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Hot Seat interview: EU on Zim sanctions


HOT SEAT: Violet Gonda presents this week’s Hot Seat and her guest is Member of the European Parliament, Geoffrey Van Orden , with an insight into the mood in the EU parliament over Zimbabwe ’s inclusive government.  Almost all ZANU PF Ministers and MPs are on the targeted sanctions’ list and they claim these ‘sanctions’ are hampering the implementation of the Global Political Agreement. How constructive is it to keep the restrictions in place on one half of the government, when there is now a unity government? Would they be removed if the MDC seriously campaigned for this, as ZANU PF wants them to do?

Broadcast: 31 August 2009

Violet Gonda: Geoffrey Van Orden, a member of parliament for the European Union and a member of the Foreign Affairs committee in the European Parliament is my guest on the programme Hot Seat and is here to talk to us about the EU ‘restrictions on Zimbabwe ’. Hallo Mr Van Orden.

Geoffrey Van Orden : Good morning, very nice to talk to you.

VG: First of all I’d like to congratulate you on your re-election to the new parliament.

GVO: Thank you very much.

VG: Let’s start with the mood in this new parliament regarding Zimbabwe and the whole coalition government. What are people saying about the Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe ?

GVO: Well of course it’s early days in the parliament because we have new members and they’re just finding their feet at the moment but I would say that the mood is positive in the sense that we’re encouraged that there has been some good developments in Zimbabwe – that Morgan Tsvangirai is doing well as Prime Minister. He of course is a very good representative of Zimbabwe when he comes to foreign countries to represent your country. But of course we are still concerned about the implementation of the GPA and of the general situation in the country because there’s so much more to be done in order to expedite Zimbabwe ’s return to freedom and prosperity.

VG: And of course the EU has imposed restrictions on Zimbabwe, so do we expect anything different in this new parliament and do you think it’s time to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe?

GVO: Well first of all, let’s be clear – there aren’t any sanctions on Zimbabwe . Right? And there never have been. The sanctions, the restrictive measures are against a small number of leading elements in the regime in Zimbabwe which has created the economic problems for that country and carried out enormous human rights abuses. They are the sanctions and in fact there is a list of people who are targeted, there are 203 people on the list, there are 40 companies which are associated with those people and they are the target of sanctions, and what we have is the freezing of their personal assets – in other words all this money which has come out of Zimbabwe and is lodged in bank accounts and things in other parts of the world, in particular in European countries, and the prevention of these people travelling to European countries. And of course there is an embargo on arms sales. But there are no sanctions against Zimbabwe , there never have been and we’ve been very careful to target the restrictive measures against those that have been imposing tyranny on the people of Zimbabwe . I think we need to be absolutely clear about this.

VG: There is now an inclusive government in Zimbabwe so what is the EU’s common position on Zimbabwe , especially to do with these sanctions, these restrictions?

GVO: Well first of all, we have opened a dialogue between Zimbabwe and the European Union. This happened in June and the agreement was that our partner in the dialogue would be Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. You will recall he came to Brussels and there were a lot of discussion in Brussels and of course we want to get the relationship between Zimbabwe and the European Union normalised as quickly as possible but that requires a continuing and major change in Zimbabwe in order to reach that state of affairs.

VG: What sort of changes? I was actually going to ask that have conditions been met?

GVO: This has been quite clear all along. These restrictive measures, these sanctions against these individuals in Zimbabwe were imposed because of the appalling human rights situation and the fact that you did not have a proper rule of law and there was so much political abuse in the country, these were the reasons that these restrictive measures were imposed. Now OK there has been some progress. First of all we do have this sort of unity government which has been functioning now for six months. It’s by no means perfect and in fact I’m aware that the President of South Africa is in Zimbabwe at this moment and there will be some issues that he will be asked to mediate on in his capacity as the chairman of SADC, the Southern African Development Community. Some of these issues, the GPA – which is quite a long and complex document and has some good elements and some not such good elements in it but nevertheless is not being properly implemented. And there are some specific issues on which Mr Zuma will be asked to give his view, for instance the issue of the governorship of the Reserve Bank and the appointment of the Attorney General, matters such as that.

So in other words, first of all we want to see the levers of power in Zimbabwe in proper democratic hands and that the views of the people of Zimbabwe are being respected. That means that we’ve got to work out, or Zimbabwe has to work out a new constitution as soon as possible, I don’t think we can afford to wait a year for this you know, I think it should be done far more quickly, everyone knows what’s needed. So we need a new constitution and then as quickly as possible after that new constitution has been approved there must be free and fair elections with proper international monitoring, and the results of these elections then properly respected. Now that’s what we want to see. We want to see an end to violence on the streets and we know that only very recently at the opening of the constitutional conference for example on the 13 th of July, some of the MDC representatives were attacked there. This is no way to conduct democratic politics. So we want to make sure that people are free to express themselves in Zimbabwe , that they’re not going in fear of their lives or in fear of arbitrary imprisonment. And so these are all things that need to be done and until this is done, we can’t properly move forward in terms of rebuilding the Zimbabwean economy, which we know the desperate state that people are in and we need to get moving on that as soon as possible.

