Last updated in October 2016
The Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe immediately after the country gained independence in 1980. Since then, Zimbabwe has been rule by Robert Mugabe. During the first 15 years of Mugabe’s rule, Germany became a highly regarded economic partner of Zimbabwe and a supporter of the country’s reconstruction. This changed with the illegal farm occupations in the late 1990s, the human rights violations, the politically motivated violence during the 2002 presidential election and the increasing disregard for law and order. In 2002, the European Union imposed targeted restrictive measures against those bearing the main responsibility in government and the ruling party (the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), such as the refusal to grant visas and the freezing of foreign accounts as well as an arms embargo. Economic sanctions were not, however, imposed on the country as a whole. These EU sanctions have been repeatedly extended since 2004. In February 2014, all the measures were suspended, except for the arms embargo, the travel ban against President Mugabe and his wife Grace and the sanctions on the company Zimbabwe Defence Industries. However, both ZANU-PF and President Mugabe himself continue to blame the sanctions for the country’s economic decline over the past 20 years.
Conversely, the Zimbabwean opposition sees Germany as a preferred partner in its plans for the political and economic reconstruction of the country. The formation of a coalition government under Prime Minister Tsvangirai in February 2009 led to an intensification of contacts. Since the 31 July 2013 elections and the formation of a ZANU-PF government with a two-thirds majority in parliament, the government has also shown interest in resuming talks and improving bilateral relations.
With the visits to Zimbabwe by the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid in November 2014 and the Federal Foreign Office Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel in March 2015, Germany has underscored its fundamental willingness to engage in political dialogue.
Germany supports a free, pluralistic democracy in Zimbabwe based on the constitution approved by an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans in 2013. Since the beginning of the 2015 drought, the Federal Government has supported numerous measures by multilateral institutions, NGOs and civil society to combat famine and promote projects to grow food. This benefits Zimbabwe’s poor rural population in particular.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, largely due to misguided government policy. Following a massive slump between 1998 and 2008, the country’s economic situation briefly stabilized, thanks largely to the revival of the country’s mining sector (gold, platinum and diamonds). Since 2013, however, the country has again been in a dangerous downward spiral. For this year, Zimbabwe’s government expects only modest growth of 1.2 per cent. Foreign investors are deterred by the lack of legal certainty, the failure to protect property rights and continuing pursuance of the policy of “indigenising” Zimbabwe’s economy and the non-transparent implementation of this policy.
Despite this difficult climate, Germany remains a major trading partner of Zimbabwe’s, although the economic and social crisis has meant that bilateral trade lags way behind its potential and investment has practically come to a standstill.
In 2015, Zimbabwe exported to Germany goods worth EUR 40.78 million and imported from Germany goods worth EUR 45.1 million. German investors are engaged in the following sectors: mining, logistics, agriculture, tourism and textiles.
A bilateral investment protection agreement entered force on 14 April 2000. Its implementation remains difficult, especially in the agricultural sector, in the face of political intervention by Zimbabwean government agencies.
The German-Zimbabwean Air Transport Agreement has been in force since 1999. However, a year later Lufthansa ceased operating flights to Harare, instead providing flight connections to Germany via Johannesburg through cooperation and code sharing with South African Airways.
A double taxation accord is in place between Germany and Zimbabwe.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
Owing to political developments in Zimbabwe (human rights violations, undermining of the rule of law, lack of a pro-development economic policy and farm occupations and expropriations), no further commitments have been made in development cooperation since 2000. Official German bilateral development cooperation with Zimbabwe was suspended at the end of June 2002. Since then, the only projects being supported are those implemented by civil society players with the help of a development fund. By providing humanitarian aid and emergency and transitional relief (food, medicine, etc.) to Zimbabwe’s population, the Federal Government sought, at the height of the general crisis, to alleviate the distress caused by misguided policies. While Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity was in power in 2009, German development cooperation supported humanitarian measures as part of transitional aid coordinated with the international donor community, as well as measures designed to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Following the controversial July 2013 elections, funding was reduced once again. At present, the only measures being supported are those designed to directly improve people’s living conditions and to promote democracy and the rule of law at local level. Despite the above-mentioned restrictionss, Germany remains one of Zimbabwe’s principal donors. The United Kingdom and Germany are, via the KfW Development Bank, the biggest contributors to the Zimbabwe Multi-Donor Trust Fund (ZimFund), which is managed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and provides urgently needed reconstruction assistance in the water and energy supply sectors. Germany also provides assistance in terms of food security and water supply. In 2015, Germany’s official development assistance (ODA) to Zimbabwe amounted to EUR 26.82 million.
A cultural agreement concluded between Germany and Zimbabwe in 1996 came into force in 1998. For decades, German cultural activities have focused on the education sector. Since 1980, more than 200 Zimbabweans have been awarded scholarships enabling them to study at German higher education institutions; some 500 Zimbabwean refugees had previously received such scholarships. Every year, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) continues to award a number of scholarships enabling Zimbabweans to pursue post-graduate studies in Germany, as well as so-called ‘sur place’ scholarships at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. There is a German Section at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Modern Languages, where more than 100 students are learning German. Their number has more than doubled in recent years.
The former German Democratic Republic (GDR) also made a significant contribution to the academic training of young Zimbabweans in the ten years that relations existed between the two countries (1980-1990).
Since white settlement of the country under Cecil Rhodes in the years after 1890, numerous members of German Catholic orders have been working in Zimbabwe’s schools, making a lasting mark on the country’s education system and gaining great respect.
Despite the poor overall political situation, Germany has continued to participate every year in the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) and the Women’s Film Festival, a fact which is greatly appreciated in Zimbabwe.
The Goethe Centre in Harare, along with the Zimbabwe-German Society, is actively engaged in well-regarded cultural work. The numerous events it organises, in particular concerts, are very well received. It also offers language courses.