EU to oversee Zimbabwe’s election for the first time in 16 years, businesses ‘rejoice’

Key Points
  • The European Union will oversee elections held in Zimbabwe this summer, the first time it has done so since 2002.
  • Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is attempting to build bridges with the West and win foreign investment to resurrect the country's basket case economy.
  • Holding free and fair elections have been high on Mnangagwa's agenda since he took power in November 2017 after former long-term President Robert Mugabe was ousted.
Members of Zimbabwe's ruling party, ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front), arrive at the launch of its election manifesto on May 4, 2018 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Jekesai Njikizana | AFP | Getty Images

The European Union will oversee elections held in Zimbabwe this summer, the first time it has done so in 16 years, in a move that could bolster a weak domestic economy hungry for foreign investment.

On Monday, a memorandum of understanding for the deployment of an Election Observation Mission was signed by European Union Ambassador Philippe van Damme and Zimbabwean Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Sibusiso Moyo.

The move marks the first time since 2002 that the EU has dispatched a team to observe elections in the country.

The Zimbabwean government had invited the EU back in March to observe the historic vote, which is expected in July. The delegation will work across the country, and also monitor complaints that may be filed after the election.

"EU election observers maintain strict impartiality, objectivity and independence," said a statement announcing the news.

Holding free and fair elections has been front and centre of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa's agenda since he took power in November. Former President Robert Mugabe was ousted in a coup, ending his rule of nearly four decades.

The news "is a further sign of Mnangagwa's efforts to normalise political and ultimately business relations with the West," Charles Laurie, director and head of politics at analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC Tuesday.

"Zimbabwean manufacturers, traders and tourism operators will rejoice if the EU's presence at the polls proves to be the first step towards extending a political olive branch," he said. "An endorsement of the election's legitimacy from Brussels is a critical next step for major Western investors to set aside their doubts over whether the country is 'open for business.'"

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers a speech during Independence Day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium on April 18, 2018, in the capital Harare.
Jekesai Njikizana | AFP | Getty Images

Mnangagwa has courted the international investment community in an attempt to turn around Zimbabwe's basket case economy, infamous for its corruption and hyperinflation.

Earlier in May Zimbabwe applied to re-join the Commonwealth, a 53-nation bloc comprising of the U.K. and its former colonies. Membership of the group could bring trade benefits to Zimbabwe. Mugabe pulled the country out of the bloc in 2003 in a row over sanctions.

But, Mnangagwa's first state visit outside of Africa was to China in April of this year. In Laurie's view, Mnangagwa understands the limitations of Zimbabwe's historically close relationship with the world's second largest economy. "He recognises that (Zimbabwe's) so-called 'Look East' policy has failed to remedy a dismal, politically-skewed and perilous environment in which local business all but ground to a halt."

Resource-rich Zimbabwe has the world's second biggest platinum reserves after neighboring South Africa, as well as gold, diamonds, coal and lithium.