By Idah Mhetu
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and European Union (EU) Head of Delegation, Timo Olkonnen were on Wednesday involved in a harsh public exchange of words over the human rights situation in the country.
Mnangagwa was keynote speaker at the launch of anti-graft body the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission’s awareness campaign co-hosted by the National Prosecuting Authority at which Olkonnen was a guest.
The EU was part of a joint statement that sounded alarm bells around Mnangagwa’s human rights record following a brutal suppression of planned protests by the opposition in Harare and the country’s major urban settlements.
The public spat could signal the death knell in Mnangagwa’s much vaunted re-engagement efforts following his takeover of power from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe who was deposed by the army in November 2017.
Olkonnen spoke first and expressed concern over the human rights situation in the country.
“Unfortunately (we have seen) several developments that would leave constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law in question. Civil rights such as the right to assembly and right to demonstrate and petition and right to view legal processes when suspected of crimes must be respected,” Olkonnen said.
However, Mnangagwa did not waste time and hit back at the EU envoy almost immediately accusing Olkonnen of using the wrong platform to air his views,
“Your Excellency you referred to human rights, however, this platform was for corruption,” the Zanu PF leader said.
Mnangagwa further urged civil society to stick to their mandate rather than try “to please other nations.”
“I urge the 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 added.
EU Head of Delegation to Harare Timo Olkonnen
Last Friday police used brute force to disperse opposition supporters who had stormed the capital despite a planned demonstration having been banned. Dozens were injured while over a 100 activists were arrested in the melee that ensued.
The MDC wants to protests the deteriorating economic situation in the country and wants to force Mnangagwa to negotiate with its leader Nelson Chamisa who lost a closely fought election last year but maintains he was rigged of victory.
Mnangagwa since taking charge in November 2017 on the back of the military coup and his election victory last year has promised to widen the democratic space and return Zimbabwe to the family of nations after years of isolation under Mugabe.
The President has applied to have Zimbabwe re-admitted to the Commonwealth of former British colonies as part of the re-engagement efforts. But western countries maintain beyond the rhetoric the Zanu PF leader has done little to convince them to accept him and lift sanctions on his administration.