Foreign policy is a complex area of study in Zimbabwe and across the globe. After taking over power following the resignation of the country’s first post-Independence executive leader Robert Mugabe, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised several reforms—all in the bid to shake off the monkey behind Zimbabwe’s back. He had international goodwill.
Former colonial power, Britain, was one of the developed countries to endorse Zimbabwe’s transition. UK Foreign Office officials pleaded with the world to give Zimbabwe a chance after years of international isolation. The world listened. But not for long. Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs ministry on the other hand worked around the clock, trying to normalize relations with the west.
This was government’s admission that the Look East Policy which had been widely credited as a counterbalance to western isolation was not enough. After all, the architecture of international financial institutions is controlled by the west.
The Finance ministry on the other hand was part of Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy actors, promising the world that the southern African country was reforming. Institutions like the International Monetary Fund commended the first steps that were taken by the Finance ministry while the Foreign Affairs ministry convinced the world that the political reform agenda was in motion.
Fast forward to August 1 2018. Eyebrows were raised when government deployed security forces to quell post-election violence which claimed six lives. Realists argue that the decision to deploy members of the security forces justified the end—safeguarding President Mnangagwa’s election victory which the MDC trashed as flawed.
The United States, which is at the centre of Zimbabwe’s reengagement efforts has raised the red flag. Relations between the US and Zimbabwe are now souring, again. This is certainly not what Harare had anticipated nearly two years after Mugabe’s fall. US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols has been a subject of ridicule as former freedom fighters fight from Zanu PF’s corner.
The European Union representative in Zimbabwe said that Zimbabwe could have a foreign policy failure if it continues on a diplomatic warpath with the US. Zimbabwe needs allies now than before. While SADC has thrown its weight behind the anti-sanctions lobby, more support specifically from western powers is what Zimbabwe needs. After all we have walked that path before.
Ongoing xenophobic attacks in South Africa also highlight the need to deepen reengagement with the international community. Fears are that such attacks could result into a regional crisis which could have far-reaching consequences.
In our view the vitriol being spawned on creditors should end and allow diplomatic channels to manage the growing animosity between Harare and western powers. In the absence of this Zimbabwe may continue to be in a vicious circle of isolation, underdevelopment and worsening levels of poverty.
Zimbabwe’s largest financial group by assets CBZ Holdings last week announced the appointment of its new board chairperson, American banker Marc Holtzman.
Holtzman succeeded Noah Matimba after Akribos Capital fronted foreign investors in taking over the 24 percent majority stake in CBZH. Holtzman’s appointment has generated a lot of interested given the financial services group central role and how it has been under the spotlight of US sanctions.
CBZ was up until 2014 banker to government after the Reserve Bank became almost technically insolvent following the introduction of the multiple currency system in 2009. The multiple currency regime ended this year when government introduced the mono-currency system this year to manage foreign exchange movements.
For a bank that is facing a hefty fine from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for carrying out thousands of transactions on behalf of ZB Bank which was under sanctions, Holtzman, who has over three decades of political and public service in the US is expected to help the bank negotiate for the lifting of a penalty. OFAC had initially slapped CBZ bank with a $3.8 billion fine but after mitigation the penalty was reduced to $385 million.
Holtzman’s new job could also signal Zimbabwe’s multi-pronged approach in pushing for full re-engagement with the US which imposed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic and Recovery Act (Zidera).
Zidera is a restrictive measure that has been a major hurdle in Zimbabwe’s interactions with international financial institutions, particularly the Brettonwoods institutions in which the US has majority shareholding. Already Zimbabwe has hired US public relations firm, Ballard Partners which is headed by prominent Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard.
However recent developments in Zimbabwe such as repressive acts by state security agents have put Zimbabwe back on the spotlight. The European Union has also raised concern over growing human rights violations.
Holtzman faces a herculean task in changing Zimbabwe’s narrative beyond the country’s borders. The deep-seated issue around the imposition of sanctions is something that could take a generation to reverse. Zimbabwe is at crossroads.