After Robert Mugabe was ousted from power in Zimbawbe in 2017 and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who won the elections in July last year, the people of the country and the international community started to hope about a better future. Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 brutal years and brought the country to economic ruin. It could hardly be worse. But Mnangagwa, a former right-hand of Mugabe and member of the same ruling party ZANU-PF, is dangerously copying the previous policies, with crackdowns on protesters and economic measures that are impoverishing the country. He was forced to return Zimbabwe this week from a journey abroad to handle a situation which has spiraled out of control.
The purpose of his voyage was to convince investors that Zimbabwe has changed. But a recent 150 % increase in fuel prices led to long queues at petrol stations and set off protests and violence. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has reported that at least eight people have been killed by security forces using live ammunition. The figure can be higher according to civil rights organisations. Hundreds have been wounded.
Another measure which is hurting the population was a 2 percent tax on electric money transfers, that in a country which is running out of cash.
Grace Kwinjeh, a representative to the EU of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), tells the Brussels Times that hundreds have also been imprisoned, including five of its members of parliament and scores of councilors.
“According to the Zimbabwean constitution, it is the police and not the army that are responsible for fighting crime. The deployment of the army against an unarmed civilian population is a blatant violation of the constitution”, says Kwinjeh.
“Zimbabwe is on the brink of a serious humanitarian catastrophe,” she warns and calls on the military to return to the barracks.
She had hoped that the African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) ministers of foreign affairs meeting in Brussels this week (21 – 22 January) in Brussels would have dealt with the situation in Zimbabwe and condemned the violence by the regime. The meeting was co-chaired by EU foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini and the chair of the AU Executive Council, Richard Sezibera.
But the joint statement following the meeting deals with other issues of common concern for AU and EU. “It was a multilateral meeting and bilateral issues were not discussed,” said a spokesperson for the European External Action Service.
Asked at the press conference after the meeting about the situation in Zimbabwe, Morgherini said that EU had expressed “very serious concerns about the escalation of violence in Zimbabwe and the use of force by security personnel”.
“We have passed clearly the message that governments, we believe, would not be able to implement reforms that stand the test of time without an environment that is an environment of inclusive national dialogue through which citizens can exercise their freedoms, starting from the freedoms of assembly, association and expression,” she added.
As usual, the European Parliament is advocating pro-active measures instead of “soft diplomacy”. A conservative member of the European Parliament, Geoffrey Van Orden, called today on the EU to review its sanctions against individuals in Zimbabwe.
According to Van Orden, the brutality of the last few days has been described by some as worse than during the Mugabe era. “President Mnangagwa now needs to assert himself and regain control over the armed forces. He should release detainees immediately and invite leaders of the opposition, of the unions, and the churches, to a National Conference on the Future of Zimbabwe.”