One on one with Canadian Ambassador

One on one with Canadian Ambassador
December 21 15:05 2018

Our reporter Reginald Tapfumaneyi (RT) met up with Canadian ambassador to Zimbabwe H.E Mr Rene Cremonese (RC) to discuss latest developments in the country and the position of Canada.

RT: Ambassador it’s been a year since you came to Zimbabwe. What is your assessment of the everyday situation in Zimbabwe politically and economically?

RC: My wife and I arrived here having spent two years in Cameroon and we have enjoyed our time here since our arrival. We have enjoyed visiting as much as we can. We are waiting now for our children to arrive so we can go to Victoria falls and Hwange for the first time. It’s been a rewarding experience for us. I would say though, that the year has been one that has been anything but dull. I arrived in early October of 2017 so you can run your own minds through the events that occurred which were quite exciting and interesting. I would say on the political situation when I talk to Zimbabweans there is an expectation of hope for change. For greater prosperity, for reforms. for greater respects for human rights and political freedom. Many people talk about the fact that they feel more open and able to express their views so those are the things that are positive. On the other hand, since September, clearly the economic situation has become more serious than it was before and thus, we are concerned. It’s difficult to watch people in any country that you are in as a diplomat, struggle and that clearly has been the case here.

RT: Your excellency like what have you said that since September things have been going from bad to worse where do you think our government is getting it all wrong?

RC: I think as a journalist the way you phrase that question it seems that somehow, I am going to say what is right or wrong with the policies of the government and you won’t find me doing that. I think for the government itself with the conversation I have had, like with the finance minister this past week or with people of the mission of foreign affairs, today I met earlier with  the speaker of the house for the first and the civil society and members of the opposition all them recognize that this is a difficult situation and everyone is trying from their perspective to see what is the best course of action that would improve the livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans and make things easier to create jobs and to stabilize the economy, so I think the willingness is; The people have different ways on how they can go about it  but I think everyone is committed in trying to make things better. What I would say from the perspective of Canada and looking as a friend of Zimbabwe I would say that the cause of reforms from the government is vindicated. The need for reforms on economic and political rights are critical you can find different methodologies with the assistance of organisations like the international monetary fund or world bank with donors to move things along. All those policies have to be put in place and concrete reforms are required. One thing for example that is really important is the government itself, has justified that it is getting a handle on the deficit in spending so things are moving in that direction. At some point, clearly the currency situation is going to be addressed and as I said its not just the question of economic reforms but political reforms too that are necessary as well as getting people confident and getting potential investor for example confident that the rule of law is secure and that their investments could be secured.

RT: Just like what you have said Your excellency that there is hope that reforms will be made in this country recently you have highlighted that the special measures act that was put in place in 2008 so as to curb the human rights violation that have been perpetrated by the then Robert Mugabe government were to remain. You have strengthened your position that the measures should still be in place. What would that have been attributed to for you to maintain them? 

RC: There hasn’t been a change in the policy of the government of Canada with that regard, no one is strengthening or altering.  I think what we are looking at the conditions that were put in place. The conditions that are there that caused us to put in place special economic measures they remain in place until such time as we believe that reforms and progress has been made. That those conditions are no longer valid is quite simple – We haven’t changed. The important thing is that we are all trying to be optimistic and confident that reforms can be put in place to make things better.

RT: Talking about trade in the two countries in 2017, trade figures between the two countries are said to be around USD28 million a figure I think is too small for both countries, are there any efforts being done to improve trade relations?

RC: Yes, what I think happened when we looked at the situation last January we found out that there were quite a number of Canadian companies who were calling the embassy looking for information. We don’t provide our companies with any directive that says come, go stay it’s not that case. We give them the information that we have and they make a determination based on the risk and the reward. As in any business to try say whether or not it made sense to come and try do business here and to invest here. So, in January we got quite a number of phone calls from people who were interested. They were looking for change. Mining companies for example looked at the change in indigenization act so that is a positive step forward. So, we had a few companies that in the mining sector work on concrete deals at the indaba mining conference for example in cape town in February of this year but for many companies it’s a wait and see option. Reforms have been promised. Things have been stated but can we actually see that there has been concrete implementation so indigenization policy change was a concrete change in a positive way for many Canadian companies but there are a lot of other things in terms of questions of repatriation of property, being able to access foreign exchange for security and investments and a number of things that I think Canadian companies are still looking at, waiting to see if the government can make some of those changes. I assume the instability of the last couple of months will have made it difficult to come in a big way expiration for minerals is ongoing but the process there, is quite slow as many companies have submitted requests in areas where they feel have followed the procedure but still others have not got approval to go forward to make that kind of work. So, I think some of those issues that I have cited fall into a general category of doing business and it’s an area that I think needs improvement here and once again. I think the government has recognized and it’s time to just find a way to improve.

RT: Roughly how many firms do you have from Canada here in Zimbabwe?

