The United Kingdom is a critical cog in Zimbabwe’s efforts to re-integrate into the community of nations following years of isolation in the First Republic. As the former colonial power, the United Kingdom was instrumental in mobilising its European allies to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the height of the fast-track land reform programme in 2002.
Since the advent of the New Dispensation, relations between Harare and London have warmed up with several exchange visits by top officials of the two administrations. Our Deputy Editor, Lovemore Ranga Mataire, who was recently in England, spoke to Zimbabwe’s Ambassador Rtd Col Christian Katsande on initiatives being undertaken to deepen bilateral ties and lure foreign direct investment.
LRM: As a starting point can you please give a general account of how you have fared so far since your appointment in terms of pursuing the thrust of the new dispensation?
Ambassador Katsande: Thank you very much Lovemore. It has been a very busy 12- months for the mission and also for me particularly. You are correct, to say the foreign policy thrust since the new dispensation focuses on the economic functions of diplomacy.
Basically, what we have been doing as a mission is to put together the mechanisms that assists in promoting trade, investment and tourism interests of Zimbabwe in the UK. I have to say, beyond that we have to look at the engagement with our diaspora, a community which is huge here and make sure that we provide the necessary support particularly in the area of consular services.
I am delighted that within these 12-months we have been able to put in place structures that are starting to deliver on the promotion of more trade, more investment and more tourist arrivals.
LRM: What are these structures that you have put in place?
Amb Katsande: What we have done is to establish clusters. We have a lot of diaspora network platforms here and what we did not want to do is to go to these platforms and tell them to collapse them into one. What we have done is to encourage them to come together around clusters. Clusters which mirror the key delivery pillar of the transitional stabilisation programme and also within the context of vision 2030 which his Excellency President ED Mnangagwa has enunciated.
So you will find that we have clusters looking at the mobilisation of funding for projects and programmes. We have a cluster that attends to tourism and wildlife sector, and we also have a cluster that is looking at social protection sectors of health and education. We also have a cluster looking at the cultural heritage dimension including the repatriation of the remains of our heroes and heroines that are here in the UK.
LRM: We will come back later to the repatriation of the remains of our heroes and heroines. I want you to explain further on the effectiveness of these structures. You seem to have segmented people into clusters who have various interests. What has been the impact of such an initiative?
Amb Katsande: We can point out specific concrete outcomes that we have started to see in the area of mobilisation of funding. We have received ministerial visits. The Minister of Finance and Economic Development visited. There were meetings not only with the treasury department here and DIFD but also with members of the economic cluster that we set up.
We are starting to see a lot investor interest coming through especially from capital raising platforms …with funding to support private sector growth and development.
We have also seen Gemco (Generic European Maritime Concept of Operations) which has also come through with the support through again Government and private sector. As we speak, we have initiatives that are under consideration in setting up private equity firms that will support various projects.
We have also had ministerial visits we have had the visit from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade- starting with the working visit last year which laid down the framework for our re-engagement with the UK establishment as a pitch for economic functions for diplomacy focusing on promoting investment, trade and tourism.
LRM: It is good that you have mentioned issues to do with investment and it has been a major interest for individuals and companies wanting to set up business in Zimbabwe but I think people would be more interested in understanding the state of synergies and relations at bilateral level between UK and Zimbabwe? What is the state of relations between UK and Zimbabwe since you assumed office and since the advent of the New Dispensation?
Amb Katsande: I think it’s fair to say if one is talking of foreign direct investments in the Zimbabwean economy, the UK investors feature right at the top. We have a lot of companies that are listed on the London Stock Exchange. Some are dually listed while some are on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
We have seen a lot of investor interest coming through. Some who are looking at expanding operations but we are also in the process attracting others particularly in the mining sector.
We have seen a lot of interest in the gold sector; we have seen a lot of companies coming forward to support Zimbabwe by putting together funding for all production. I believe the vision that the mining sector has in terms of its production targets by 2023 will be reached.