VG: Now Zanu-PF says that the MDC created these sanctions and is actually piling up pressure on the MDC to campaign for their removal. First of all, were the sanctions instigated by the MDC?

GVO: Of course not. The sanctions were instigated by democratic countries in Europe – which were appalled by the conditions then reigning in Zimbabwe – and of course these are sanctions where other parts of the world, the United States and Australia and many other countries have joined in as well. And I say again, these are not sanctions against Zimbabwe , they had no effect on the economic situation of Zimbabwe . We have to look at the blame for the economic crisis which has afflicted the country for so many years is firmly in the hands of Mr Mugabe and the regime which has kept him in power. You can’t blame anybody else for the economic problems. It’s nothing to do with sanctions, it’s nothing to do with attitudes of the United Kingdom , it’s none of these things. It’s bad land policies, it’s bad economic policies, it is bad political oppression and of course also, you’ve had drought and an economic downturn globally which has had an impact as well, but the blame for the economic situation in Zimbabwe is fair and squarely laid at the feet of Mr Mugabe and his regime. He can’t blame anybody else and any objective observer would agree with that statement.

VG: Earlier on you said that there are 203 individuals on the sanctions list – so it is a given that they are personal sanctions but what about these 40 companies, what about their impact or…

GVO: These are companies or other bodies, which are closely associated with the 203 people on the banned list. In other words, these are if you like, organisations which are pursuing the commercial interest of those people. This is a quite separate matter from the wider Zimbabwean economy and that, to overcome the problems there, then we need to get commercial farming back up in operation again, we need to get the country on the move. It’s nothing to do with these sanctions.

VG: So if the MDC categorically asks for a lifting, will it be done?

GVO: What was said quite clearly in our discussions in June when Mr Tsvangirai came to Brussels is that a dialogue was being launched and the aim of this dialogue was to move as quickly as possible to the normalisation of relations between Zimbabwe and the European Union. Now I’ve described some of the measures that need to be taken in order to arrive at that state, we’re quite a long way from it at the moment and I don’t think that people in Europe will be very happy about lifting these restrictive measures against members of the regime until we’re satisfied that you have the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for political freedom restored in Zimbabwe.

VG: What is your reaction to this statement by the Vice President, Joyce Mujuru where she said, and I quote “ Zimbabwe groans under sanctions, unlawful sanctions which must go for her to regain her lustre. This is a challenge comparable to the dismantling of settler colonialism. It needs heroes.” What do you say about this?

GVO: Well it’s just not true is it? I’m sorry to say this is just political propaganda, it’s just not true and it doesn’t help the people of Zimbabwe, who’ve suffered so much over this last decade and more, it doesn’t help them to start using this sort of language and to try and pretend that international action has in some way been responsible for the problems of Zimbabwe. In fact the European Union has done everything possible to assist the Zimbabwean people, short of doing anything which was going to help prop up the regime. So we have given a lot of humanitarian aid and this has gone into the health field, into education, into providing food aid, all of these areas and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of euros which have gone to Zimbabwe in spite of all the problems but this is essentially humanitarian assistance which has been provided in recent years. But I’m quite sure, if we can get democracy properly re-established in Zimbabwe that the international community will very quickly then, rally to the support of Zimbabwe and give that real boost to the economy to get things moving again but we can’t do that all the time there is this climate of suspicion and that people are pretending that things are different to what they are.

VG: Now there are some who say that the EU restrictions impact have worsened the humanitarian situation in part because they compliment the very strict financial sanctions imposed by the US through ZIDERA, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, what can you say about that?

GVO: Well, it’s just not true, it’s just not true. Every objective observer of the situation in Zimbabwe agrees about what the problems are and they are not as being described by spokesmen of Zanu-PF. The SADC Judicial Tribunal ruled on land seizures and said that farms should be returned to 76 litigants. These are real problems that need to be overcome. We want to see the writing of a new constitution, we want to see the introduction of the rule of law and free political activity, freedom of assembly and association, people to have personal security, freedom of expression. All these things, these are alluded to in the GPA but they have not been fully followed through. So that’s what needs to happen and there’s no point people in Zimbabwe trying to blame others for the economic plight of the country. The blame for that is entirely at the feet of Robert Mugabe and those who have kept him in power for all these years.

VG: On the issue of the farms, the land issue that you mentioned just now, do the EU sanctions prevent the sale of farm produce to Europe from farms that were given to people following government acquisition?

GVO: Well if we’re talking about farms that have been seized by people who are on that banned list, who are then seeking to profit from their own criminal activities then of course we would seek to prevent that happening.

VG: How then would you respond to people who say that this will have a direct impact on the economy because those restrictions then hinder the ability and capacity of this inclusive government, for example, to raise the resources that are badly needed?

GVO: Well you have to ask yourself why is it that resources are being spent and wasted on instruments of oppression in Zimbabwe , on the armed forces and the police with the connivance of countries like North Korea and Venezuela and countries such as that. There is money there that is being spent for the benefit of those organisations, the instruments of oppression. The people of Zimbabwe are not being fed themselves before we start talking about selling produce let’s feed the people and the fact is if we go back 20 or more years, Zimbabwe had a booming economy, it had a flourishing agricultural sector, it was the bread basket of Southern Africa. We’ve got to get back to that situation again and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.

