By Niculin Jager
THIS year marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
Forty years ago, in a display of political vision, Switzerland recognised the independence of Zimbabwe ahead of the declaration in April 1980 and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries started on day one of independence followed by the opening of a diplomatic representation.
In the last four decades, Switzerland and Zimbabwe have built strong relations, which intensified in recent years. High-level exchanges have continuously increased – starting with HE President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first visit to Europe, which he made to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2018; meeting with then Swiss President Alain Berset, followed by the January 2019 visit of the Swiss Foreign Affairs minister, Ignazio Cassis, to Harare.
The sapling of the Swiss-Zimbabwe relations planted 40 years ago has blossomed into a lofty tree.
Without doubt, the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries is an important and symbolic occasion, which we celebrate this year by planting trees for the generations to come.
The planting of trees to mark our growing relations also coincides with the National Tree Planting Day, which has been organised every first Saturday of December for the past 40 years by the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe.
This year’s tree planting event not only honours the long-standing friendship between our two countries, but also expresses our commitment to protecting the environment for posterity.
Our two countries are undeniably highly vulnerable to climate change.
For example, an average worldwide increase of 2°C means an even higher increase in temperatures for both countries of up to 4°C.
Both countries share the same fate when it comes to climate change such as flooding, heat-waves and droughts.
This is why political commitment and practical action is urgently needed to safeguard the environment and people’s health by – among other initiatives – planting as many trees as possible.
We thus have to collaborate more in our shared responsibility in tackling climate change at national and global levels.
Our bilateral relations with Zimbabwe for the past four decades have always remained positive and cooperative based on mutual respect and long-term interests.
In this regard, we have been working closely with the government of Zimbabwe and other stakeholders to promote peace and democracy and consensus-building, which are hinged on the Swiss principle of direct democracy.
Our support in strengthening Zimbabwe’s institutions such as the Chapter 12 commissions or our engagement towards enabling dialogue initiatives involving the authorities and all political, social and economic actors — in true Swiss neutral style — aims to provide a non-intrusive yet impactful contribution as Zimbabwe furthers its democratic consolidation process.
Switzerland continues to be a dependable partner to Zimbabwe’s democratisation and development agenda and we continue to support initiatives such as devolution that aims to bring governance closer to the people and enhance their participation in political processes.
Checks and balances contribute to better and more efficient governance.
We have also been working closely with partners in supporting Zimbabwe’s efforts to align its laws to the Constitution; national healing and reconciliation processes; strengthening the electoral framework; developing capacity in negotiation and mediation skills; and enabling inclusive dialogue platforms among different stakeholders.
We look forward to seeing Zimbabwe continue to build effective institutions that are trusted by its citizens.
Despite the various economic challenges in the past years, Swiss companies have continued to operate and shine in various strategic areas in Zimbabwe.
Switzerland remains one of the main European investors with a strong economic footprint and commitment in the food, shoe, tourism, construction, energy, pharmaceutical, natural resources and agriculture sectors.
Some of the Swiss companies have been part of the Zimbabwean landscape for such a long time, creating jobs and supporting the economy, to the extent that some people do not even know they are Swiss.
My country is looking forward to further deepening our relations while negotiating new bilateral agreements and implementing existing ones.
This is good not only for Zimbabwe’s path of reform and integration into the world economy, but also for economic benefits for both our countries and people, facilitating future investments.
As we further cement our relationship, we should be aware that trees make substantial contributions to livelihoods, jobs and the economies of both Zimbabwe and Switzerland.
It is estimated that in Zimbabwe, trees account for three percent of the country’s wealth. Forests and trees supply sources of fuel (wood), prevent land degradation, preserve soil fertility and protect soil and watersheds.
They also provide habitats for wildlife and biodiversity.
Yet, trees are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Over the last 40 years, more than half of the forests globally have vanished, and those remaining are sometimes over-exploited.
The impact of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts has been magnified by the reduction of forest coverage.
My government continues to support a wide range of interventions through our development cooperation programme implemented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to improve the resilience and food security of Zimbabweans through climate-smart agriculture techniques.
I believe that involving communities and building ownership of forest and other natural resources constitutes a firm foundation for sustainable development.
It is for this reason that this year we will partner with primary schools to not only plant trees, but also to engage them as the custodians of the trees we plant today.
Catching them young is a vital step as many people develop a passion for trees at a young age.
Already, our Embassy in Harare has started going green, following the installation of a solar system that powers all our electrical needs.
Starting this year, we are hoping to create partnerships to support the greening of the capital Harare and other cities across the country, raising awareness of the dangers of climate change and deforestation.
There is an African proverb which says, “Anyone who plants a tree knowing that he will never sit in its shade has at least begun to grasp the meaning of life.”
A forest is a mini version of the world, with its inhabitants living respectfully next to each other. Hopefully, we can make the world like a forest again, as that is our responsibility towards the future generations.
Trees continue to be a symbol of dignity. It is not by chance that trees die standing. And so let us, with this symbolic gesture of celebrating our friendship, remind ourselves that we need to do everything we can, not only for a healthy planet, but also for human dignity to be safeguarded in a healthy planet.
Looking beyond the 40 years, Switzerland will continue to work closely with Zimbabwe to jointly advance our relationship featuring coordination, progressive cooperation and stability, so as to bring more benefits to our two peoples and beyond.
In this regard, I am happy to announce that from 2021 Zimbabwe is going to be a new priority country for Switzerland’s cooperation and development strategy – resulting in further partnerships between our two countries.
Niculin Jäger is Switzerland’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.