Sunday 29 October 2017


Daily News Editor Gift Phiri sits down for a wide-ranging interview with new Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi. Find below excerpts of the interview.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State. We are humbled that you agreed to this interview even after writing unflattering things about you. Why?
A: Firstly, I would like to correct you that in the Zimbabwe Government nomenclature we do not use “Secretary of State” but rather minister of Foreign Affairs.
Coming back to your question, without getting academic on the five core principles of journalism, I granted you this interview on the back of my strong belief that there is space for independent reporting in this country to the extent that it is humane, truthful and accurate, fair and impartial.
Your story of October 24, 2017, in all fairness, was a breach of these cardinal principles and bordered on malice. However, I must complement you for your sense of self-accountability in granting me this interview which I hope will inform the public correctly.

Q: Are you bitter about the bad press that has given you a bumpy landing in the Foreign ministry?
A: Bad press sells. However, there is always the flip side which is the positive in the degree of awareness and free publicity that it brings around issues and personalities.
The wiser seize the opportunity to turn that adversity into an opportunity, hence the saying “when given lemons make lemonade”. I have lived this principle in the Tourism ministry and the results are what you publicly acknowledge as a successful stint.

When people throw you stones, it’s because you are a good tree full of fruits. They see a lot of harvest in you. Don’t go to their level by throwing them back the stones, but throw them your fruits so the seeds of yourself may inspire them to change their ways.
On the perceived bumpy landing, quite to the contrary, the landing has been a soft one because my deployment in tourism has been the forerunner and an extension of foreign relations and diplomacy. My only remaining task is to convert my tourism legacy into statecraft.

Q: Are you coming up with a new Foreign Policy Whitepaper?
A: Our Foreign Policy is already in place and the prerogative of the president. He set the parameters of the country’s Foreign Policy way back in 1980 when he enunciated our policy of national reconciliation urging us to “turn swords into ploughshares”.
My favourite Prophet Isaiah, in Chapter 2 verse 4, himself the philosophical source of this prophetic statement by the president says: “The Lord will mediate between nations and settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation or train for war any more.” This is the basis of contemporary diplomacy.
It is therefore not my duty to invent the wheel, so to speak, but rather to ensure that the wheel can tackle effectively all the different terrain that it must of necessity travel.
Consequently therefore, it is incumbent upon my ministry to ensure that Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy is implemented effectively in the given atmosphere and in realising our national interests.

As is the case in other countries, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy seeks to advance the country’s domestic policy objectives on the international stage. To that extent, our Foreign Policy is an extension of our domestic policy.

The tenets of our national interests are self-preservation, the protection and enhancement of the country’s image, the prosperity and welfare of our people, preservation of peace and national cohesion, and peaceful good neighbourliness.

My mandate is therefore to advance the country’s Foreign Policy that has been enunciated by the President, and agreed to in Government. There is no “Mzembi Foreign Policy”. The difference is only in style of delivery.

Q: You have been a front-line diplomat for Zimbabwe as Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister for almost 10 years. Can you outline your foreign policy priorities? What will be the key pillars of your diplomacy?
A: Overall our Foreign Policy will be both dynamic and responsive to the ever changing world. Our thrust would be the opening of new frontiers of diplomatic relations, nursing and nurturing old friendships, rapprochement and robust re-engagement and economic diplomacy.

We envisage cultivating support of our Diasporans in investment and remittances. Public diplomacy will take centre stage in particular the need to signpost “zero tolerance to violence” as we approach the 2018 elections.
Hate speech now constitutes the major component of violence of citizens against each other, and should be outlawed. We are looking forward to dialogue with those countries that have disengaged from us, re-forge beneficial relations anew.
We also want to reposition the country in order to make it more attractive to foreign investors.

My vision is to see Zimbabwe emerging from the current estrangement both in terms of government-to-government contact and broader economic relations further afield.
The key pillars of my tenancy will thus essentially be strengthening relations with old friends, establishing new frontiers of cooperation, re-engagement and rebranding the country to be an attractive investment destination. We must become a better place to invest in than is currently the case.

Achieving these milestones will not be without headwinds.
Q: There is a sense that the Foreign Affairs ministry wasn’t delivering in some key areas? Government owes foreign embassy staff millions in salary arrears, arrears for operational expenses, and school fees refunds for children of staff at the 46 diplomatic missions and consulates. How are you going to help your diplomats around the world?
A: The national debt issue is a matter of public record. Therefore treating Foreign Affairs indebtedness in isolation could be misplaced as it is a microcosm of the global picture.
The solution to this problem is not only in thinking outside the box but in discarding the box.
We should be exploring other innovative ways of self-sustenance and I have many creative solutions to this problem which cannot be brought into the public domain.

Q: At least 12 of Zimbabwe’s diplomatic missions have been sued over salary arrears for staff and some have been put under legal notice for eviction over unpaid rentals. The parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs recently recommended that government reduces the foreign missions to a number it can sustain.
Of course the decision to cut the missions can only be made by the president. What would you say about this recommendation given that government is currently facing a critical funding shortfall?

A: Reducing the number of our embassies is a short term knee-jerk solution as those embassies and consulates were established to serve specific interests. We might decide to close down embassy “X” only to discover that a few years down the line we would need such an embassy for strategic reasons.

It is an established fact that where countries in such situations have closed their embassies, the cost of re-establishing them has been greater than the cost of having left them operational.

Our Missions are already streamlined given that we have at least 192 countries and territories that have to be serviced, and what we have is already a small number in this global interdependent world of today.

In fact, quite to the contrary, in line with my policy thrust of reactivating lost friendships and opening new frontiers and in pursuit of our goal in economic diplomacy, there would actually be a case for expansion. The world is bigger than our colonial history.
Our current realities far outweigh the spread of our diplomatic missions.

We have zero to minimal representation in some regions such as Latin America, the Pacific, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Our thrust of economic diplomacy dictates that we open new frontiers of representation.
I shall certainly be recommending a new matrix of representation to the president that may include streamlining in some regions and reinforcing in others as well as opening up new frontiers.
Q: What do you regard as the challenges ahead?
A: I don’t want to add to the list of cry-babies. The laundry list is the opportunities ahead of us.
Q: How did your UNWTO campaign prepare you for this job? You narrowly lost the bid but got a plush job back home.
A: My tenure at the ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry was a good fortuitous training ground for this new post. I engaged various constituencies during my leadership of the Zimbabwe delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly between 2004 and 2006 when we were fighting the imposition of sanctions on the country by the EU.
Campaigning for the post of secretary-general of the UNWTO enabled me to engage over 80 governments worldwide, during which travels I met presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers as I sought their support.

I have also had the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with eminent personalities among them former Foreign Secretaries of the UK and the USA, including Jack Straw and David Miliband and Hilary Clinton. My conversations with them has enlightened me on opportunities for future mutually beneficial engagements.
This has certainly prepared me for my current post and I am confident that with the support of my experienced ministry staff, we will achieve our stated goals.

In hindsight, the UNWTO was an exercise in the magnification of my acquired skills which perhaps could have caught the attention of the appointing authority and its attendant Cabinet Commendation. Daily News


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