Our staff writer Farayi Machamire sits down for a wide-ranging interview with European Union head of Delegation Philippe Van Damme. Find below, excerpts of the interview.
Q: We have heard President Emmerson Mnangagwa stating that foreign observer missions would be welcome to monitor the polls, a change from the previsions regime that tended to allow mainly “sweetheart” monitors such as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to watch proceedings. Has government formally invited the EU?
A: On our side, we are talking to the government and we hope that government will in the next few days clarify its invitation towards the international community including the European Union. In the case of the EU, we have a very specific and well-established methodology for election observation missions.
The first thing we need is a formal request by the government to invite what we call an exploratory mission which is a mission of experts who will speak to the different stakeholders of the electoral process and assess whether indeed these stakeholders consider these observation missions as useful.
They will also assess the feasibility of electoral observation from a security and logistical point of view. And then they will advise us on whether or not an EU electoral observation should be deployed.
And then, of course, the final decision will be taken once, based on that mission, the government confirms its willingness to deploy that mission or not. So at the moment, we are expecting an invite for an exploratory mission any time soon, we are at the beginning of the process.
Q: Mnangagwa officials have claimed they will be in a position to invite international bodies once he has proclaimed the election date.
A: This has nothing to do with the proclamation of the election dates. Our methodology foresees that these types of invites are coming in four to six months ahead of the indicative period in which elections are held.
Now, in this country, we have a Constitution which is very clear.
We know that the elections will be held between July 23 and August 22 so there is no problem to have that invite and have the exploratory mission coming in at any moment now.
Q: What is your take on the environmental framework going into this election considering claims of serial number intimidation and the role of traditional leaders?
A: It’s certainly of concern and we have expressed our concern privately and publicly to the people involved in this. And as you know, Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), I think belatedly, have come out condemning people taking serial numbers of registered voters.
I think it’s extremely important for Zec, civil society and political parties to make it clear that the vote is secret so that the integrity of the voter registration and of the vote is not undermined. We hope all stakeholders will step up voter education so that people feel reassured.
On the aspect of intimidation, including some unfortunate statements by traditional leaders and some political leaders, again we are appealing to all people in positions of authority to stand up and condemn all these forms of intimidation.
I hope that all political parties will sign up to the code of conduct and adhere to this code of conduct and also sign up to peace pledges which churches are planning to submit so that indeed there is a kind of moral pressure on all actors in these elections.
Q: Restricted State media access for opposition parties and the absence of divergent voices in the state media going into this election remains a major concern. Do you get a sense this could be a major hurdle militating against free, fair and credible elections?
A: We launched a programme, a couple of weeks ago, in support of the media in the electoral process and the acting minister of Information (Simon Khaya Moyo) was there and I appealed to him to open up public media in line with what the Constitution says regarding the representation of divergent views in the public media.
There are two aspects, one, you have the legal framework which involves alignment of laws. I am told Aippa (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and Posa (Public Order and Security Act) will be revised and a draft document will be gazetted over a month or two, which will be a positive move. But over and above that is the practical implementation and it should not be so difficult for ZBC to open up to divergent voices.
I try to follow ZBC news but unfortunately, I don’t see any significant evolution and I am hoping that evolution will accelerate over the next months and that the public media will be able to implement what the president has been saying.
Q: The right to vote for every Zimbabwean, including the rights of prisoners to vote, the rights of the hospitalised to vote and those in the Diaspora, remains a thorny issue. Do you believe this will dent the credibility of the election?
A: Different countries have different positions on those particular issues. It is up to Zimbabweans to decide on what they want.
Q: Has the new government presented a clear and time-line bound plan for political and economic reform for the EU to review its ties with Zimbabwe?
A: Time-bound, not to my knowledge. The government has indeed announced a series of reforms but I have not seen any calendar yet at this stage and we are urging the government to identify what are the key reforms they still consider to be implementable before the elections and then to start to think about what are the reforms which they would want to implement after the elections because it’s important for confidence-building.
Q: Is there any standard that the EU would be satisfied with?
A: It’s not for me to be happy but for the people of Zimbabwe to be satisfied. I remember hearing (Finance) minister (Patrick) Chinamasa who when he came back from Lima in October 2015, explained at a business meeting that what he presented at Lima was not to please the international community but he thought it was needed for the people for Zimbabwe.
Q: We have seen United States tightening screws on President Emmerson Mnangagwa in so far as sanctions are concerned, what route is the EU taking?
A: That’s not my understanding. You have to ask US but my understanding is that they just rolled over their existing sanctions.
Q: The military intervention of November 2017 has been interpreted as a coup by some sectors, how has the EU interpreted it?
A: We have been saying repeatedly and we have a couple of statements on this issue, including council conclusions made on January 22.
We have been saying consistently that we are working with governments and not with individuals and what we are interested in is government’s committed to reforms, economic reforms, electoral reforms and political reforms in the interest of the people of this country.
EU Council conclusions in light of ongoing political transition reads: The ongoing political transition in Zimbabwe creates high expectations among all Zimbabweans.
It can open the way to a full return to the rule of law, within a constitutional framework and under civilian rule, allowing for the preparation and implementation of much-needed political and economic reforms.
The EU reaffirms its availability to engage constructively with the new authorities, including through a structured political dialogue, with political actors across the spectrum, and with civil society, on the basis of a mutual commitment to shared values focused on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law. It will do so in coordination with African and international partners.
The upcoming electoral process will be an essential step.
The EU welcomes the commitment of the authorities to hold elections in line with the Constitution, and underlines the importance that the conditions are in place to allow those elections to be peaceful, inclusive, credible and transparent.
The EU would consider favourably electoral observation, provided that the required conditions are fulfilled and that an invitation from the Government of Zimbabwe is received.
The EU welcomes the stated intention of the Zimbabwean authorities to deliver economic reforms in Zimbabwe, aiming at supporting job creation, growth and sustainable long-term development, and reaffirms its willingness to support the planning and implementation of much-needed structural changes and the promotion of good governance.
In this context, the EU will support the authorities in establishing as soon as possible a constructive re-engagement with international financial institutions based on a clear and time-bound economic and political reform programme. The EU stands ready to review the whole range of its policies towards Zimbabwe at any moment to take into account the progress achieved in the country.
Q: Lastly, you referred to people who can speak out with moral authority. What do you find most queer about Zimbabwe’s religious landscape?
A: I am amazed by the over population of prophets in this country. In the biblical tradition in the Old Testament, you have quite some prophets but never with the density as in this country.
I thought that Israel was specialised in producing prophets but this country is overdoing it, so it makes me doubt the quality and credibility of some of those prophets.
I observe the sociological phenomenon from where I can observe them and my observations lead me to conclude that as you have fake news you also have fake prophets driven by commercial interests, exploiting the misery of the people.- Daily News