HARARE, Zimbabwe, Feb 16 – The European Union on Monday unveiled a $270 million aid package to support Zimbabwe’s agriculture and health sectors, marking the resumption of direct funding after more than 10 years.,
“We have made an important step in our cooperation with Zimbabwe,” EU ambassador Philippe Van Damme said at the signing ceremony for the aid programme.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the EU turned frosty following the 2002 elections, which foreign observers said were rigged to hand President Robert Mugabe victory.
The EU then slapped sanctions on Mugabe and members of his inner circle.
In recent years, the European bloc has lifted sanctions and travel bans on senior government individuals.
But Mugabe, who has ruled as prime minister then head of state since 1980, remains under targeted EU sanctions, with his wife Grace, entailing a travel ban and asset freeze.
The direct government support will go towards boosting production in agriculture and improving health services as well as assisting with governance and institution building.
The $270-million (237-million-euro) programme is intended to cover development projects for the next six years.
“We look forward to work in all the strategic and important areas covered by this national … programme, with the aim to foster the political and economic reforms Zimbabwe is undertaking,” said the EU diplomat.
Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa welcomed the EU aid, but asked for the “unconditional lifting of sanctions against our head of state and first lady”.
The EU early this month said that Mugabe may nevertheless be authorised to travel to Europe under specific circumstances in his capacity as current chairman of the African Union.
Last year, the EU issued a special invitation for Mugabe to attend an EU-Africa summit in Brussels, but he turned it down in disgust when his wife was denied a visa to travel with him.
“Zimbabwe Incorporated has a chief executive officer and as long as the chief executive remains under sanctions our relations asvtheremain poisoned and unproductive,” said Chinamasa.
Chinamasa used the opportunity to appeal for direct foreign investment from EU countries.
“Zimbabwe is open for business,” said Chinamasa. “I would therefore want to extend my invitation to European investors to come and invest in Zimbabwe.”