My hands are clean, says Delahousse

Source: My hands are clean, says Delahousse | The Herald July 16, 2016

THE INTERVIEW Tichaona Zindoga

France’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Laurent Delahousse (LD) has courted controversy by involving himself with local anti-Government activists. The Herald’s Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) on Wednesday had a tête-à-tête with the diplomat on this and other issues. Below is their conversation:

TZ: Mr Ambassador, there has lately been a lot of controversy around your activities. You have been linked to anti-Government activities and you have been seen hobnobbing with anti-Government protesters lately. Can you kindly explain these engagements in light of your diplomatic role?

LD: Thank you Tich for asking this question and giving me an occasion to put the facts straight on this because I absolutely do not understand what I am being indicted for, if I may say so. As everybody knows the French Embassy has been very supportive with Zimbabwe and has been very engaging.

We have strived to attract French investors to Zimbabwe, we have strived to project a picture of Zimbabwe that is more realistic than the bad image that unfortunately your country still has abroad in the West and in my country among others.

As diplomats here, I shy away from any form of involvement in domestic politics but as a diplomat I also engage with everybody. I engage a lot with Government as everybody knows and has seen. I was the one who had the initiative of inviting the Minister of Finance and Economic Development to Paris two weeks ago which was a major step forward in the re-engagement in the path towards normalisation of our political relationship.

I have developed a very good working relationship with many members of Government. Of course, the preparation for the climate conference in Paris was for us a good opportunity to work with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate. We brought support to the Climate Division in Oppah Muchinguri’s department during the whole COP21 process.

There are many other examples of this so I really don’t understand these accusations. I have been accused for instance of having developed a relationship with Pastor Mawarire. I can tell you I have never met the pastor, I have never talked to him, I have never corresponded with him and so the intelligence linking me to the pastor is severely faulty I would say.

I can only deny in the strongest terms any form of interference with these issues. I have met some of the people, not the pastor but others, but I have met them like I meet everybody in Zimbabwe. Members of Government, members of the ruling party, members of the opposition, the business community, artists and ordinary Zimbabweans.

So I once again absolutely do not understand these allegations against me and really deny them in the strongest terms. I think I have and my embassy here has a very strong track record on bringing a very engaging working relationship with everybody in Zimbabwe and we are certainly not in Zimbabwe to make things complicated for anybody.

At the same time obviously we keep a very strong interest in issues pertaining to respect for human rights, for implementation of democracy, preparation of elections, implementation of your beautiful Constitution. Like any other friend and partner of Zimbabwe we want Zimbabwe to be a success story in Africa.

We feel that this country has all the assets for that. This country has everything it takes to be a leader in Africa and that’s what we want to work for in Zimbabwe.

TZ: . . . And you have met the Dzamara brothers and last year on your national day you even toasted to Itai Dzamara who is said to have disappeared last year, which case police are investigating?

LD: Regarding the Itai Dzamara case I think it is more than a so-called disappearance, it is an abduction, there were witnesses. The man was abducted in broad daylight. We don’t know by whom. If you look at everything that I have said and that the European Union has said on this issue, we have never accused anybody of being at the source of this abduction.

I am reported as having blamed the Government of Zimbabwe for this abduction. I have never said anything to that effect. The only thing that I have said and that my colleagues in the European Union have said is that we expect the authorities in Zimbabwe to protect their citizens and to look for him, find him and bring his perpetrators to justice.

We never said anything hinting at any form of responsibility of the authorities because we simply don’t know and because it is not our place without any form of evidence to blame government or security forces or anybody else for this abduction. We don’t know.

What we have been asking the authorities is to enquire and hopefully find him, free him and bring the perpetrators to justice as is the responsibility of authorities in any country in the world, to protect their citizens against any form of abduction.

The reason I was so vocal on Bastille Day last year on the Itai Dzamara case is because I wanted to make a point, very clearly, that the strategy and policy of the authorities in Zimbabwe, being to re-engage with all their friends around the world, including the West, Europe and France in particular, their strategy being that there needed to be a context which would make that strategy successful.

Therefore, as Europe we have strong requirements in the field of respect for human rights, democracy. Requirements which are nothing else than what your Constitution provides for. I wanted to pass the message that if there were people around government or the security forces or anything else that did not believe in that line of policy then they should be brought to book and they should be mainstreamed with the strategy and the policy of the Government.

