A DIPLOMATIC rift between European superpowers Britain and Germany over Zimbabwe emerged this week when the British government hosted Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa while the Germans barred him from visiting. This came as Berlin adopts a cautious approach towards the Zimbabwean government, ushered in through a military intervention last year, in line with the European Union stance.
Chinamasa was in Britain this week for high-level diplomatic talks aimed at mending ties between Harare and London. British Secretary for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson on Tuesday tweeted that he was excited to meet Chinamasa.
Chinamasa also intended to visit European economic powerhouse Germany but was turned down, resulting in him limiting his visit to the more receptive London.
Britain and other countries in the European Union (EU) differ on their approach to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. The British are more accommodative and want to support the new administration as much as possible but the EU block has taken a cautious approach.
Britain has been aggressive in its support of the new administration. It has been impressed by statements made by Mnangagwa so far on economic and political reforms.
However, the EU wants government to match rhetoric with action, particularly on the implementation of critical political and economic reforms before committing significant funding to the broke government.
The EU says the bloc would consider scaling up financial assistance to Zimbabwe if Mnangagwa’s government delivers on its pledge to hold free, fair and credible elections, as well as implement reforms that would set the country’s fragile economy on a firm growth trajectory.
Despite the differences in approach, both Britain and the EU’s 28 member states have demanded a commitment to credible, peaceful, free and fair elections that are monitored by international observers.
Sources in government say although the Germans have decided to be supportive of the Mnangagwa administration, they do not want to fully endorse the regime until it fairly wins polls and ushers in tangible reforms, hence the snub.
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel in December sent Mnangagwa a congratulatory message after his inauguration.
Merkel said: “Germany will support you as a partner in your endeavours to start a new chapter in the history of Zimbabwe — one characterised by democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
Government sources say the Germans want to see a tangible implementation of a number of economic, political and social reforms, given that their nationals’ investments, including farms and wildlife conservancies, protected under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Zimbabwe have over the years been grabbed.
Germany ambassador to Zimbabwe Thorsten Hutter confirmed Chinamasa failed to visit Berlin this week. He attributed the failure to transitions taking place in his country, although he admitted there were also bilateral bottlenecks to be taken care of.
“We do hope that the minister of Finance (Chinamasa) whom I had seen last Friday will indeed come to Germany soon and of course he is welcome in Germany. What I had explained is that we have a caretaker government at the moment. Tomorrow (today) the internal poll within the Social Democratic party will end and if the Social Democratic Party membership as a whole votes in favour of the grand coalition between the Socio Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union then within the next two or three weeks a new government will be formed,” said Hutter.
“But at the moment we only have a caretaker government so we thought that the timing was not right. Indeed there are some bilateral issues that we thought should be resolved before the visit. I hope that is something that we will be able to sort out in the coming days.”
Germany has the largest national economy in Europe, the fourth-largest by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world after United States in America, China and Japan, and fifth by GDP (purchasing power parity). It surpasses Britain which is in the process of pulling out of the EU through its controversial Brexit process.
Other super powers like the US have also been cautious with Zimbabwe. The US recently extended its targeted sanctions with the possibility of a review after the general elections expected later this year.
China has been a less noisy and visible but it has embraced Mnangagwa’s government behind the scenes.