By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
19 June 2014
More anger has been expressed over this week’s comments by the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, who criticised civil society groups while insisting there is no leadership crisis in the country.
Speaking at a one-day workshop in Harare on Tuesday, Ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia said Robert Mugabe is the ‘glue’ holding Zimbabwe’s “contradicting forces” together.
The EU representative was reacting to comments made by socio-political scientist Ibbo Mandaza, who told the same discussion that Zimbabwe was in a leadership crisis and that the current leadership across the political divide had failed.
“The old leadership has failed and it is up to the new generation to take up the baton and rescue this country. We have a crisis of leadership and even the opposition should now be moulded around younger leaders,” Mandaza said.
Dell’Ariccia however countered Mandaza’s comments, saying: “If we had a leadership crisis there would be chaos. We still have a leader who manages to keep at bay (and) under control these forces that are very much contradictory.”
The Ambassador then went on to accuse 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.”
Activists and commentators have since reacted strongly to the comments, and on Thursday, former Diplomat Clifford Mashiri said Dell’Ariccia was “slapping Zimbabweans in the face.”
“To say that there is no leadership crisis is a big mistake and a betrayal. The failure of leadership by the ZANU PF regime has even been noted by the late Nelson Mandela, and it has been seen in Zimbabwe where the country has been going down and down, even more since the last elections,” Mashiri told SW Radio Africa.
He added: “The Ambassador is endorsing tyranny and dictatorship and saying it is what Zimbabwe needs, and that is a betrayal.”
Mashiri also moved to defend the work of Zimbabwe’s civil society, arguing that the point of such groups was to hold governments to account for their failures.
“It is not right for the Ambassador to criticise Zimbabwe’s civil society given what they have gone through. There was a time when civil society was hounded by the Mugabe regime, abducted, arrested, beaten up and tortured. Some disappeared and it’s disrespectful of civil society on the part of the Ambassador to say they must start accommodating Mugabe.”
The EU has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its new strategy of positive reengagement with ZANU PF, which it has been implemented steadily despite the flawed elections in Zimbabwe last year.
Although not openly endorsing a process that other nations, including Botswana, said was questionable, the EU has rewarded ZANU PF by easing its targeted sanctions. The removal of the measures, which remain imposed only on Mugabe and his wife Grace, was led by Belgium. And since then the Antwerp World Diamond Council chief has admitted he made a deal with ZANU PF to lobby for the removal of the measures, in exchange for Zim diamonds.
Mashiri said that Dell’Ariccia’s comments are all part of this “questionable reengagement.”
“This is reengagement with a regime that came to power under questionable circumstances. The reengagement is playing into the hands of ZANU PF, and instead of them (the EU) insisting on a democratisation process, it is reengagement at all costs,” Mashiri said.
Dell’Ariccia meanwhile, responding to emailed questions, said his comments were taken out of context.
“I take note with interest of your views on the situation in Zimbabwe. In this respect, I understand that my comment, taken totally outside of the context in which it was made, may have triggered your reaction. However I would like to invite you to consider the whole discussion in which my comment was made. This might shed a different light to it. You may like to ask the organisers of the event to give you the proceeds of the conference, to have a better understanding of the framework in which the exchange took place,” Dell’Ariccia said.