via France dispatches envoy | The Herald June 8, 2015
More European countries are abandoning their bloc’s illegal position on sanctions, with France being the latest to dispatch a re-engagement envoy to Zimbabwe to convince authorities that the country wants normal relations to resume.
The French envoy Mr Remy Rioux, who is also Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, led a delegation which met Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Joey Bimha on Friday.
The meeting was the first since Harare and Paris’ relations became frosty after Britain internationalised a bilateral dispute over the land reform programme.
Other members of the EU which expressed their unhappiness with the continued sanctions on Zimbabwe include Germany, the Netherlands and Norway which recently expressed willingness to engage the Government politically and economically.
This followed Zanu-PF’s resounding victory in the July 31 2013 harmonised elections.
Diplomats from the above EU countries said while presenting their credentials to President Mugabe that they had specific instructions from their capitals to start a new relationship with Harare.
The cracks in the EU over the illegal sanctions started to show after Belgium called for the immediate lifting of sanctions on diamond mining companies in the wake of the widely-hailed 2013 harmonised elections.
Brussels, the centre of the global diamond trade and home to Antwerp, the world’s leading diamond trading hub, was pushing for the removal of the illegal sanctions on the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation as it angles to tap into the country’s vast reserves that are tipped to command 25 percent of the international market.
ZMDC is in joint venture partnership with five diamond mining companies at Chiadzwa, whose operations have all been certified by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a development that flies in the face of claims by the EU bloc that the Chiadzwa gems fall in the ambit of conflict diamonds.
Speaking after a three-hour meeting with Ambassador Bimha on Friday, Mr Rioux described their deliberations as fruitful.
“My visit is the highest level from French officials in many years and we are very happy with this,” he said.
“France has entered such dialogue with few countries in Africa, like South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia and now Zimbabwe, which is a sign of the importance of the meeting we had today with colleagues from the Zimbabwean Government.”
Mr Rioux said France’s relations with Zimbabwe were long lasting as they dated from independence in 1980.
“Now, our relations with Zimbabwe are expanding again, so we explore new areas of co-operation,” he said.
“This is a process we have to move forward. This is a demanding process as well and it was made possible, of course, by the improvement of the situation of human rights in the country that we discussed extensively this (Friday) morning during the meeting.”
Mr Rioux said the resumption of co-operation trade between Zimbabwe and the European Union was an important step in the re-engagement process.
“We discussed new prospects,” he said. “There are more French companies interested in Zimbabwe. We are here today also to discuss global and regional issues.
“Zimbabwe is playing a crucial and important role in Africa, especially this year through its Presidency where it is chairperson of both Sadc and AU.”
Ambassador Bimha said their discussions centred on all facets of cooperation between Harare and Paris.
“These were very significant deliberations in that they are the first steps towards the process of re-engagement with France, a country we have had and we continue to have strong relations with,” he said.
“We did discuss all the facets of our bilateral relations and explored the various ways in which we can strengthen these relations. We pay special focus on the need to expand these relations on the economic sphere by increasing trade and investment.
“We also agreed that the current trade levels between Zimbabwe and France were very low compared to the potential that exists.”
The meeting noted that French businesspeople had already shown interest to explore business in areas like agriculture, mining, energy and infrastructure.
It was agreed that ways should be found for both governments to assist the private sectors in their respective countries to form partnerships. The discussion also centred on regional and continental issues in the context that Zimbabwe chairs both the regional bloc Sadc and the African Union.
“We did agree on the need to continue to exchange political visits in order to accelerate re-engagement in the normalisation of relations on our two countries,” said Ambassador Bimha.
France ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Laurent Delahousse also attended the meeting.