Unconvinced Germany holds back on cooperation with Mnangagwa administration

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When the military axed Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler Robert Mugabe last year, Germany’s political scene breathed a short sigh of relief. But one year on, Berlin seems to have lost hope that Mugabe’s exit has put the country back on the road to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule.

“We were hoping that President Mnangagwa would introduce major political and economic reforms,” a diplomatic source in Berlin told DW. “So far we are seeing little progress.”

In the eyes of western observers, Mnangagwa’s government has so far failed to reform the judicial system or the country’s security forces, both key pillars of Mugabe’s authoritarian rule. Critics say that oppression of opposition politicians, journalists and civil society organisations continues.

Controversial presidential elections in late July marred by fraud claims and violent protests also did little to increase German confidence. Security forces killed six people in protests against delays in election results in early August.

Positive signals, little action

“[President Mnangagwa’s] government has sent a number of positive signals and has indicated that it’s willing to implement political and economic reforms, but in reality, little has happened. But I think that’s what the international partners are waiting for,” David Mbae, Zimbabwe Country Director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation with close connections to Germany’s ruling CDU party, told DW.

Zimbabwe’s new government on the other hand has repeatedly tried to woo both private investors and western nations to make a come-back. Mnangagwa has repeatedly touted his “Zimbabwe is open for business” slogan and publicly promised to restore relations with western countries such as Germany or Britain.

Rhetorically, at least, that’s a noticeable departure from Mugabe’s “look east” policy. Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler had sought closer ties with China in recent years, after relations with western parties soured in the early 2000s.

Germany had suspended all bilateral development assistance in 2002, following an ever authoritarian grip on power by Mugabe, which included the seizure of white-owned farms and increased attacks on opposition politicians, civil society and independent media houses. Berlin has since reduced support to humanitarian aid and assistance to various civil society organizations and multinational funds. 

Hard times in Harare

That’s a chapter that Zimbabwe’s new government would like to close. “We have agreed that we should intensify re-engagement,” then finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told reporters after a visit by German development minister Gerd Müller to Harare in late August. Chinamasa was replaced as finance minister by Mthuli Ncube in September 2018. 

“We also discussed the need for Zimbabwe to create jobs. In other words, we want to expand and incorporate vocational training colleges. We also discussed lines of credit,” Chinamasa said.

Zimbabwe is in desperate need of financial assistance, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s David Mbae told DW.

“The economic situation is dire. Inflation has risen drastically while salaries and wages have stagnated. The price of basic commodities has risen dramatically. There were shortages with bread supply, cooking oil, people had to sometimes queue for hours to get petrol. For poor Zimbabweans the situation has become extremely dire,” he told DW.

Arrears of more than 11 billion US Dollars

But diplomatic sources in Berlin told DW that conditions for credit lines have not yet been met. Germany insists on first getting concrete proposals from the Mnangagwa government for political and economic reform. Zimbabwe’s arrears currently amount to more than $11 billion (€9.6 billion). Restoring bilateral development assistance is also not on the cards for now.

A delegation led by representatives from Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is expected in Harare for talks later this month. But a ministry spokeswoman told DW that the ministry was not planning to make any commitments for this year or the next at this stage.

“The implementation of political and economic reforms by the Zimbabwean government is a prerequisite for the resumption of bilateral development cooperation,” she said.

Germany’s political opposition is calling for more international pressure on the government of President Mnangagwa. “I do not see genuine political change with regards to the development of democratic structures. There are still many questions remaining with regards to human rights,” Uwe Kekeritz, the opposition Green party’s parliamentary spokesman for development cooperation told DW.

“Development assistance should be resumed, but in close cooperation with the civil society, as far away from the government as possible,” Mr. Kekeritz said.