I have seen the production of gold going up and I believe that with the continuing support that we have, we can move beyond 35 tonnes of gold in a few years’ time.
LRM: Your Excellency, there have been changes both in Zimbabwe and the UK. Some people would want to argue that the good will that came as a result of the New Dispensation has somewhat dissipated. Do you think this is a fair comment?
Amb Katsande: I would say we have seen over the past 12 months the strengthening of bilateral relations with the UK government. You would be aware that the first envoy who congratulated his Excellency the President at inauguration was the then Minister of State for Africa, Rory Steward and thereafter Minister of State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin came through at that time representing the then Prime Minister Theresa May.
Since then, there has been an exchange of ministerial visits and correspondents at the highest level between his Excellency and her Majesty the Queen and also with the Prime Minister. Of course the change that has taken place here we have had congratulatory messages being exchanged. I would say that really that we have witnessed strengthening of our relations and generally improvement of communication between our two governments.
If one is to look at the governance side; you will recall that his Excellency the President made specific commitments at his inauguration in relations to the harmonised elections 2018. He made a commitment that there would be free, fair credible elections, a peaceful election, and that he was going to open up space not only to political actors locally.
You recall that there were many presidential aspirants at that time and 100 political parties came up. Not only was the space opened locally but also to international observers and regional observers. The SADC, the AU the EU delegation, and the Commonwealth observer group. We also had observers from the United States and elsewhere. All these came on board and the reports that they made after of elections have been considered by the Government.
In fact, some of the recommendations are in the process of being implemented by the Government. There are pieces of legislations that are being looked at by the Parliament and to make sure that reforms enhance our situation.
I would say that yes some may hold their views but it is very clear that our relations are improving particularly in the area of investor interest, tourism arrivals. We have seen Lonely Planets which bestowed an accolade to Zimbabwe as the third must visit tourist destination for 2019.
That is followed by the ITB Berlin accolade on Zimbabwe for the most sustainable destination. So I would say if you put all these matters together and the investor interest that we are seeing right across the board that we have alluded to that points to an improvement.
LRM: And the change in leadership in the UK? Do you think this has affected the momentum built on with the previous Prime Minister?
Amb Katsande: You will recall that I made reference to the visit by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and that time the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, hosted him and a group of foreign ministers from the Commonwealth. That is following the commitment that his Excellency the President had made at the beginning our journey to re-join the Commonwealth. I believe that journey is on course. I believe that recent changes with the Prime Minister being Boris Johnson bodes well for the continuing efforts that we have to fulfil the intentions that we have.
LRM: Let us go back to the issue that you mentioned of sectors. UK has one of the largest populations of Zimbabweans. What efforts or initiatives have been put in place to ensure the country benefits both from expertise and remittances?
Amb Katsande: There are three dimensions that I would like to lay focus on. The first dimension is remittances. The figures are there. There are different estimates but certainly a minimum of a billion dollars but there are other estimates because of some figures that may not have been accounted for so it puts that figure to $2 billion. That is very important contribution to the economy.
The second aspect I want focus on . . . within those clusters we are seeing Zimbabweans who are in the diaspora making key contributions.
We have professionals in the medical field, specialists who run various institutions in the UK, and we are not talking of specialists at a national level these are global players who are in demand. They are coming forward to support various initiatives we are pursuing and are in the process of fund raising for various establishments.
We are pursuing the putting up of foetal medicine centre establishments in Zimbabwe working closely with King’s College of Foetal Health and I am delighted that the Minister of Health and Child Care approved the pursuance of this matter and followed it up sending the Deputy Minister, Dr John Mangwiro, who attended the foetal medicine conference which took place here in December last year. He also followed it up by setting up a unit at the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
We are delighted over these developments. This is just an example that I have given you. We have initiatives in the education sector. The diasporans are raising funding. Mr Henry Chitsiga has collected over 2000 scientific calculators to take to Zimbabwe. He is working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to take them to Nyanga in Manicaland. I also need to highlight the young professionals in the City.
