THE European Union (EU) says it is awaiting a positive political signal from Zimbabwe after the southern African nation held general elections whose outcome was seen by the bloc as falling short of meeting regional and international standards, a development that has thrown Zimbabwe’s arrears and debt resolution process into limbo, The NewsHawks has established.
Before the 23 August general elections, the holding of credible polls was highlighted as a key precondition for normalising relations with the international community.
Harare had promised to undertake a raft of political governance and economic reforms in order to normalise relations with the international community.
The southern African nation’s total debt stock has soared to US$18 billion as of December 2022 from US$17.2 billion reported in the prior comparative period as the distressed economy struggles to extricate itself from the debt albatross.
With no budgetary support from traditional lenders such as international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to non-payment of arrears, Zimbabwe has been mainly relying on grants, bilateral loans and domestic resources to finance its key capital projects.
After several failed attempts to settle arrears with international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which enjoy preferred creditor status, Zimbabwe, which has been struggling to access long-term concessional funding, adopted a new strategy which is led by AfDB.
The debt-ridden nation established a structured dialogue platform with all creditors and development partners in order to institutionalise negotiations on economic and governance reforms to underpin the arrears clearance and debt resolution process.
Jobst von Kirchmann, head of the EU Delegation in Zimbabwe, told The NewsHawks that it has now gone back to the drawing board after the country’s electoral processes were criticised by international observers.
“The arrears clearance and debt resolution process which essentially aims at some point getting rid of the debts Zimbabwe has to international creditors ($18 billion) is a very good process,” von Kirchman says.
“It is a process which potentially could give access to sovereign lending when successful at the end to Zimbabwe and when I was in Victoria Falls for the Zimbabwe Economic Development Conference, the government and many in the private sector were underlining the need for financing in order to make Zimbabwe’s own Vision 2030 a reality. There is an infrastructure need of I think US$40 billion so it’s a good process.”
In May this year, von Kirchmann said the success of Harare’s re-engagement with the economic and political bloc and the country’s creditors is premised on the holding of credible elections this year.
In a preliminary statement which came after the 23 August elections, the EU observer mission said the electoral process curtailed fundamental rights amid the lack of a level playing field compounded by intimidation. This affected the credibility of the polls which were largely disorderly.
As consistently reported by The NewsHawks, Zimbabwe faces a herculean task in improving its ranking on the Mo Ibrahim Index as the country commits to far-reaching political governance reforms in order to cosy up to creditors.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation defines governance as the provision of political, social, economic and environmental goods that citizens have the right to expect from their state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.
According to the Arrears Clearance and Debt Resolution Process Governance Reforms Matrix, Zimbabwe agreed upon seven sub-indicators under the Mo Ibrahim Index and has undertaken to improve on its rankings.
The sub-indicators are: Democratic elections; absence of violence against civilians; impartiality of the judicial system and judicial processes; civil society space; institutional checks and balances; and transparency in public procurement procedures. Zimbabwe currently scores 49.54 (in 2022) out of 100.0 in overall governance, ranking 29th out of 54 in Africa.
The country scores lower than the African average (48.9) and lower than the regional average for southern Africa (54.2).
“Basically the government of Zimbabwe has based what they put forward in this discussion on the National Development Strategy 1 and in the matrices presented to stakeholders by the government, it is the government underlining the need for free, fair and peaceful elections,” he said.
“And also the need for creating more civic space and a good recognition of human rights as well. So the government has put international indicators as a possible measurement on what they intend to do over the next couple of years. I must say, we are now waiting for a positive signal, a political signal because the elections — if you look at it according to our observation mission fell short of many international and regional standards but also the amended Criminal Act-Patriotic provision is the Criminal Act, they are pointing in a different direction to what was set in the matrix. So I think we are waiting now to see what is the positive political signal, the government will give in order to drive this process forward and I think that will probably take some time.”
Zimbabwe’s ongoing dialogue with multilateral and bilateral creditors, which is currently being facilitated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, provided a window of opportunity to help normalise relations between Harare and its creditors.
“I think the next step will be the presentation of the European Union Election Observation Mission final report by the chief observer Fabio Massimo Castaldo in November this year where he will come back to Harare as has been agreed in the Administrative Agreement which we had jointly signed and he will present that report and possible recommendations, I think we will take it from there. We will then sit together and map out the way forward for the future,” von Kirchman said.