BERN, SWITZERLAND – Robert Mugabe, 87-year-old leader of Zimbabwe, prime minister for 30 years, stepped up his criticism of Switzerland, in comments made 30 October, Sunday, to media at the airport in Harare.
Mugabe, miffed over what he is calling Switzerland’s refusal to issue visas for his entourage, told reporters that his government “is not without means to reciprocate”, which some media in Zimbabwe are interpreting as a threat to Swiss businesses while others appear to see the comment as a reflection of Zimbabwe reportedly filing a complaint with the UN. Ziminfo expanded the quote and pointed directly at Vevey-based Nestle: “Now they are showing that they are vicious and we will reciprocate because they have their properties here. We are not without means to reciprocate.” The news agency added that:
“While Mugabe did not specify which Swiss property he had in mind, but his comments could stir fresh trouble for the Zimbabwean operation of Swiss multinational firm, Nestlé.
“Radical elements from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party are likely to see his threats as an order to pile more pressure on the giant milk processor to cede control of its Harare plant to black Zimbabweans in line with the country’s controversial economic indigenization programme.
“Nestlé Zimbabwe was already one of the foreign-owned corporations that the government has said should transfer controlling stake to by blacks 2015.
“Under the controversial economic indigenisation and empowerment law that came into force last year foreign-owned firms must sell at least 51 percent shares to indigenous black Zimbabweans or face a host of punitive measures including fines or withdrawal of operating licences.”
Zimbabwe’s prime minister refused to visit Geneva last week for the ITU World Telecom meeting, and he sent a replacement for the country’s telecoms minister, who is variously reported by Zimbabwe media to have been given orders not to join the Geneva conference or who was too busy.
Switzerland has not responded officially on Mugabe’s remarks or the visa problem, although unnamed officials, presumably Swiss embassy officials in Zimbabwe, have been quoted by the country’s media as saying that visas for Mugabe and one official “were adequate to represent Zimbabwe at the summit,” according to The Zimbabwean.
Swiss Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson in Bern, Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, told GenevaLunch Monday that the ministry generally doesn’t comment on specific visa-decisions. He noted, in an e-mailed statement, that “decisions by Switzerland on visa matters are taken in accordance with applicable law and take account in particular of Switzerland’s obligations as the host state of the ITU. As this is an official delegation to a conference held by an international organization with which Switzerland has concluded a host state agreement, questions that could possibly arise in this context will, if necessary, be discussed with the organization concerned.”
He points out that “in this context, Switzerland will have to reconcile the obligations that it has in international law with the imperatives deriving from sanctions imposed on certain persons.”
Swiss sanctions against Zimbabwe have been in effect since 2002, with the travel restrictions list updated in 2010.
All the states invited to the ITU conference were “able to be represented by a delegation”, says Eltschinger. “As a principle of law, a State is entitled to be represented at international conferences by its head of State.”
Mugabe last week told media that the delegation of five scheduled to join him for the Geneva meeting was refused visas by the Swiss government; all of them, plus his wife, are on the list Zimbabwe individuals with European Union and Swiss travel restrictions, part of the sanctions against Zimbabwe. Mugabe and delegations have previously visited Geneva for UN meetings.
The five are Zimbabwe’s foreign and transport ministers, central intelligence minister, Mugabe’s press officer and his aide.
“‘We were surprised, if not saddened, by what they have done. Much more, the Swiss government has always held itself as a neutral country that did not countenance war as it was neutral in any conflict even during the First and Second World wars,’ he said.
“‘Now they are showing that they are vicious and we will reciprocate because they have their properties here. We are not without means to reciprocate,’ he said. As hosts of a United Nations meeting, Mugabe said Switzerland had no right to bar delegates of any member-state of the UN from attending. ‘It is a violation of rules and regulations governing host countries of UN meetings. They are alongside the United States of America because the main part of the UN is hosted in New York and the other part and agencies related to the UN are in Geneva. As host country, you should undertake not to inhibit or prohibit visits on UN business,’ the Zanu PF leader said.”