The sun is already well established in the sky of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, this Monday, February 14 at 9am (last week Monday), President Mnangagwa, the country’s President, is punctual.
“The days are always long. If we are already falling behind now, it will be catastrophic,” he smiles as he settles into the seat he had installed in the garden of the presidential palace.
“It’s good weather, you might as well take advantage of it before you go back into your winter,” he laughs.
Despite this blue sky, the man has not forgotten his eternal multi-coloured scarf.
“These are the colours of our flag,” he explains, inviting a member of the protocol to unfurl the standard which is behind him and who is waiting in vain for the wind to come and make it look more proud.
“Not to mention the Zimbabwe bird, which is one of our great pride”, continues the President, showing the two eagles which have made their nest at the ends of his scarf.
This bird, which would be inspired by the bateleur eagle of the savannahs, is part of the history of the country.
Representations of this eagle were already carved on the walls of the empire of Zimbabwe which date back to the 12th century.
“We must be proud of our colours, our past and our culture several hundred years old”, continues the President, who is cheerfully celebrating his 80th birthday, “including nearly sixty years of commitment to the country”, he continues.
Last Wednesday, the Zimbabwean President put his luggage for 48 hours in Brussels, the time of a summit between the European Union and the African Union.
The sixth of its kind, several times postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A summit where instability in West Africa marked by several coups and the announced divorce between Paris and Bamako, should be the distinguished guests.
The Islamist threat should not be forgotten and it is not confined to this western façade of the African continent.
It is more general, it also affects central Africa (with the ADF in the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular) and southern Africa (with the Ansar al-Sunnah movement in Mozambique).
A conflict that President Mnangagwa knows well for having become one of the major players almost despite himself.
“Mozambique is a member of SADC and when one of our members is attacked, he can call on our solidarity”, explains the Zimbabwean President, who mobilised a contingent of 304 soldiers and police, the second in number behind the South Africans, but the most popular for its effectiveness.
“We have good skills and everyone recognizes it”, he continues, recalling in particular that his country has just been elected to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the permanent decision-making body of this body for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.
“And this is not a first. It is important for us to tell ourselves that we have been called back. This demonstrates that other African states trust us.”
No contagion, but other threats
For the Zimbabwean President, the current instability in West Africa should not impact his country or his region “but that does not mean that we do not have our worries and our risks of instability”, he says by pointing out the situation in its Mozambican neighbour whose Cabo Delgado region, bordering Tanzania, has been hit by an Islamist insurrection for nearly five years.
“It’s a different form of terrorism than the one that strikes North and West Africa,” continues President Mnangagwa, who travelled to the Mozambique capital at the end of last week (two weeks ago) to meet with his counterpart, President Filipe Nyusi.
“It is clear that the objectives of these jihadists are not limited to Cabo Delgado. According to various testimonies collected from jihadists who were taken prisoner, it is the whole of southern Africa that is at the heart of their project. These fundamentalists want to install a caliphate throughout Southern Africa.
“We are obviously determined to do everything to prevent this movement, to put in this murderous adventure which has already caused too many deaths.”
Faced with this threat, President Nyusi mobilised the solidarity of the SADC countries but also did not hesitate to call for help from Rwanda, which is not a member of the Southern African association.
“It is his right. Mozambique is a sovereign state that takes all the measures it deems necessary for the good of its people. We have no problem with this approach”, explains calmly the one who is often nicknamed the “Crocodile”, “a nickname which dates back more than fifty years to the time of the fight against the British coloniser in the 1960s”.
“Eradicate this scourge”
Faced with this fundamentalist danger, the discourse is intended to be resolutely muscular.
“We want to eradicate this scourge. We Zimbabweans are determined to do everything possible to achieve this goal with the support of the other SADC states. But we are held back by the sanctions that hit us. These are sanctions that date back to 2002 and that prevent us, especially today, in the context of this conflict, from modernising our weapons.
“However, it has become essential in the fight against these terrorists who are not only from the Cabo Delgado region but also from Tanzania, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo or even the Middle East.
“Faced with this international threat, we must give ourselves the means to fight”, continues, determined, President Mnangagwa who presents himself as “a weapon” against this jihadist threat which “always has expansionist overtones”.
The European Union, for its part, said it was ready “to review all of its various measures at any time, if justified, depending on the evolution of the situation in the country”.
An encouraging statement which is also reflected behind the scenes in Europe in terms of votes in favour of the lifting of these sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Last November, 15 EU Member States were in favour of these sanctions.
The key role of Harare, not only in the face of jihadist positions, but also in the training of Mozambican forces, is beginning to change the reading grid.
Now, only two member states of the European Union are reluctant to lift these sanctions.
Zimbabwe also benefits from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Between the two capitals, since independence, the rag has regularly burned and even today, eminent members of the British House of Lords are terribly hostile to the power in place in Harare.
“I think it is obvious that our action in Cabo Delgado helps us in the perspective, which we wish to be quick, of the lifting of sanctions”, continues the President.
A head of state who is also launched in his country in the electoral campaign for the elections scheduled for 2023. “We are going to win this election,” he warns.
It must be said that his party, the Zanu PF, has reigned supreme over the country since independence.
President Mnangagwa, who was elected in 2018, is completing his first term, succeeding Robert Mugabe who resigned in 2017.
President Mnangagwa knows that the economic situation of his country is difficult, but he also knows that his first agrarian reforms, in particular on a redistribution of unexploited land, are beginning to give results.
The 2020 and 2021 harvests have recorded excellent results and the outlook for 2022 is excellent.
Encouraging economic statistics which, if they were to be associated with the lifting of European sanctions, would give a solid adjuvant to the Crocodile campaign.
The man, skilled in the political game, knows it very well. His re-election is also being played out a little bit in Brussels.
This interview was ran in LaLibre, a Belgium publication which interviewed the President prior to his attending a two-day African Union/European Union Summit that was held in Belgium.