VG: Zanu-PF and other critics continue to say that these sanctions are unfair and that other regimes are undemocratic and persecute political opposition yet remain without sanctions, especially regimes in Africa, so why is Zimbabwe unique?

GVO: Well Zimbabwe I’m afraid isn’t unique and there are other countries against which we have targeted sanctions. I immediately think of Burma for example. But of course there are other countries in Africa where we have strong conditionality on the nature of our relationship with those countries. I’m sorry to say that there are very, very many people in many parts of the world that live under atrocious regimes. But you see Zimbabwe is a country which we all have enormous affection for and strong historical links with the country, that is why there’s great concern on the part of Europeans and others about what is happening in Zimbabwe . What happens in Zimbabwe affects what happens in South Africa and other parts of Southern Africa . We want to get Africa as a whole on the move and on the road to prosperity and proper democracy and in a way Zimbabwe is the litmus test for this. If we can get Zimbabwe moving in the right direction this will give great hope to so many others across Africa . And the first thing, and I’ve always said this, is that you need to have good governance, in other words the country needs to be properly run for the people and for their benefit not for the benefit of 203 people who happen to be keeping Mugabe in power. And of course the reason those people are so desperate to have these restrictive measures removed is not because they are concerned about the people of Zimbabwe, if they were concerned about them they’d have changed a long time ago. No they want to get on their aeroplanes with their wives, go on their shopping expeditions to Paris and London and all of these places, line their pockets – that’s what they want to do and that will be on the backs of the Zimbabwean people. We don’t think that’s right.

VG: How would you respond to critics who say it looks as though the UK in particular is making concessions towards Libya for example for an oil trade deal and that would the sanctions in Zimbabwe remain in place if there were large reserves of oil in the country?

GVO: Well you raise another entirely different issue and a hypothetical question. Alright, the fact is, we are very concerned about Zimbabwe, we’ve had a strong focus on Zimbabwe, you know just using your own hypothetical argument there – we’ve done that in spite of the fact that there are no enormous strategic resources in a country like Zimbabwe, you might put it the other way round and say why does anyone bother? We bother because we do have historic ties, because we do have great affection for the people of Zimbabwe and because we want to help them have better lives, that’s why we do it.

VG: Are you not worried that this could advance the Zanu-PF cause by continuing with the sanctions?

GVO: Well these assertions I think are slightly ridiculous assertions but what I would say is that many of us had very serious doubts about the nature of the contract that Morgan Tsvangirai was entering into when he signed the GPA and agreed to the power sharing deal. Many of us had very serious reservations about that because inevitably one was going to be compromised by being so closely associated with the atrocious regime of Mugabe, but I have to say in spite of that, Morgan Tsvangirai has made progress, we are seeing some economic improvements, we are seeing a Zimbabwean leader now welcomed in places like Brussels and other capitols of countries in Europe and elsewhere, where he’s representing the interests of Zimbabwe very well and very strongly. And so I think that when public opinion is sounded out in Zimbabwe , it is quite clear if there was an election tomorrow, Morgan Tsvangirai would win resoundingly. There’s no doubt about that and of course that’s one reason why others want to delay as long as possible another election. And of course it’s exactly the reason why we want to see a new constitution and early elections carried out under proper democratic arrangements and supervision for Zimbabwe . That’s how we are going to bring about change.

VG: I was actually going to ask a question that goes in line with what you are talking about – that almost all Zanu-PF ministers and MPs are on the sanctions list and there are none from the MDC, now that there’s a unity government is it constructive to put sanctions on one whole half of the government?

GVO Well the fact is the MDC have not been exploiting the Zimbabwean people for the last ten years. The reason those people are on the list is because they are the exploiters, they are the ones who are responsible for this atrocious regime. Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have been fighting against it all these years, trying to bring about as their name implies – democratic change. It would be ridiculous to start castigating them and putting them on some sort of restrictive list because they are associated with Mugabe. Of course if we were to see them getting involved in similar acts to those that have been carried out by Zanu-PF over the last ten years, that would be a different matter but I certainly don’t see any sign of that. I think Morgan Tsvangirai is a very good man, he’s a good leader for Zimbabwe , and he deserves our support.

VG: And a final word Mr Van Orden.

GVO: Well all I would say is there is some encouraging news from Zimbabwe, there is still a long way to go, I want to see change brought about as quickly as possible, I want people to recognise the realities of the situation, not to be taken in by these false accusations and all this nonsense about the effects of international sanctions and all that and I want people to get on with the hard task of restoring freedom and democracy and economic prosperity in Zimbabwe and we will do all we can to assist that process as long as there are right minded and good people in power.

VG: Geoffrey Van Orden, a member of parliament for the European Union, thank you very much for participating on the programme Hot Seat.

GVO: Thank you so much.

Feedback can be sent to violet@swradioafrica.com