RC: That’s hard to say. I mean it depends in a sense of how you define Canadian companies. There are a number of Canadians who are …in mining in Caledonia Clarity for example. There are Canadians there. Overtime they shift their investment profile they have become more Zimbabwean companies and less Canadian or number of cases they have found financing for the UK they shifted so some of the other things have to do with the difficult of doing business here.  Other than that we had a number of Canadian consulting engineering firms like WFP who have been quite active here but I have to be honest there is not a large number of Canadian companies who are currently active in Zimbabwe.

RT: Do you have any projects that were ongoing in 2018 ,2019?

RC: I think the big area focus for Canada globally is feminist policy things that focus on gender you would have seen perhaps lately in the press we helped to create a caucus of male diplomats here for HeForShe. We had a launch of that and we continue to think that be a major element of kind work  we are going to do small project funds with issues related to preventing gender based violence for a child or early forced marriage helping women and girls to better trained to partition parliamentarians and to propose their needs those are the kind of areas that we continue to work on quite a bit here in Zimbabwe. On a grander scale we have assisted with USD15to20 million not directly in a bilateral program but we are looking at funds that come through here to Zimbabwe in areas that we are a major donor .so Canada is one of the top 5 major donors to global fund for example on HIV AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and so thru that funding we provide considerable support to Zimbabwe. There are also private Canadian NGOs that are here in a sense of running orphanages, school and education programs for young boys and girls in particular different parts of the country.

RT: Talking about gender based-violence – we have seen you pledged to be one of the HeForShe campaign champions. What is one thing you could have done differently during the 16 days of activism against gender based-violence in Zimbabwe?

RC: We all could have done better if we had more resources, more money, you can always do more.  I think the most important thing for us is to provide support to civil society organisations that are active in those areas. On an issue such as this we aim to lobby and advocate with the government. For example, when I met with the speaker of the house, I made sure to raise the issue of the constitutional court decision on the age of majority and asked questions again on when that alignment will occur. The marriage bill and related have not yet been aligned. So those are the things that we look to do. The big area of focus for Canada globally is gender. You would have perhaps seen lately in the press we helped to create a caucus of male diplomats in Zimbabwe as part of the HeForShe campaign. We continue to think that this should be a major element of kind work we are going to do. Our small project fund deals with issues related to gender equality and other gender issues such as preventing gender-based violence, early child forced marriage and helping women and girls be better trained and willing to petition parliamentarians to support their needs. Those are the kind of areas that we continue to work on quite a bit here in Zimbabwe. I think for me coming from the 16 days campaign against gender-based violence, the most important thing is that you don’t build a campaign as being a once off moment. Everybody puts on an orange shirt for 16 days and then you put it away and you do not do anything until the November 25th of the following year. That is one the reason behind the creation of the HeForShe caucus of senior male diplomats. We made a commitment during the 16 days of activism against GBV that our work will last for the whole year.

I expect that we would be holding ourselves accountable as a group and as individuals next November. We will want to say what have you done during that time period to advance the issues of gender equality, to deal with issues like GBV or child forced marriages.

RT: Today the world is recognizing International Migrants Day. Can you give Canada’s policy on migration as it is increasingly becoming a major destination for migrants?

RC: Migrant is a particular word we have to be careful of how we use the word. Migrant is a generic term that speaks to anybody who is on the move no matter what their reason and you have people who are immigrants and Canada has a history of a long immigration policy for example our number one city Toronto has over 50% of the population now who are born outside of Canada so that gives you the sense of the impact the immigration that has on a country like Canada we welcome in that is needed for our future growth and the diversity that it brings in with the strength for Canada. So that’s one element and we have a particular set of mechanism that allow us to bring in immigrants and that’s very important. We also have people who flee calamity like draught, earthquake, flood and those who are fleeing from political unrest. Where I just came from in Cameroon there were about 250 000 Nigerians who had fled Boko Haram Central African refugees in the eastern part of the country and there were about 80 000 so for in the north and then another probably 120 000 in Cameron who had been displaced internally so all those people come in some way. So, for Canada we provide a system through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or directly through NGOs to help people who are displaced in countries near were they are . we have programs were in some cases we go into camps and we repatriate some of those. When the current government in October 2015 it promised for example to bring in 50 000 Syrian refugees in a span of about 5 months which they managed to do Canada is unique from that regard. Then there is asylum seeker that have been coming through the US in the last 2 years which is causing some extra pressure and restrain on Canada but we are coping. We also just did sign on the global compact on migration which we signed it’s a set of principle on how country deal with migrants on a general scale it’s not a binding treaty but it’s a set of principle on how countries should deal with migrants.

RT: Lastly, ambassador do you have any word(s) of motivation for general public in terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

RC: What I would say something that has impressed me so far is that I am quite stunned at some of the resilient of Zimbabweans in general. I am surprised at how Zimbabweans seems to be making something out of nothing find a way to move forward the strength from the informal economy here that’s something that is quite impressive when you see Zimbabweans and the difficulties they are facing. The SDGs are very important in the case of Zimbabwe any policies that you look at in trying to stabilize the economy move forward there is clearly need to take priority than before cause you are not going to be able to grasp the SDGs without much more and stable and strong economy with that and partnering with some of the donors like the UN system here those policies you need to take into action their impact as you move forward so that they are less burden to the most vulnerable Zimbabwean.

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