Canada must re-engage with “the difficult places” in the world, a senior minister from Zimbabwe’s coalition government says.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti made the comments after a presentation at Carleton University in Ottawa Tuesday night.
Mr. Biti, a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, became finance minister in 2009 after the opposition MDC formed a unity government with president Robert Mugabe’s ruling party. “Canada is such an important country, and has been an important country over the years, that it must be engaged in Africa and in the difficult places over the world,” he said.
Mr. Biti is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his parliamentary secretary, Deepak Obhrai. The meeting will “provide an opportunity to express Canadian views on the need for continued political reform in Zimbabwe, including a referendum on a new constitution, free and fair elections, and the respect for human rights,” said Rick Roth, a spokesman for Mr. Baird.
Mr. Biti said he would use the meeting with Mr. Baird as an opportunity to press the Canadian government to broaden its relationship with Zimbabwe.
Last summer, the Canadian International Development Agency said all of its existing projects and contracts in Zimbabwe were expected to end in 2014. At the time, a spokeswoman told The Globe and Mail that the agency’s commitments to supporting the country’s 2013 elections would still be fulfilled. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for an update Tuesday on its work in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s next elections and a referendum on a new constitution are expected to take place later this year. Mr. Biti said the coming elections will be an important test for his southern African country, after the violence and disputed results that marred Zimbabwe’s last elections in 2008.
He called on Canada and the international community to lift sanctions on the country and its officials, saying they are “not serving anyone.”
“The use of sanctions and isolation, I think they’ve outlived their usefulness,” he said.
Mr. Biti, who is a lawyer by training, inherited an extraordinarily difficult portfolio when he became finance minister in 2009. Zimbabwe was struggling with hyperinflation so severe that people were often forced to use bags full of bills to make purchases.
The new coalition government replaced the local currency with the U.S. dollar and the South African rand, a move that has been credited with bringing the country’s economy back from the brink. Zimbabwe has made other, modest inroads in recent years, said Blair Rutherford, who heads the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University.
“Since the time of the national unity government there have been goods and some services returning in Zimbabwe, particularly in the cities,” he said. “Still, the great majority of the population has difficulty making ends meet.”
Last fall, the International Monetary Fund loosened its restrictions on technical assistance to Zimbabwe. Mr. Biti has said the change would help his country clear some of the massive debt it owes to international lenders.
Mr. Biti said foreign direct investment is crucial to the country’s growth and called for more Canadian companies to engage with Zimbabwe.