These are financial wizards working in the banking and insurance sectors to attract funding, financing and investments in various sectors in Zimbabwe.
Last week, we had a delegation from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which was engaging underwriters and bankers from the City who are contributing to the construction and establishment of health facilities, construction which by end of year would have started.
LRM: There have been some assertions that Zimbabwe suffers from lack of international media outreach. As an embassy, are you happy with the way Zimbabwe is projected in the local media here and what can be done to enhance the image of the country through the media locally here?
Amb Katsande: Two things; the first one is that it is correct to say we have taken a bashing in the media with the projection having been very negative and for us to be able to retrieve the dignity of Zimbabwe in that context will take time.
We have to deploy resources to make sure that we not only employ media platforms that are now available but to work with local institutions to build the correct image. To trace and articulate the real Zimbabwe that is there.
I agree that it will take time and require resources. But in the meantime what we are able to do is to directly engage the platforms that I have talked about. We engage the media here, both print and electronic.
We share the progress we are making in Zimbabwe in terms of political and economic reforms.
We believe that that has started to make an impact with but of course the resources come to the fore. In the meantime, we are not going to wait for those resources. We are going to engage local institutions and make sure we re-brand and pass on the correct information.
LRM: Almost every day there are people picketing and demonstrating here at the embassy, have you taken your time to understand their issues? Have you addressed the issues? Have you taken your time to understand what their concerns are?
Amb Katsande: When I arrived last year I discovered there were demonstrations that take place outside here at Zimbabwe house. So I asked my colleagues and they said they have been demonstrating like this for years. So I went out to engage them I was anxious to understand what the issues were. So I extended an invitation to two groups that demonstrate at the embassy. I invited them to come into the embassy so that we could sit down and discuss the issues. So that we could find out if the concerns they had could not be communicated to the relevant authorities in Zimbabwe.
The invitation was not taken up. Most unfortunately what we have now seen is violence that has come up within some of the protestors. You will be aware of the incident that took place when the Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs and international trade visited, but even before we had a group that was demonstrating outside.
Our consular department is open to the public and so we allow people to come in because we want to extend consular services not only to our people but also the tourists and others. But unfortunately they went in and within a very short time they were creating a very chaotic situation, they took down the official portrait of his Excellency. This is unheard of and it is not what we expect. We expect that there may be rights people ascribe to in terms of demonstrations but these should be peaceful demonstrations. If they would like to make a contribution to the development of Zimbabwe, the mission is available, I am available.
LRM: Why in your view have they not taken up your invitation, to have a dialogue?
Amb Katsande: I think what is coming through is that some of them are clearly aligned to a position that is taken by the main opposition body in Zimbabwe. You are aware that the political body has not participated in the national dialogue that his Excellency the President has created. I believe that perhaps if there is linkage between these groups and the political body. They would follow what the body does.
Perhaps that is what they are pursuing. As I have said we have extended our arms to all in diaspora irrespective of political affiliation.
LRM: Lets us talk about fellow African diplomats. I know our thrust has been to assess and evaluate our relations between Zimbabwe and Britain and how these relations have improved. What is the general attitude of fellow African Diplomats towards Zimbabwe? Do they think the Government is sincere in pursing the reform agenda which the Excellency mentioned in his inauguration? What has been their disposition?
Amb Katsande: It a very positive disposition, a very excellent relationship within ourselves. Not only in the SADC and AU but in the broader grouping of Ambassadors. His Excellency the President has assisted us tremendously because he has made it a point to brief his colleagues in the SADC grouping. We are aware that he has travelled in the region, briefing his counterparts on the policy thrust, briefing them developments surrounding elections, surrounding any new developments and that has been of tremendous help to us out here in the sense that my counterparts take a cue from their head offices so we a very close relationship. We actually have monthly meetings from the SADC groupings and also for the AU heads of mission. We are very happy with the level corporation. We keep briefing each other and assist each other and support each other. Particularly when we had Cyclone idai which adversely not only in Mozambique but Zimbabwe and Malawi as well.
