Last updated in May 2012

Political relations

As a traditionally important friend and partner of Zimbabwe, Germany seeks to support the Zimbabwean people even in the current difficult period. In the recent past, the German Federal Government has provided substantial humanitarian aid.

Between March 2001 and February 2002, the European Union tried to hold consultations on various issues (human rights violations, politically motivated violence, disregard for the rule of law, dealing with the land problem, and good governance) under the Cotonou Agreement. The Zimbabwean government’s refusal to address the concerns of the European Union caused the political dialogue to be broken off in 2002 and led to the suspension of official development cooperation. It also resulted in the imposition of 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. An arms embargo is also in place but economic sanctions have never been imposed on the country as a whole. The EU sanctions have been repeatedly extended since 2004, and in some cases actually tightened (for example in July 2008, following the manipulated elections and the wave of terror, and most recently in January 2009). Relations between the EU member states and Zimbabwe have deteriorated considerably as a result. Both the clear words that Federal Chancellor Merkel addressed to President Mugabe during the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December 2007 and the decision by a German security printing company to cease delivery of paper used to produce Zimbabwean bank notes in summer 2008 have, in the view of the regime, led to a further cooling off in bilateral relations.

Conversely, the existing Zimbabwean opposition sees Germany as a preferred partner in its plans for the political and economic reconstruction of the country. The formation of an interim government under Prime Minister Tsvangirai in February 2009 has led to a swift intensification of contacts. Since then, even some of the ministers who are ZANU-PF members have shown interest in resuming talks.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai visited Berlin on 15 June 2009 on a tour of Western capitals. He was welcomed by Federal Chancellor Merkel with military honours, later attending a working lunch and holding talks with Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Wieczorek-Zeul. The German Federal Government is providing transitional aid to Zimbabwe in close consultation with Western donor countries to relieve distress in the country and strengthen democratic, reform-minded forces there, thus facilitating the interim government’s efforts to draft a new constitution and subsequently hold free and fair elections.

Economic relations

Zimbabwe is in the midst of a serious economic and social crisis, largely due to misguided government policy. Between 1998 and 2008, the economy shrank by more than 50 per cent. In an economic climate that was characterized until the spring of 2009 by hyperinflation, a shortage of foreign exchange and import restrictions, production and investment declined and more and more businesses were forced to close down. Foreign investors are still deterred by the lack of legal certainty and the failure to protect property rights. 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 2008, Zimbabwe exported to Germany goods worth EUR 64 million and imported from Germany goods worth EUR 42 million. For years now, Zimbabwe has recorded a surplus in bilateral trade. German investors are engaged in the following sectors: mining, agriculture (tobacco production, floriculture), tourism, wood processing 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, which often fail to protect foreign farms, too, from illegal land occupations. Since the interim government was formed in February 2009, there has been renewed German interest in investment, but xenophobic legislation to ‘indigenize’ the country’s economy is putting investors off.

The German-Zimbabwean Air Transport Agreement entered into force in November 1999. However, Lufthansa ceased operating flights to Harare in November 2000, 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 German Federal Government sought, at the height of the general crisis, to alleviate the distress caused by inappropriate policy. Only since February 2009 have new limited aid commitments been possible to support pro-reform circles – for example in the water sector, which is the responsibility of local authorities.

Development cooperation with Zimbabwe commenced immediately after the country gained independence in 1980. Since then, Zimbabwe has received a total of some EUR 1 billion in bilateral and multilateral development aid. Financial Cooperation (FC), consisting primarily of loans granted on World Bank terms, accounted for approximately EUR 410 million of this sum. Advisory services worth a total of some EUR 128 million were provided as part of Technical Cooperation (TC, mainly by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ). The focus was on development of the communal lands inhabited by the poorer rural population, encompassing irrigation, the construction of small dams, the maintenance and extension of rural roadways and sanitation. Other important areas of cooperation were education and the private sector, rural development and support for Zimbabwean non-governmental organizations. The GIZ is also active in Zimbabwe as part of the Civil Peace Service.

Despite the above-mentioned restrictions, Germany remains one of Zimbabwe’s most important donor countries. It plays a major role in various special funds, contributing for example nearly EUR 17 million to the Orphans and other Vulnerable Children (OVC) fund and EUR 350,000 to the first (analytical) phase of the World Bank’s Multi Donor Trust Fund. During Tsvangirai’s visit to Berlin, EUR 20 million was pledged for the fund’s second (investment) phase. This so-called ZimFund, now managed by the African Development Bank, began work in March 2011. Germany is the largest donor with commitments totalling EUR 30 million. Support is initially targeting the water and energy sectors. Germany is also providing transitional aid which benefits the country’s reform-minded forces and the general population, e.g. in the education, health care and water supply sectors.

Cultural relations

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) still awards 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 and the affiliated Zimbabwe-German Society are actively engaged in well-regarded cultural work as well as offering language courses.

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