The Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe immediately after the country gained independence in 1980. In the following 15 years, Germany became a valued economic partner of Zimbabwe as well as a supporter of its development efforts. This changed following the illegal farm occupations from the late 1990s onwards, the increasing human rights violations, the politically motivated violence during the 2002 presidential elections and the growing disregard for law and order. In 2002, the European Union imposed targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, against leading figures in the Zimbabwean Government and the ruling party, ZANU-PF. It also imposed an arms embargo. Economic sanctions were not, however, imposed on the country as a whole. Starting in 2012, the restrictive measures were progressively lifted almost entirely. The only measures that remain in place are the arms embargo and measures against former President Mugabe, his wife Grace Mugabe and the company Zimbabwe Defence Industries. In an attempt to draw attention away from its anti-business policies and rampant corruption, the Government has mainly blamed sanctions imposed by Western countries and the European Union for the country’s economic decline over the past 20 years.
Zimbabwe’s Government has shown interest in improving bilateral relations since the July 2013 elections that saw ZANU-PF once again become the sole ruling party, and especially after the handover of power in November 2017. The visit by the Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa in October 2016 demonstrated Germany’s willingness to engage in political dialogue. This willingness was reiterated once more to President Mnangagwa by Gerd Müller, the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, during his visit to Zimbabwe from 28 to 29 August 2018. However, Federal Minister Müller also made it clear that German assistance can only be granted on condition that the Zimbabwean Government seriously tackles the reforms it has announced.
The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation all have offices in Harare.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, the roots of which lie primarily in misguided Government policies. Following a catastrophic economic decline between 1998 and 2008, Zimbabwe’s economy stabilised to a certain extent, mainly due to the revival of the country’s mining sector (gold, platinum and diamond mining). Since 2013, however, the country’s economy has again fallen into a dangerous downward spiral, which has been further compounded by the effects of the droughts of 2015 and 2016. Zimbabwe’s economic growth in the past few years was just barely positive. Foreign investors were deterred by the lack of legal certainty and the weak protection of property rights, as well as the policy of “indigenising” Zimbabwe’s economy and the lack of transparency in implementing this policy. Despite this difficult climate, Germany remains a major trading partner of Zimbabwe, although the economic and social crisis has meant that bilateral trade lags far behind its potential and investment has practically come to a standstill.
Since taking up office on 24 November 2017, President Mnangagwa has announced his intention to initiate economic reforms and ensure budgetary discipline and has pledged to end rife corruption. These announcements must now be put into practice.
With bilateral trade amounting to 88.1 million euros in 2017, Zimbabwe is one of German business’s smaller trading partners on the African continent. German exports to Zimbabwe totalled 28.9 million euros in 2017. There are German investors in the mining, logistics, agricultural, tourism and textile sectors.
A bilateral investment protection agreement entered into force on 14 April 2000. Its implementation remains difficult – especially in the agricultural sector – due to the political intervention by Zimbabwean Government agencies.
A double taxation agreement has been in place between Germany and Zimbabwe since 22 April 1990.
Development cooperation and humanitarian assistance
Owing to political developments in Zimbabwe – such as human rights violations, the undermining of the rule of law, the lack of development-oriented economic policies and the occupation and expropriation of farms – no further development cooperation commitments have been made since 2000. Germany’s official 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 actors with help from a development fund. By providing humanitarian aid and emergency and transitional relief (food, medicine, etc.) to Zimbabwe’s population, the German Government sought, at the height of the general crisis in 2007/2008, to alleviate the hardship caused by imprudent policies. While Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity was in power (2009-2013), 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 elections of July 2013, 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 these restrictions, Germany remains one of Zimbabwe’s largest donors. For example, Germany is a major donor to the UNICEF-administered Education Development Fund (EDF), which is successfully ensuring access to primary education in Zimbabwe. Germany also provides assistance in the areas of food security and water supply. The cumulative total of the German Government’s development cooperation commitments for the period from 2009 to 2016 was approximately 148 million euros. Germany is Zimbabwe’s largest creditor in the Paris Club. Due to Zimbabwe’s outstanding debts, new loans cannot be granted to Zimbabwe by Germany at present.
A cultural agreement concluded between Germany and Zimbabwe in 1996 entered into force in 1998. For decades, German cultural activities have focused on the education sector. Since 2010, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has provided 678 scholarships enabling Zimbabweans to study at German universities, as well as sur place scholarships at the University of Zimbabwe. There is a German section at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Modern Languages, where more than 100 students are learning German.
Despite the poor political climate of recent years, Germany has continued to support the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) and the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF). This support is highly appreciated by the Zimbabwean partners.
The Goethe-Zentrum in Harare, together with the Zimbabwe-German Society, conducts a very active cultural programme, which is held in high regard in Zimbabwe. The numerous events it organises, in particular concerts, are very well received. It also offers German courses.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.