EU ambassador criticized for comments on Zimbabwe

EU representative Aldo Dell’Ariccia listens intently to Robert Mugabe

By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
18 June 2014

The EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, has provoked anger by his statements that there is no leadership crisis in the country and that civil society should be less confrontational when dealing with government.

Dell’Ariccia made these comments on Tuesday during a conference organized by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. The EU envoy said: ‘If we had a leadership crisis there would be chaos. We still have a leader who manages to keep at bay under control these forces that are very much contradictory.’ The ambassador also accused civil society of being ‘anchored in the past,’ saying: “The civil society has a role to play but I have the impression that you are a little bit anchored to the past where instead of seeing NGOs one perceives AGOs, Anti-Government Organisations.”

But activists and commentators reacted strongly to the EU envoy’s comments, saying he has got the wrong end of the stick.

Zimbabwe Social Democrats Secretary General Wilbert Mukori said that Dell’Ariccia’s comments were ‘tragic’ because there is a ‘serious’ leadership crisis in Zimbabwe. He added: ‘What more chaos do you want when a government cannot pay civil servants and when basic services like water and electricity are not being provided; when 90 percent of the people are not employed what do you call that?’

Mukori said Mugabe has been able to maintain a ‘semblance of order’ through a combination of cunning methods of control and repression. He said Mugabe uses the so-called black empowerment policies to reward his cronies in exchange for loyalty while he uses the state machinery to crush dissent. Mukori added that Dell’Ariccia should not wait for bloodshed for him to accept that there was chaos already.

Policy analyst Charles Mangongera, who was present at the Tuesday conference, said the EU diplomat was wrong in saying civil society was anti-government. He said the NGOs were right in identifying the government with the Zimbabwean Crisis and it was ‘well within their mandate to do so.’ He said: ‘Sometimes people want to be hard on the civil society but the NGOs are the pulse of the community and they know what the issues are. Sometimes as ambassadors and as analysts we tend to speak from the comfort of air conditioned hotels without understanding the situation.’

Mangongera added: ‘To castigate the civil society and say they shouldn’t do this or that I don’t think that is the responsibility of an ambassador; that’s for the Zimbabweans to decide for themselves.’ Mangongera said Mugabe’s poor leadership was also evident in his failure to keep his ZANU PF party united and in failing to groom a successor, to the extent that he is still at the helm at the age of 90 years of age.

Dell’Ariccia’s comments came at a time when the EU is in the process of ‘re-engaging’ with Harare after more than a decade of a frosty relationship due to ZANU PF’s state terrorism which has claimed thousands of lives and left many opposition figures both homeless and disfigured.

This week the MDC-T’s EU press officer, Makusha Magube, told a TV discussion that nothing has changed in Zimbabwe.

Activists feel that the EU is erring in re-engaging the ZANU PF government which is evidently in a celebratory mood, pushing the impression that it was the victor in what it says was a war between itself and Brussels.

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