Ranga Mataire Deputy Editor
FORMER Zimbabwe Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (FMS), was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on February 8 2021. He replaced the late Dr Sibusiso Busi Moyo who was the first to assume the post in the Second Republic with an added mandate of International Trade. In an exclusive interview with The Herald Deputy Editor Lovemore Ranga Mataire (LRM), Dr Frederick Shava talks about the challenges of conducting diplomacy in an environment plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic and how his ministry has had to adjust to the new normal.
LRM: Dr Shava, I feel honoured to be able to have a conversation with you given your busy schedule. I must confess that it was not easy pinning you down for an interview.
FMS: It gives me great pleasure to exchange views with you on progress we have made in executing our foreign policy as enunciated by HE President ED Mnangagwa. We, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have an open door policy with the media because we believe in openness, transparency and accountability, attributes which resonate with the New Dispensation’s “ZIMBABWE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS” mantra.
Let me hasten to say that diplomacy comes with an array of global challenges. The fact that we are not able to control world events and that it requires careful coordination within the whole Government to ensure that I and my colleagues do not work at cross purposes, makes my job even more challenging.
LRM: You were appointed minister at a time when the Covid-19 was at its peak and it greatly affected the traditional way of diplomatic engagements. Briefly explain how the pandemic affected the execution of your mandate?
FMS: The Covid-19 pandemic shook up old structures of diplomacy. It brought about multiple challenges, such as access to adequate technology, the re-shaping of communication protocols, and the need to continue working in virtual negotiation settings.
The difficulty to meet face to face, given the confinement, social distancing, and other restrictive measures, changed diplomacy as we know it. That notwithstanding, the ministry continued with its diplomatic work through virtual meetings. I can attest that I held numerous fruitful meetings this year.
Technology made it possible for us to continue with our work. That is why today, the question is no longer about whether we should use virtual meetings despite their drawbacks, but rather how can we use online meetings effectively and how do we blend online with face-to-face meetings. It is true that Covid-19 dampened the momentum the ministry had gathered in the engagement and re-engagement drive. Focus and resources were pushed towards the fighting of Covid-19. This must be understood not only from those that we intend to re-engage but also to our efforts as a nation to make sure that our people are safe as well. However, Covid-19 notwithstanding Zimbabwe continued to engage and re-engage with the world. The world was forced to come together at this moment to speak with one voice and to give each other a shoulder in fighting this disease. The virus taught us that the success in the fighting lies not in individual strengths but collective effort. It sobered up countries. This has seen Zimbabwe’s fight being celebrated by other countries globally. Covid-19 brought about a moment of revitalisation of the attitude towards Zimbabwe.
LRM: Foreign Affairs is a product of domestic policies. What is the state of regional solidarity and what is the ministry doing to build synergies within the region and beyond?
FMS: I want to first acknowledge your clear understanding of what builds foreign policy. Since foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy at another level, if we are to look from the history of the region, you discover that the internal disturbances due to the struggle for independence, especially in Zimbabwe, had a spill over effect causing disturbances in other regional countries. Regional solidarity was born from this realisation, which is why we had the Frontline States, later, the SADCC and now, the SADC.
SADC collectivism is both natural and government made. It is natural in the sense that our geographic proximity made us more together. The colonial experiences have also maintained and reinforced this idea.
If we are to look at the current situation, the political economy of the region is largely interdependent. Taking, for example, how SADC responded effectively to the challenge of cyclones Idai and Kenneth that affected Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi is a sign of strong solidarity.
The SADC response to the insurgency in Mozambique through deployment of the SADC standby force is another testimony that the region speaks with one voice. The region is also working towards establishing a SADC parliament to coordinate regional programmes.
The region shared a lot of Strategic Development Goals as a region without forgetting the work underway to establish a regional Free Trade Area (FTA). All these are clear examples of how the region cooperates.
In politics we have the SADC Electoral Observer Mission that maintains regional standards for free and fair elections.
