Tough task for EU Ambassador


THE image of new European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, slightly bowing to President Emmerson Mnangagwa while presenting his credentials at State House recently would have made headlines under normal circumstances.
However, the circumstances cannot be normal especially in the wake of the mess that Olkkonen’s predecessor Phillipe Van Damme created for the Western bloc.
Normality was often overlooked during Van Damme’s disastrous term.
He was a general nuisance; a nagging bane so obsessed with intruding into the very core of Harare.
In many ways, he wore many hats; becoming an activist and even a member of the opposition as well as oftentimes their spokesperson.
The gradual shift in the power dynamics in Zimbabwe was lost on that man.
There are many cardinal demands that come with being a diplomat.
You do not intrude, provoke or interfere.
You engage, liaise and explore opportunities for mutual co-operation.
Christopher Dell seemed not to have coached Van Damme on those finer points of diplomacy.
The new ambassador comes to Harare faced with many possibilities, many opportunities and a bridge to span the Zimbabwe/EU relations gulf.
This is why there was condescension in the bowing gesture.
Yet that condescension will be judged on how much he is willing to mend ties with Harare.
Where van Damme huffed and puffed, Olkkonen will be expected to be on top of his game, to break the veil the previous EU Ambassador put in between co-operation.
He will be judged not only on what he will say about Harare, but what he will do.
He has already said something.
“We are following with keen interest what the Government is doing, particularly its reform process both on the political and economic fronts,” he told the media soon after presenting his credentials.
“We are looking at the transitional stabilisation process and we are quite willing to engage with the Government and give support to the reform ambitions that the Government has embarked on.
“There are positive indications, particularly on the economic reforms agenda.
“What is important is to see concrete action being taken, like issues about the macro-economic stability. It is absolutely a very important one and we are looking at how the Government will start to tackle it.
“The transitional stabilisation process contains a lot of issues that we agree upon and we would like to see movement on that area.”
History is waiting to be the ultimate judge on that one.
This is the history that this column will be unravelling this week.
We are looking at how Zimbabwe is on its way to the top.
In 2013, a report by an internationally acclaimed Harvard University scholar, Professor Ricardo Hausmann, which said Zimbabwe had the potential to become the fastest growing economy in Africa by the year 2020 was published.
Titled ‘The Atlas of Economic Complexity — Mapping Paths to Prosperity,’ the report must now provide a compass on the direction Zimbabwe is taking.
“The (Zimbabwe) economic boom will be driven by the exploitation of the country’s vast mineral deposits, especially diamonds and the country’s impressive ‘level of productive knowledge which is unusually high,” reads the Hausmann report in part.
It is these vast resources that have, time-and-again, driven the EU’s desire to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.
It is the same resources that should bring Zimbabwe and the EU together.
Let us look deeper into this issue.
On January 9 2014, in a priority-question written to the European Council, Portugal’s representative in the Seventh Legislature, Mario David, said other countries were more deserving of sanctions than Zimbabwe whose human rights record was incontestable.
David, who was also the co-chair of the Foreign Affairs Working Group in the Parliament, challenged the grouping to appraise Harare’s human rights and democratic principles record against that of other nations, which are not under similar sanctions.
He said the EU should ‘lift the sanctions against Zimbabwe’ during its annual review meeting in February 2014, adding that allowing the country to sell Marange diamonds in Antwerp was a selfish decision meant to benefit the European industry.
“The grave economic and social consequences of the sanctions have caused deep suffering among the Zimbabwean people, in particular among the poorer members of society, by restricting employment, social services provision and development opportunities,” said the Angolan-born parliamentarian in his note.
“When the EU reviews the subject in February 2014, it will be time for it to lift the sanctions against Zimbabwe and to restart mutual political and economic co-operation in all fields, which will only prove beneficial to both sides.
The EU should not employ double standards in dealing with its partners.
If the EU were to appraise respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law seriously and coherently, how many countries would face sanctions?
No matter what kind of ‘excuses’ are found to justify the lifting of sanctions on the export of diamonds, no one would understand it to be anything, but a hypocritical decision taken in the interests of the EU industry.”
It is our hope that Olkkonen will listen to the voice of reason.
Let those with ears listen.


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