Review & Mail Head of Content
A diplomatic fallout is afoot between Zimbabwe and Western countries over the alleged abduction, torture and humiliation of three female activists from the opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa.
The three, Joanna Mamombe – a legislator in Harare West; Netsai Marova and Netsai Chimbiri who are officers in the party’s youth wing, disappeared after staging a demonstration in Warren Park suburb last week.
They were found “dumped” some 60 kilometres outside Harare after three days with their clothes torn and soiled and they were later to give testimonies that they were tortured and sexually abused. Chamisa told the media that the women had also their breasts suckled.
Now, on Wednesday Western government delegations issued a scathing statement on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe – with the alleged abduction of the three at the centre.
The joint statement issued by Heads of Mission of the Delegation of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and Heads of Mission of Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States of America issued a statement saying the did expect the Government of Zimbabwe to undertake a “swift, thorough and credible investigation” into the matter.
The Western diplomats urged Zimbabwe to uphold human rights in terms of its own Constitution and obligations under international law.
“The Heads of Mission further urge all protagonists to resolve political conflicts through constructive dialogue and remain clear that international reengagement is contingent on genuine and sustained political and economic reform,” the statement concluded.
Some powerful voices in the West, including a former New Zealand Prime Minister, former Western ambassadors to Zimbabwe and the US Council on Foreign Relations have also issued statements condemning the Government of Zimbabwe.
The implications of the statement are clear. The Government of Zimbabwe is cornered. It will be forced to say something – and act – in response despite early denials and accusations that the incident was staged as a diversionary tactic.
It’s not a new scenario: this has played out previously over and over again.
The Government of Zimbabwe carries around the tag of a rogue regime that is in the habit of killing and brutalising opponents.
Many, including Government supporters, have sought to downplay this as a huge conspiracy, sometimes pointing out that countries such as the US have more notorious friends such as Saudi Arabia, with worse records.
However, this has not helped. The West continues to wave the human rights issue, and it is a good political tool because home constituencies find matters of human rights compelling and have imposed and maintained sanctions on this entire score.
Zimbabwe’s lobbying and public relations efforts in Western capitals have failed miserably because of bad actions and public spectacles of violence that often play out in the full glare of the world.
The media plays an important role in this framing, with powerful Western media standing resolutely against Zimbabwe’s regime.
Reengagement and Curse of Sisyphus
There is remarkable lack of progress on the reengagement policy by the Government of Zimbabwe – like that curse of Sisyphus, who was condemned by Zeus being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been desperate to be in good books with the West as a signal of breaking from the past.
Many other things are seen to be predicated on this: the economy, chiefly, will require a lift not only through access to financial markets that the West controls but also through the removal of sanctions which have discouraged investment, increased risk perception and deterred tourism.
Both sides know this.
Like a true curse, Mnangagwa has been unable to keep a clean image of Zimbabwe, and it can be argued that some events appear out of his control.
To compound this, Mnangagwa has been unable to act on some factors that he should be responsible for such as control of security forces and checking on corruption.
The West just holds these failures to him, and regularly tighten the screws.
Or up the ante – just like now.
Message to Africa
Mnangagwa, just like Mugabe before him, has received a lot of support from fellow African leaders in light of Zimbabwe’s standoff with the West.
African leaders have constantly renewed this support at bilateral, regional and Continental levels, the expression of which is the call for the West to unconditionally lift sanctions against the southern African nation.
The Western missions’ statement is in part a message to African countries.
It is exceedingly disarming. Or let’s just say, ordinary African citizens are outraged after watching such news.
Leaders likely practice more diplomatic nuance but no doubt they will feel embarrassed. Think of the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s President and African Union Chair, who carries a lot of political and moral capital.
He has a lot of burden on his shoulders, often being forced to stand between Zimbabwe and the West.
This episode likely makes him uncomfortable for days. – R&M