My ministry collaborates with counter-part ministries in the region in the establishment of synergies for collaboration. Of note, is the involvement of His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa in the SADC Troika meetings.
LRM: On August 18, 2019, SADC declared October 25 as the Anti-Sanctions Day, with member countries resolving to undertake various activities in their respective countries to call for the unconditional removal of sanctions. Besides declaring this Anti-Sanctions Day, what is the Government of Zimbabwe doing to keep up the momentum in ensuring that the sanctions are removed?
FMS: The fact that Zimbabwe mobilised regional countries to speak with one voice in denouncing and calling for the removal of sanctions on the country is a feat worth celebrating. SADC collaboration and solidarity influenced the African Union and other friendly countries in the international community of nations to take the same stance. That is why at many international fora such as at the UN General Assembly, where countries are supposedly driven by self-interest and expected to solicit for individual attention, some countries take the opportunity to condemn and call countries that sanctioned Zimbabwe to remove the raucous sanctions, for example, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi at this year’s United Nations General Assembly.
It is true that while every conversation on sanctions is a narrative of doom and gloom for Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political outlook, the picture is not always one of total disaster. While those who imposed sanctions wanted our “economy to scream” and our people to rise up against the Government, there are success stories in the midst of the negative effects of sanctions.
Zimbabwe, like an orphaned and vulnerable child, has persevered in adversity and isolation. The privation has made the country even more resilient and innovative in the face of misfortunes. While we have been fighting for the removal of sanctions engagement and reengagement, we have a reform process going on at the domestic level where we are correcting the wrongs that resulted in us being sanctioned. Remember, it is what we do domestically that reflects who we are to the international community.
Therefore, since foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy, one has to realise that ever since its inception in November 2017, the New Dispensation has repeatedly stressed its commitment to correct the wrongs of the past and move to an open, clean and transparent government.
Under HE President Mnangagwa’s able leadership, Zimbabwe has made significant progress and has taken concrete, tangible steps towards improving governance, opening up domestic political space, upholding the rule of law and property rights and generally migrating the country towards the new era promised by the President.
The New Dispensation is correcting and breaking with the past by making deliberate policies and choices that demonstrate the country’s commitment in honouring its international obligations. The Global Compensation Agreement has been one of the biggest policies that the government took to correct a wrong done in the past and also justify the removal of sanctions. That agreement, between the Government and white former farmers shows that the Government is committed to having sanctions removed.
LRM: The SADC region is one of the most peaceful regions in Africa save for some disturbances in Mozambique. What is the situation regarding Zimbabwe’s involvement in that country?
FMS: Our involvement in the Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique disturbances is in line with our national, regional and global efforts to build peace. The events in Mozambique were at a point where humanitarian interventions were required.
The targeting of civilians by the Islamists in Mozambique, like the attack on Palma where one of our citizens was killed, required the Government to take appropriate actions. This must be seen from the Government’s desire to protect our citizens anywhere in the world.
Zimbabwe has a natural obligation to ensure that the region is peaceful. Mozambique is our strategic neighbour, our easy access to the sea relies on her stability, so disturbances in that country is our concern. It is critical to note that Zimbabwe and Mozambique share a very long and strong history of helping each other, which predates colonial times, therefore we cannot afford to remain silent when our sister needs help.
Because of these reasons, Zimbabwe partnered with other SADC countries in the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM). The troops were deployed to complement efforts by other countries like Rwanda, which was invited as a result of a bilateral agreement with Mozambique.
LRM: Given the fact that the ministry now has an added mandate of international trade, how equipped are Zimbabwe’s diplomats in undertaking this task?
FMS: Following a great shift of the approach to foreign policy from the First Republic to Second Republic, the ministry’s Foreign Policy thrust now revolves around vigorous economic diplomacy in order to contribute to the country’s vision of becoming a middle-income economy by 2030. The International Trade mandate was added to the ministry by the New Dispensation in order to pursue the trajectory of transactional diplomacy with emphasis on win-win commercial deals.
