Nduduzo Tshuma Political Editor
THE European Union yesterday announced that it was lifting a travel ban on President Mugabe for the next 12 months after he became African Union chairman.EU spokesperson Catherine Ray said the travel ban imposed and maintained since 2002 at the behest of former colonial power Britain, would be eased for the next year when the President is travelling in his capacity as AU chairman.
EU in sanctions dilemma
Last night, Zanu-PF dismissed the announcement as no cause for celebration because President Mugabe remained under EU sanctions as Zimbabwe’s leader.
Zanu-PF spokesman Cde Simon Khaya-Moyo said the EU had moved to avert a major confrontation with Africa by lifting the ban, which would have meant President Mugabe, who is also chairman of the Southern African Development Community, could not travel to Europe on AU business.
Said Cde Khaya-Moyo: “The illegal sanctions imposed on President Mugabe by the EU were so done in his capacity as President and Head of State of Zimbabwe and not as chairperson of the African Union.
“The announcement is inconsequential. Our position as Zanu-PF remains that all sanctions imposed on President Mugabe as Head of State and citizen of Zimbabwe be removed unconditionally. Any effort to hoodwink the continent is futile.”
President Mugabe assumed the AU chairmanship at the continental body’s summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, replacing Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. He will hold the position for the next year.
The EU sanctions have been modified over the years. From an initial blacklist of over 100 government officials and companies who were targeted, only President Mugabe and the First Lady, Grace, remain.
The EU claims the sanctions are punishment for alleged human rights abuses, but Zanu-PF insists a bilateral dispute with former colonial power Britain over the land reform programme sparked Zimbabwe’s isolation.
Britain has been increasingly coming under pressure from other EU countries to end the diplomatic war with Zimbabwe, not least because most want to normalise trade relations with the mineral-rich Southern African country, and President Mugabe – revered by his fellow African leaders – continues to win democratic elections.
Britain, which holds general elections in May, has been reluctant to sign up on the cessation of hostilities with Zimbabwe as David Cameron’s Conservative Party fears a backlash from voters who have been fed a daily diet that President Mugabe is a tyrannical monster.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo believes Britain is desperate to surrender the yoke of sanctions “which it has carried awkwardly”, and “might just have found an easy way out”.
“It appears the EU, obviously influenced by Britain, has gone ahead of everything and everyone and made President Mugabe’s travel to Europe a non-issue,” he said last night.
In 2011, Prof Moyo said Britain was struggling to find a way of lifting the sanctions on Zimbabwe and President Mugabe without appearing to be conceding defeat.
“The British problem,” he said, “is that they behave like a drunkard who climbed a tree overnight then woke up naked and couldn’t get down.”
Zimbabwe, he went on, was “prepared to give them a ladder, and a blanket, but it’s up to them whether they climb down at night, or during the day.”
Yesterday, Prof Moyo said President Mugabe’s new role as chair of the African Union had provided the EU with “a ladder and some clothes to dress up and come down”.
European Union sanctions of Zimbabwe are believed to have cost the country nearly $42 billion.
Pursued with a parallel programme of “regime change”, and supported by the United States of America, the sanctions failed to dislodge President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party which was swept back into power by a landslide victory in July 2013.
The EU has been in retreat in recent years. In November, the bloc lifted its 12-year suspension of direct financial aid to the government, indicating that it will this year start a 234 million Euro ($300 million) five-year programme to support health, agriculture and governance initiatives.