Saturday, August 28, 2010

(NEWZIMBABWE) Swedish Ambassador refutes sanctions claim

COMMENT - I have e-mailed Violet Gonda and others at SW Radio Africa on the false claim published by them, that Zambia's bumper maize harvest was the result of white Zimbabwean farmers, when it was produced by small scale African farmers. They did not respond to that e-mail, nor have their retracted their misinformation. Also, there has been no comment from SW Radio Africa on the existence of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, even after the introduction of the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010 by senator Jim Inhofe. Violet Gonda did an extensive interview in which she asked interviewees whether they 'felt' that there were economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. SW Radio Africa is located in the UK, and is funded by the UK and US governments. Prepare for more back-paddling and sidestepping and obfuscations from the ambassador. Who at this time can still talk about 'so-called sanctions'? The game is up, mr. Ambassador.

Swedish Ambassador refutes sanctions claim
28/08/2010 00:00:00

OUTGOING Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe Sten Rylander has refuted claims made in the state-run media that he called for the lifting of European sanctions against Zimbabwe. Rylander also denies allegations that Sweden helped “sponsor the split in the opposition vote in the 2008 elections” by providing financial backing to Dr Simba Makoni’s presidential bid. He speaks to SW Radio Africa’s Violet Gonda for the programme Hot Seat.

Gonda: Ambassador, you have concluded your term in Zimbabwe, what would you say you have achieved and do you have any regrets?

Sten Rylander: Well I’m leaving after some few years here and I leave on a note of optimism and positive achievement.

We’ve been through so many difficulties and problems but right now I feel that Zimbabwe is turning a corner and that we are on the right track and moving in a better and good direction.

Gonda: There are others who may feel a bit different from what you have said in terms of the achievements you have seen. Can you spell some of them out for us and also, do you have faith in the inclusive government and on what basis?

Rylander: Well of course there are differing views on this but we have the government of national unity up and running although there are some tensions and some lack of implementation still of the Global Political Agreement but the constitution making process is on-going, we have a efforts to heal the nation, healing and national reconciliation also going on.

There is much less violence now than what it used to be certainly in 2007 and 2008 which was a very bad and very dark period in Zimbabwe’s history, and we have contacts going on between Zimbabwe and the European Union and the United States about the restrictive measures.

They have not yet resulted in a positive outcome but that will come after some time.

Gonda: Critics ask how you can say there is progress when there is still complete arrogance and also disregard of the rule of law and little progress on social issues. How would you respond to that?

Rylander: Well I think that you see some very nasty negative examples still but democratic space is opening up and it’s more tolerant in the society. I certainly see a clear trend in that direction.

We have the media reforms coming, we have the media commission up and running, we have permission for the new dailies coming out and hopefully soon also community-based radio, so space is opening up and there is another climate in the country.

Gonda: From your observations, where does power reside in Zimbabwe right now?

Rylander: Well that is a difficult question to answer because we don’t really know but we have the government of national unity.

I said they’re supposed to run the country, but we also have the military sector exercising quite a lot of influence, I think.

And we need to proceed with further reforms in that area in order to reach back to a normal situation. Security sector reform in particular, I would think is very important.

Gonda: And you are widely reported as saying that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe should be lifted immediately as they are not serving any good and this was in The Herald newspaper.

Rylander: That is not the correct quote from me, I never said that.

I said that there is a process going on, there’s been a visit by Zimbabwe in Brussels, contacts are going on and I can foresee that after some while and with intensified dialogue on both sides that we could have positive results sooner rather than later.

I never called for an immediate lifting of sanctions. I think we need to have some more progress, certainly on the Zimbabwean side.

I have pointed out the fact that implementation of the GPA and the solving of outstanding issues is a key factor in this regard.

Gonda: So at what stage do you think the European Union and other western countries, who have imposed the sanctions, should start thinking about this?

Rylander: Well we are thinking about that all the time in various capitals and I think you have picked up that there’s a new government in London, for instance. There is some movement in Washington.

We are trying to find ways and means to think outside the box.

I think we need some more progress though until we can see definite results in this dialogue.

Gonda: What exactly do you mean when you say ‘we need to find ways to think outside the box’?

Rylander: Well I cannot go into that in this interview now.

I think we have been stuck on both sides and we’ve been pushed into corners and I think there is a need to realise that the situation cannot continue for long.

And on our side I think we need to recognise the fact also that the government of national unity have a solidified unit and common position on this now.

That was not the case last year for instance when MDC-Tsvangirai was fairly quiet on the whole issue of so-called sanctions.

That has now changed and so there is a common position, we have a common view also in SADC and the region and we need to take that into account I think.