A repetition of abductions like the Itai Dzamara case, and there have been abductions in the past, would only be detrimental to the strategy of re-engagement of the authorities in Zimbabwe. So that is why as the European Union we took a very strong stance on that specific individual issue because we wanted to pass the message that the disappearance of this human rights defender, this opponent was for us very contrary to the general line of things.

We wanted to make it clear that no repetition of such an event was to be witnessed in the future so that we could proceed towards full normalisation of our relations.

TZ: But that seems to suggest the culpability of, or your seeming suggestion of the Government’s culpability in that?

LD: That is your analysis.

TZ: The issue of human rights has been used by the West to try to isolate Zimbabwe and you have also raised the same issue here. Do you not feel the West uses double standards because there are worse countries that you are even friends with?

LD: I absolutely agree with you that there are many countries where the situation in terms of human rights is far worse that it is in Zimbabwe and that is why I was saying that part of my mission here is to project to my fellow citizens in France, to my authorities, a more realistic picture of Zimbabwe than an outdated picture of the past.

It is also true that considering the assets of Zimbabwe, considering the level of education and skills of the people of Zimbabwe, considering the fact that in the past Zimbabwe was one of the most developed countries in Africa, there might be more requirements, more expectations on behalf of Zimbabwe.

This could be because once again you have an educated population, you have institutions, you are a much more advanced country than many others in the world or on this continent. I must say that the general situation in the field on human rights has improved in Zimbabwe, a lot.

I will be the first not to deny it and to say it very clearly. You have safeguarded mechanisms. We have seen decisions made by courts of justice recently in these issues which tend to show that there has been tremendous progress in the field of human rights and the field of implementation of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

There is still progress to be made. One issue is all the legislation that needs to be adapted to the Constitution of 2013. But yes, there has been a lot of progress and I am certainly one of the first to recognise it, to say it to my authorities and to my fellow countrymen.

TZ: We have seen relations between Zimbabwe and the West thaw progressively over the past few years. I understand you will be leaving Zimbabwe posting for elsewhere. How do you see relations between Zimbabwe and the West going?

LD: I think they are going on the right track. I think that the economic situation in Zimbabwe will improve provided that the process of clearing arrears that has been launched by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development and the Governor of the Reserve Bank but more generally by the Government of Zimbabwe is a success.

There are structural reforms that are needed in Zimbabwe around fiscus; around the weight of the wage bill in the fiscus; around making the business climate more favourable; around clarifying the indigenisation policy.

A lot of progress has been made on that stance and I welcome the announcement by His Excellency the President on a new course in the indigenisation policy. There is progress that remains to be made around the land reform for instance that the land is used to its best potential and that the success of the agriculture of Zimbabwe can be restored as it was in the past, the bread basket of Africa.

This is not difficult to do. I am very confident in the future of Zimbabwe and I am as confident today as I was three years ago when I arrived. Despite the economic hardships of the day, despite the liquidity crisis and the short term difficulties of the country.

I think when the arrears clearance strategy if fully implemented, when the arrears are cleared with the international financial institutions, when Zimbabwe finds an agreement with its bilateral creditors in the Club de Paris, then new financing from our part will be available to Zimbabwe and this will help Zimbabwe rebuild its economy and bring it back to the level it had in the past.

TZ: Lastly, the Brexit situation. Many have speculated how relations are going to be reconfigured around that issue. Supposing Britain finally exits the EU, how do you see relations between the EU and Zimbabwe going?

LD: Well I think relations between Zimbabwe and the EU will continue improving with Britain inside or with Britain outside. It is true that Britain as the former colonial power and one of the European countries with the most links to Zimbabwe has a very strong voice inside the EU.

I have no doubt that if Britain exits the EU then it will remain a partner for us and that we will listen to the British voice. But I don’t think that Britain, regarding the relations with Zimbabwe is a complicating or slowing factor.

On the contrary, I think that the British government is determined to improve relations with Zimbabwe and today I see Britain as a partner inside Europe that is moving forward to improve the relations with Zimbabwe.

There are a lot of suppositions around the difference that Brexit would make, I don’t think it would make such a difference for the relations between EU and Zimbabwe.