LRM: Let’s talk about the Commonwealth. You have spoken about African diplomats accredited here. One of the issues that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international trade has been pursuing has been the re admittance into the commonwealth. Maybe you could give a brief account of where we are. You are Zimbabwe’s top representative here. Where are we in terms of seeking to rejoin the Commonwealth?
Amb Katsande: The starting point was the commitment made by His Excellency, the President in terms of rejoining the Commonwealth. Thereafter, the working visits by the hon minister of foreign affairs and international trade, undertook to the UK within that context the engaging both the UK government and foreign ministers from the commonwealth.
I am aware that this engagement has continued in Harare between the Minister and the ambassadors who represent the Commonwealth countries. After the working visits we then had the correspondences initially between Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat specifically the Secretary General Patricia Scotland wherein the commitment was formally put forward. On the basis of the formal commitment there were seven requirements that were put forward in terms of the formal process that are involved so that members of the Commonwealth familiarize themselves with the constitution of Zimbabwe, various legislation of Zimbabwe, various other documentation. All this was conveyed to commonwealth secretariat.
Thereafter, the invitation for the Commonwealth to participate in the general elections came through. The Commonwealth responded positively by sending a team which was led by former President of Ghana. The observer group made their report and some recommendations were made. We had a first assessment team that visited Zimbabwe and last month we had a second assess team that was in Zimbabwe who are now complying their report. A report which will contribute to the report made by the secretariat of the Commonwealth.
LRM: Your Excellency, broadly and in summary, what are the major milestones achieved by the embassy in the areas you have mentioned of re-engagement and projecting the Zimbabwean brand?
Amb Katsande: I believe there are many milestones we can make reference to. But very briefly, I would say we seen strengthening of our bilateral relations with the UK government. We have seen an increase of ministerial and official visits. We have seen an increase in investor interest by companies who wish to trade with Zimbabwe. We have seen a lot traders and that has led us to encourage the private sector team to set up a trade and investment promotion office at their own expense. We are working with them closely with them to promote high impact into Zimbabwe. We can point to the support that continues to come from the British companies in terms of DIDF support, social protection, education, health and various other sectors that promote private sector growth. We are also seeing an increase in tourist arrivals from the UK. We are seeing an increase from tour operators arriving from Zimbabwe. Travel magazines and various players in tourism and leisure sector visiting Zimbabwe and highlighting the high quality of our wild life of flora and fauna.
We also want to highlight the interest that we have seen from the literary industry, writers and film industry. We went to work with film industry not only here but elsewhere to start to build to obtain proceeds for our people from the industry which right now I would say it virtually a sleeping giant in the own right. So let me say we have also opened the doors of the mission to all and sundry, Zimbabweans in diaspora irrespective of their political affiliation. We are providing consular services but we are pursuing that now to establish honorary consules throughout the UK.
LRM: What are honorary consuls’ services?
Amb Katsande: These are persons who really represent the national interests in promoting trade, investment, tourism cultural exchange and educational programmes to mutual benefits, for the benefit of the UK and Zimbabwe.
They are normally not funded by the Government, they are people who use their own means usually business people to contribute to the national cause in Zimbabwe in terms of development and exchange programmes.
We started in Scotland. We are going to move to Wales. We are going to move to other areas such Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and to even see that we have honorary consuls who can extend consular services for our people so that they do not have to travel all the way to London although we are always available.
LRM: Your Excellency, I would like to thank you taking time to have a conversation with The Sunday Mail and we wish you all the best in your endeavour to ensure that Zimbabwe is back into community of nations.
Amb Katsande: Thank you Lovemore. Thank you for the best wishes. We look forward to doing greater things. We are delighted to be making a small contribution to the revitalization not only to our economy but to the revitalization of socio-economic fabric of our nation. Thank you.