Gonda: And do you believe that conditions in Zimbabwe now warrant some sort of removal of the sanctions?

Rylander: Well I see them coming together on a common position on this and that is a new factor that we need to recognise.

What is very important in the next few months is to see how the constitution making process goes and how the healing efforts proceed and so on.

I think that is very important.

Gonda: Right, and so far, how do you see things in terms of the constitution making process because some of the reports we’ve been getting show that people are still being abused in some of the rural areas in the country?

Rylander: That is true, there have been quite a few examples of negative developments.

But the overall assessment that I make at this point is that this process is going better than what we had expected and that it is under control and that these difficulties are being dealt with.

But I think there are some problems but the main trend I think is positive.

Gonda: How do you respond to people who say Robert Mugabe has stolen elections; he has used extreme violence against his own people and is still being allowed to get away with it?

Rylander: Well I say, as I see it there has been a lot of violence and the elections have not been credible and they’ve not been free and fair, certainly not the last election according to regional observers and so on.

But it’s been a very, very difficult situation to deal with and the way out in Zimbabwe was to find ways and means for the three parties to negotiate and form the government of national unity.

I think it was a good step in Zimbabwe but I cautioned also against this as a problem solving mechanism in Africa as a whole, because if you do that in every situation when you have stolen elections you undermine democracy and you cannot have such situations develop in Africa as a whole.

Gonda: So in what way was it a good step in forming the government of national unity with what you have said?

Rylander: Well, because the problems have been so entrenched and there has been deep divisions in the country for a long time, for many years … for them to come together to talk about the nation and the problems in the nation and how to solve these problems has been a good thing.

And that has been, we can see that on a daily basis and also in my interactions with the Prime Minister and Mr Mutambara and others, I can see that they are coming together, they are making it more easy to deal with the national problems.

Gonda: Some senior MDC officials have said that some Nordic countries, especially Sweden, played a role in the delay to a democratic transition by sponsoring the split in the opposition vote in the 2008 elections and that it’s now not a surprise to hear you calling for removal of sanctions right now. What is your response to this?

Rylander: Well I cannot understand, I did not hear this before that we have been sponsoring a division of the opposition.

We have been in favour of opening up democratic space, in favour of free and credible elections and that’s the only thing we’ve been going for.

We have a close and good relation with all parties along the whole political line.

Gonda: Some in the opposition or in the MDC say that you were a key figure in supporting private talks in South Africa before the formation of the GNU and that it was your alternative approach that helped produce a stalemate. Can you comment on this?

Rylander: I never, never heard that before and I take the strongest exception to that.

It is true that there have been platforms operating in South Africa through various organisations that we have been also been supporting.

But that has been a helpful avenue in the difficult road to opening up space and to find a more normal situation in Zimbabwe and the two MDC formations, Dumiso Dabengwa, Simba Makoni, all people who have been involved in this, have been participating in these talks and I think they have found them very valuable and useful.

Gonda: So did you go on a venture to sponsor the Simba Makoni presidential campaign and later on the MDC-Mutambara’s role in the unity government?

Rylander: We have never supported political parties like that.

There has never been any direct support to the Mavambo Movement, but I was one of many who looked upon this as an interesting situation when Simba Makoni came out late 2005 and I’ve been following his efforts with a keen interest but there’s been no support as such.

Gonda: You are quoted in the Herald newspaper also saying that the MDC-Tsvangirai’s disengagement from government last year was a major set back to negotiations between Zimbabwe and the European Union. Can you explain?

Rylander: Well it was a set back in the sense that we were just about to strengthen and intensify the dialogue between the European Union and Zimbabwe at the time.

Sweden held the EU presidency if you remember from July to December last year and we had a good team in place in Harare and we were trying very hard to find ways and means to reach results but then came the disengagement by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and it meant that there was no counterpart on the other side, the government was not working properly so we lost momentum and we lost some time.

For the rest of our EU presidency we couldn’t achieve much so we just had to wait until the government of national unity was back up and running again.

Gonda: But do you not believe their reasons for disengagement were legitimate?

Rylander: I can, I don’t question that.

It’s just a statement of fact that it was not possible to pursue the dialogue and to negotiate under these conditions but I’m quite sure that MDC-Tsvangirai had good reasons to do what they did.

So I’m not criticising them per se just because of that.

Gonda: Even though they returned to the negotiating table, what progress has been achieved since the time that they disengaged and later went back to work in the GNU? Has there been any progress in terms of the fundamental issues that they were calling for?

Rylander: Not enough progress but what was achieved by the disengagement was that that prompted a much more determined line on the part of SADC and the South African government.

If you remember there was a meeting in SADC I think in Mozambique towards the end of the year and it was a much more hands-on effort by SADC and South Africa to help the parties to make further progress, so in that sense you can say that.