This made the ministry move a gear up from targeting our traditional diplomatic requirements to economic diplomacy. It is critical to note that the primary objective of the ministry is to defend the interests of our nation on the international arena. Therefore, a number of strategies have been adopted by the ministry to empower our diplomats with the new requirements and demands.
Strengthening capacity building is at the core of equipping our team of diplomats to competently promote international trade. There are local as well as international development programmes availed to diplomats.
Apart from the manpower development programmes that we as a ministry provide to our diplomats, the New Dispensation has created inter-ministerial platforms where experiences and knowledge can be shared for the good of our country. These synergies have been effective in providing experts from different ministries in decision making.
LRM: In practical terms how much of trade or investment have our diplomats brought to the country since the advent of the New Dispensation?
FMS: As I alluded in my introduction, the result of our work is difficult to quantify. However, I can tell you that, since the advent of the New Dispensation, our trade performance over the past three years provides further evidence of successful re-affirmation, engagement and re-engagement, the determination of our exporters and the innate resilience of our diversified economy, multiple challenges notwithstanding.
To illustrate this success, let me provide some figures.
Our trade deficit in 2018 was US$ 2,45 billion. By 2019, it had been reduced to approximately US$ 500 million, which as an 80 percent drop. You may be aware that trade balance was maintained for the four months in a row at the end of 2019. We however, experienced a trade deficit of US$ 42,6 million in 2020 which slightly increased to US$ 55,50 in June of 2021.
Total merchandise exports in 2018 were US$ 4,04 billion. The value of merchandise exports from Zimbabwe totalled US$ 4.39 billion in 2020. Merchandise exports from Zimbabwe increased by 2,69 percent compared to 2019 when it was US$4,27 billion. Goods exports grew by $ 115 million in 2020 reflecting a 4,9 percent increase in our export performance.
A 4,9 percent increase in current circumstances under sanctions and in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions is nothing short of amazing. The figures also show that we are steadily regaining market presence within SADC and further afield in COMESA countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Egypt.
Further afield still, we continue to develop and expand existing markets such as China, Russia, India, Singapore, the UAE, the UK and others; and to explore new markets such as Belarus, Azerbaijan, Israel and others.
On the basis of a more stable economy and currency, FDI inflows, increased energy production, normal rains, increased agricultural and industrial production, more competitive exports and more aggressive marketing within the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area and beyond, I am optimistic that our trade performance over the coming two to three years will be even more impressive.
There is no doubt that our commercial diplomatic tenacity has resulted in increased Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) inflows into the country. The New Dispensation regards international trade and FDIs as a solution for augmenting domestic savings, generating employment, eradicating poverty and stimulating economic growth. FDIs also bring along significant positive spillover benefits such as facilitating technological transfer, enhancing production efficiencies and promoting skills and knowledge diffusion. Irrefutably, FDIs escalate local competition, productivity and innovation hence creating a positive effect for populace and the wider economy by ‘driving down prices, increasing quality and enhancing the overall economic efficiency.
FDI flows to Zimbabwe are gradually picking up thanks to the New Dispensation’s commitment to improving transparency, streamlining business regulations, and curbing corruption. Zimbabwe is now ranked 140th out of 190 countries listed in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, gaining fifteen places from 2019’s report.
Soon after his assumption of office, His Excellency the President, Cde ED Mnangagwa went on a re-engagement drive targeting Eastern European countries. This resulted in investments from Belarus in the agriculture sector. Recently, the President officiated a 50-million-dollar worth of investments from Belarus. Zimbabwe has received buses to improve our urban transport network system from Belarus again worth US$200 million.
Russian firms have upped their investment in the mining sector which saw more than 2000 jobs being created and an increase in the FDI from 349 million in 2017 to 745 million in 2019 and by the end of 2018 it had jumped to 5,9 billion dollars. Zimbabwe has managed to attract so many investments thanks to our economic diplomacy.
