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Bilateral relations

EU softens Zimbabwe sanctions with aid

The European Union has resumed development assistance to Zimbabwe. It is the first time the EU is providing financial aid to Zimbabwe since sanctions were imposed in 2002 as a result of human rights abuses.

The 234 million euros ($270 million) aid package which was signed on Monday (16.02.2014) will be used to fund what the EU said were three key sectors; health, agriculture and governance.

Phillip van Damme, the EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, present during the signing ceremony compared their bilateral relationship to that of a husband and wife. "In the past, we may not always have been on agreement on the way forward to achieve our common objectives," van Damme said.

"In a true partnership among equals, we may sometimes diverge in opinion and vision. But those divergences can be overcome through real, frank and open dialogue without taboos. It's like in a marriage."

The European Union stopped providing aid to Zimbabwe in 2002 following reports of human rights abuses committed by President Robert Mugabe's government.

A child searches through a pile of garbage in Harare.

EU's new aid is meant to improve Zimbabwe's health sector

Vincent Musewe, a Zimbabwean political and economic analyst, told DW that the EU's resumption of aid to Zimbabwe was most likely a result of pressure from President Mugabe's ZANU-PF regime. "We continue to question the thinking behind the EU, if you look at the socio-economic conditions on the ground, ZANU-PF is not doing anything," Musewe said.

According to Musewe, the ruling ZANU-PF is more concerned about internal battles that are going on within the party. "We are all very distraught that these people [ZANU-PF government] did not have an economic plan for Zimbabwe." Musewe said he welcomes the aid package but doubts if it will change the "economic front".

Did the EU get it wrong?

The development funds would be channeled through UN agencies such as UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Previously, assistance to Zimbabwe had been confined to ease the country's humanitarian crisis which has been going on for over a decade.

In November 2014, the EU said conditions in Zimbabwe had improved. This paved the way for the lifting of the so-called "restrictive measures".

Zimbabwean analyst Musewe believes the EU got it wrong. "For two years now, we have a new constitution but ZANU-PF has done nothing to ensure that the laws are aligned to the constitution," Musewe added.

Miners in Marange diamonds fields, Zimbabwe

Despite allegations of human rights abuses, the EU lifted a ban on diamonds from Marange fields in 2013

He said there was also an increase in corruption as the economic conditions worsen. "The Europeans are not at the same page as we are," said Musewe.

President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace Mugabe remain on the travel ban to all EU member states in what the bloc refers to as "targeted sanctions".

Call to end Mugabe's sanctions

During Monday's signing ceremony, Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa pleaded with Brussels to change its stance on the nearly 91-year old leader. "For as long as sanctions remain, dialogue will unnecessarily remain contentious and might retard progress towards normalization of relations," Chinamasa said.

"The European Union is saying to us: 'Ministers and others you can visit us but do not bring your father'. That is not how relations should be conducted," Chinamasa said.

"I am calling for the lifting of sanctions against the president and our first lady so that we can seriously engage in dialogue that will lead to full normalization of relations." It remains to be seen if Chinamasa's appeal will receive a positive response when EU officials meet over the issue later this month.

For Musewe, Zimbabwe's government is putting pressure on the EU only for the removal of targeted sanctions on Mugabe.

A hawker in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Many Zimbabweans still struggle to make ends meet

But he says the attitude of the Zimbabwean strongman towards the west is unlikely to change. "Fundamentally, I think his personal stance is not likely to change in the near future."

Last year, Mugabe snubbed a special invitation extended to him to attend an EU-Africa summit in Brussels. This was after his wife was denied a visa to accompany him. EU defended the move saying Grace Mugabe had no business in Belgium since she was not a head of state.

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