Again there were efforts by the South African mediation to pinpoint the outstanding issues and try to deal with them and that has been a protracted and difficult process ever since but I think after the disengagement we have had more interaction between SADC and

South Africa on the one hand and the Zimbabwean parties on the other hand.

Gonda: And in your opinion, what strategy would work right now to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe because there is this stalemate.

Rylander: Well I wouldn’t call it a stalemate.

They are stuck on some issues but they are still dealing with the outstanding issues, they are discussing them, there are progress here and there, they are discussing electoral reforms for instance and there’s quite a large degree of agreement on those and the commissions are up and running and as I’ve said before, the constitution making process is there.

They are also dealing with a very difficult issue about the sale of diamonds and how to deal with that in the future and there we also see some progress although we are a long way from an orderly, transparent and accountable system for that.

Gonda: And on the issue of diamonds that you have just mentioned, do you think that the diamonds in Zimbabwe, which are now being sold, do you think they will benefit the finances of the nation?

Rylander: Well according to what has come out in the media and from my interactions with the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti and others, steps have been taken and some money is now coming into the national fiscus, and you can imagine that this is a very delicate and difficult process and will take some time until you come back to a system that is perfect so this is also progress.

What I take note of is that good negotiations and talks are going on and they reach results and there is gradual progress in this.

Gonda: It’s been said that ten percent of the diamonds sold will go to the fiscus. Is this what you are referring to, this ten percent?

Rylander: That is what I am referring to. It’s not all money from this sale coming into the national fiscus but a large step has been taken.

Gonda: Do you think this ten per cent is enough to run the country?

Rylander: No I don’t think so. You want to have a normal situation that you have in other countries. Look at Botswana; look at Namibia; look at South Africa.

It’s a long way to go until, and I don’t want to discuss in terms of percentages, but there must be transparency and accountability in this whole operation as it is in most other countries.

Gonda: Right, and you also, you also talked a bit about the constitution, do believe with what you’ve seen on the ground in Zimbabwe so far, believe there’s a chance of Zimbabwe actually having a decent constitution after this process?

Rylander: I believe so, yes. I’m not underestimating the difficulties but I’m rather positively surprised to know by the openness and the process that has taken place so far.

I think there is an open debate on many very sensitive issues in most places where these discussions are going on.

Gonda: But is there really an open debate when people are being forced to follow a particular angle, a particular line, especially in the rural areas - where they are being intimidated by war veterans and other partisan groups?

Rylander: Well we have to follow what is happening and these so-called war veterans, some of them are really not very helpful and they must be dealt with. They must not be allowed to disturb the process as has happened on a few occasions already.

Gonda: And do you think more could have been done to express Europe’s view over the rigged elections of 2008 and the consequent violence?

Rylander: Well I think we had done a lot, not only us but in the broad international community has expressed their very firm views about what happened in 2008 and certainly about the widespread violence that we saw, especially in May/June 2008 and that came not only from the so-called west but it came also from the African observer missions and from the South African government.

Gonda: And there have been calls for elections in Zimbabwe, in your view, is Zimbabwe really ready for elections or the only option right now is this inclusive government?

Rylander: I have been cautioning Zimbabwean friends not to rush into new elections too quickly because there is a very great chance that you can slide back into old negative patterns of a lot of violence and so on, but this is for Zimbabweans to decide but my hope is that you lay a good foundation first by having a new constitution, pushing through electoral reforms and then go for elections.

That will mean not before end of next year, possibly later, 2012 or so would be a safer solution I think and a better election that would be credible and democratic.

Gonda: And Ambassador Rylander you are ending your mission in Zimbabwe, lessons learned?

Rylander: Well there are many lessons learned.

I’ve been in this region, dealing with this region for 30 years and I lived in southern Africa for 20 years but one lesson that I picked up also in Namibia and other places is that liberation movements have difficulties sometimes to make the transition into a modern democracy and to a democratic party and they have been struggling with that, both the ANC, SWAPO, ZANU and so on and that has been very interesting to follow and I think there’s been particular difficulties here in Zimbabwe on that score.

Gonda: And a final word?

Rylander: I wish this nation good luck and I really hope that the positive trends that we see now in the direction of coming together as a nation and national healing that this will continue during the next year or two.

That will be very critical for Zimbabwe.

Gonda: Where to from here? Are you going to another country or what next for you?

Rylander: I’m going back home and I will retire very soon.

Early next year in February I’ll reach the upper limit, age limit, 67 so then I will retire and I will have more time to nurture my African roots and reflect on my vast experiences from this region.Feedback can be sent to violet ***

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