Underlined herein are major investments brought about by the New Dispensation.
Platinum venture with Russia under the Great Dyke Investments (GDI) worth US$2 billion.
Karo Resources, a South African company commenced its US$4 billion mining operations in Mhondoro-Ngezi.
Prospect Resource (PSC) Australia, through Prospect Resources Zimbabwe, invested in mining and processing of lithium in Goromonzi for the battery market and petalite, a key raw material for production of various types of ceramics and fiberglass. The project is expected to create US$3 billion exports.
The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) and Russia’s diamond producer, Alrosa, a global leader in diamond mining which accounts for almost a third of the world’s rough diamond production, signed joint venture agreements worth $US2,5 billion to prospect and explore diamond deposits in Zimbabwe.
In yet another positive development for the country’s brought about by the New Dispensation, Zimbabwe signed a US$50 million John Deere Tractor Agreement and agreed with the US on other positive developments that include the awarding of the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Power Project to General Electric Corporation and the Health Galaxy Project proposed for Mt Hampden.
LRM: How effective have been Honorary Consuls in spearheading the Second Republic’s thrust of economic diplomacy?
FMS: Modern diplomacy is evolving at an unprecedented rate, which affects the very character of diplomacy as we know it. Zimbabwe, like any other country, is embracing such changes.
Honorary Consuls are recognised in international law and theoretically enjoy the same privileges as career diplomats. Often, they are locals appointed in cities too insignificant for professional consulates. Zimbabwe believes that Honorary Consuls are a form of ‘citizen diplomacy’, in that they bring in people from different walks of life to work for Zimbabwe in order to improve different sets of bilateral relationships. Because of that strong conviction, the New Dispensation appointed four Honorary Consuls to Belarus, Israel, Scotland and India and more will soon be appointed.
While Zimbabwe’s new diplomatic trajectory of commercial diplomacy necessitated the appointment of these four Honorary Consuls, world travel is another reason. Our people are travelling farther afield these days. When they are in distress or have run-ins with the law, our Embassies in national capitals are often too far away to provide assistance. Since we cannot afford representation in every capital of the world, we believe that well-connected locals offering their services for the honour of flying our flag are more than welcome. Remember, the New Dispensation places greater emphasis on Diaspora Diplomacy. We want to make sure that Zimbabweans outside the country are fully catered for.
By nature, Honorary Consuls’ responsibilities are largely service provision or in diplomatic parlance, consular services.
They play a facilitatory role for investors coming down to Zimbabwe.
We believe that Honorary Consuls are remarkably effective at almost zero-cost representation in cities and regions where Zimbabwe opt not to establish fulltime consulates. Zimbabwe will gain much from this option, especially at a time when our budget is shrinking every year. I have a firm conviction that it is a diplomacy trend that has a sound future for the country.
LRM: The vision might be grandeur but the resources meagre. Does the ministry have enough financial resources to ensure that diplomats execute their duties and responsibilities to the best of their abilities?
FMS: Financial resources are not enough to fund our full operations. Shortage of foreign currency in the country to fund our foreign missions makes our job challenging.
You may recall that in the 2021 budget, the ministry had requested for ZWL41 million but we were allocated ZWL8, 6 million. This has an effect on our operations. Our budget is also affected by exchange control fluctuations because the budget is in ZWL$ whereas all our expenses to our missions abroad are paid in USD.
Despite the challenges we have been facing over the years, our situation is no longer as dire, thanks to the support we are receiving from the Ministry of Finance. We have been receiving monthly reimbursement for missions. With it we managed to pay monthly reimbursement to missions and we will have also paid 50 percent of our legacy debts by the end of September 2021. At this pace we are hoping to have paid all the legacy debts by March 2022.
