the opposition party, the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) who had taken to the streets to demonstrate against a worsening economy, and the situation escalated with forced arrests of the protesters.

Some members of CSOs have been allegedly abducted by state agents and tortured while others allege to continue being harassed with arbitrary arrests.

European Union (EU)President Emmerson MnanangwaTimo Olkkonen

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