Last updated in April 2014

Political relations

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, and in some cases actually tightened (for example in July 2008, following the manipulated elections and the wave of terror) and have been gradually eased again since spring 2012. 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 Mugabe himself continue to blame the sanctions for the country’s economic decline over the past 20 years. This criticism is also levelled against Germany. The clear words that Federal Chancellor Merkel addressed to President Mugabe during the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December 2007 led to a further cooling off in bilateral relations. Germany is also reproached for not recognising as fair the heavily manipulated parliamentary and presidential elections of 31 July 2013.

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 July 2013 elections and the formation of a ZANU government with a two-third majority in Parliament, even some of the ministers who are ZANU-PF members have shown interest in resuming talks and improving bilateral relations. So far, however, they have been unable to prevail in the deeply divided ZANU, and in particular against the now 90-year-old Robert Mugabe.

While high-level contacts have so far been confined to visits to Germany by important representatives of Zimbabwe’s reform forces, including that by Prime Minister Tsvangirai in 2009, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel travelled to Harare in early December 2012, the first visit there by a high-ranking member of government after a long interruption of contacts. Earlier, there had been political contacts at the level of parliamentary delegations, with the German side clearing expressing its desire to fully normalise and resume the excellent relations that had existed in the 1980s and ’90s, provided that Zimbabwe’s re-democratisation process is successfully completed. 

Economic relations

Zimbabwe is still in the midst of an economic and social crisis, largely due to misguided government policy. Between 1998 and 2008, the economy shrank by more than 50 per cent, though the situation has since stabilised, with economic growth of 4.4 per cent in 2012, thanks largely due to the revival of the country’s mining sector (gold, platinum and diamonds). In an economic climate that was characterised 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 2011, Zimbabwe exported to Germany goods worth EUR 43.3 million and imported from Germany goods worth EUR 49.3 million. German investors are engaged in the following sectors: mining, agriculture (tobacco production, floriculture), tourism, timber 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 ‘indigenise’ the country’s economy and the lack of transparency in its implementation are 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 Federal Government sought, at the height of the general crisis, to alleviate the distress caused by misguided policies.

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 organisations. The GIZ is also active in Zimbabwe in the framework of the Civil Peace Service.

While official development cooperation with Zimbabwe remains suspended, Germany has, since 2009, supported humanitarian measures as part of transitional aid coordinated with other donors, as well as measures designed to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Despite the above-mentioned restrictions, Germany remains one of Zimbabwe’s most important donor countries. In 2012, Germany’s official development assistance (ODA) payments amounted to EUR 44.1 million (funds disbursed). This puts German development cooperation in the upper midfield compared with other bilateral donors. The United Kingdom and Germany (via the KfW Development Bank) are the biggest contributors to the ZIMFUND (German Financial Cooperation amounting to EUR 20 million), which is managed by the African Development Bank and provides urgent reconstruction assistance in the water and energy supply sectors. The KfW’s contribution to the Education Transition Fund (ETF) – the donor investment programme for Zimbabwe’s education sector – makes Germany is the biggest donor in this area. Germany also provides transitional aid in the following sectors: education, health care (HIV/AIDS prevention), food security and water supply.

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

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