Financial resources shortages, notwithstanding, the ministry has been executing its mandate to the best of its abilities. It is hoped that the Treasury will continue to religiously provide this budgetary support.
LRM: Let’s talk about the Commonwealth. Briefly take us through the process involved, what is required and the likelihood of us becoming a member of the Commonwealth Club again?
FMS: It is common knowledge that the Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent and equal sovereign states whose member governments agreed to pursue shared goals such as development, democracy and peace. These values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.
For eligible countries, there is a membership process which has to be followed once the formal expression of interest to join is triggered. This entails the following:
An informal assessment undertaken by the Secretary-General following an expression of interest by an aspirant country;
Consultation by the Secretary-General with member states;
An invitation to the interested country to make a formal application; and
A formal application presenting evidence of the functioning of democratic processes and popular support in that country for joining the Commonwealth.
The procedure also sets out that the application would thereafter be considered by Heads of Government at the next CHOGM and, if they reach consensus on accepting it, that country would then join the Commonwealth and be invited to attend subsequent meetings.
A Commonwealth member state that has withdrawn or was expelled from the Commonwealth would need to reapply for membership. Although Commonwealth Heads have not set out any re-joining criteria, it is expected that a country would demonstrate that it continues to uphold the principles and values of the Commonwealth that it espoused when it first joined.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest drawback in our efforts to re-join the Commonwealth. Meetings and summits, at which our request for re-joining could have been considered, have been postponed. However, in the meantime Zimbabwe continues to lobby for support for the country to re-join the organisation.
LRM: President Mnangagwa is in Britain attending the Conference of Parties (COP 26) meeting. Is the invitation an indication of thawing of relations between the UK and Zimbabwe? How is Zimbabwe going to use this visit to improve relations with Britain?
FMS: We are happy that His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa is attending the World Leaders Summit being held during the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Scotland.
The World Leaders Summit will be the highlight of the Conference where Leaders will discuss the course towards enhanced climate change mitigation and adaptation in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Among other things, the President will present Zimbabwe’s revised climate change mitigation commitment through the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). You will recall that the Cabinet recently approved a conditional 40 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target across all sectors by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Zimbabwe has developed the Low Emission Strategy (LEDS) 2020-2050, which identifies mitigation actions to help keep global warming under 1,5 degrees Celsius.
The commitment presents measures drawn from the National Development Strategy 1 and other policies and strategies. The attainment of the target is conditional on the availing of international climate finance and technical support as envisioned under the Climate Change Convention.
Furthermore, His Excellency the President will update other World Leaders and development partners on progress made on the National Adaptation Planning process which aims to address Zimbabwe’s high vulnerability to climate change. The Summit provides a platform where climate finance will be discussed with multilateral and bilateral funding agencies.
What is significant is that Prime Minister Boris invited H.E. President Mnangagwa to attend the conference. The visit therefore presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to undertake engagement and re-engagement initiatives with the host country. It is important to note that strained relations are improving in spite of the sanctions the UK recently imposed on Zimbabwe.
On the economic front, the UK and the East and Southern Africa (UKESA) signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) following UK Brexit. As recently as September 27, 2021, the EU issued a notice proclaiming duty free access for Zimbabwean goods under the European Union-Eastern and Southern Africa (EU-ESA) Partnership Agreement.
Zimbabwe under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa has been on the path to make Zimbabwe a friend of all and an enemy of none. Zimbabwe will use this platform to sell the image of the New Dispensation and we are happy that there is an attitude change by the Western nations towards the new Government in Harare.
These platforms provide opportunities for Zimbabwe and other developing economies that have suffered from the effects of climate change and on the path of industrialisation to promote sustainability in development.
It is interesting that this meeting is happening following critical events that have taken place, which calls for seriousness in dealing with environmental issues such as natural fires in Algeria, Greece and the US. These meetings will give Zimbabwe a bigger opportunity to improve relations with the international community because climate related matters require the full commitment of all parties.