Last updated in March 2018
The Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe immediately after the country gained independence in 1980. In the following 15 years, Germany became a valued economic partner of Zimbabwe as well as a supporter of the country’s development efforts. This changed as a result of the illegal farm occupations from the late 1990s onwards, the increasing human rights violations, the politically motivated violence during the 2002 presidential election and the growing disregard for law and order. In 2002, the European Union imposed targeted restrictive measures, such as travel bans and asset freezes, against leading figures in the Zimbabwean Government and the ruling party, ZANU-PF. It also imposed an arms embargo. Economic sanctions were not, however, placed on the country as a whole. Starting in 2012, the restrictive measures were progressively lifted almost entirely. The only measures that remain in place are the arms embargo and targeted restrictive measures against former President Mugabe, his wife Grace Mugabe and the company Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The Government mainly blamed sanctions imposed by Western countries and the European Union for the country’s economic decline over the past 20 years.
Zimbabwe’s Government has shown interest in improving bilateral relations since the July 2013 elections that saw ZANU-PF once again become the sole ruling party, and especially after the change of power in November 2017. Visits to Zimbabwe by the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid in November 2014, the Federal Foreign Office’s Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel in March 2015 and the Federal Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa in October 2016 have demonstrated Germany’s willingness in principle to engage in political dialogue; Germany has also reiterated this willingness to Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Germany continues to support efforts to establish a free, pluralistic democracy in Zimbabwe, based on the Constitution approved by an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans in 2013.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, the roots of which lie primarily in misguided Government policies. Following a catastrophic economic decline between 1998 and 2008, Zimbabwe’s economy stabilised to a certain extent, mainly due to the revival of the country’s mining sector (gold, platinum and diamond mining). Since 2013, however, the country’s economy has again fallen into a dangerous downward spiral, which has been further compounded by the effects of the droughts of 2015 and 2016. Zimbabwe’s economic growth in the past few years was just barely positive. Foreign investors were deterred by the lack of legal certainty and the weak protection of property rights, as well as the policy of “indigenising” Zimbabwe’s economy and the lack of transparency in implementing this policy. Despite this difficult climate, Germany remains a major trading partner of Zimbabwe’s, although the economic and social crisis has meant that bilateral trade lags far behind its potential and investment has practically come to a standstill. The new President has announced economic reforms and pledged to end the rampant corruption. These intentions must now be implemented.
Bilateral trade between the two countries in 2016 amounted to 89.4 million euros, making Zimbabwe one of Germany’s smaller trading partners on the African continent. During the same period, Germany exported goods worth 27.1 million euros to Zimbabwe. German investors in Zimbabwe are engaged in the mining, logistics, agriculture, tourism and textiles sectors.
A bilateral investment protection agreement entered into force on 14 April 2000. Its implementation remains difficult – especially in the agricultural sector – due to the political intervention by Zimbabwean Government agencies. An air transport agreement between Germany and Zimbabwe has been in force since 1999. However, a year later Lufthansa ceased operating flights to Harare, instead providing flight connections to Germany via Johannesburg through cooperation and code-sharing with South African Airways.
A double taxation agreement is in place between Germany and Zimbabwe.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
Owing to political developments in Zimbabwe – such as human rights violations, the undermining of the rule of law, the lack of development-oriented economic policies and the occupation and expropriation of farms – no further commitments have been made concerning development cooperation since 2000. Germany’s official bilateral development cooperation with Zimbabwe was suspended at the end of June 2002. Since then, the only projects being supported are those implemented by civil society actors with help from a development fund. By providing humanitarian aid and emergency and transitional relief (food, medicine, etc.) to Zimbabwe’s population, the German Government sought, at the height of the general crisis, to alleviate the hardship caused by misguided policies. While Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity was in power (2009-2013), German development cooperation supported humanitarian measures as part of transitional aid coordinated with the international donor community, as well as measures designed to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Following the controversial elections of July 2013, funding was reduced once again. At present, the only measures being supported are those designed to immediately improve people’s living conditions and to promote democracy and the rule of law at local level. Despite the above-mentioned restrictions, Germany remains one of Zimbabwe’s largest donors. It is a contributor to the Zimbabwe Multi-Donor Trust Fund (ZimFund), which is managed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group and provides urgently needed reconstruction assistance in the water and energy sectors. In addition, Germany is a major donor to the UNICEF-administered Education Development Fund (EDF), which is succeeding in its goal of ensuring access to primary education in Zimbabwe. Germany also provides assistance in the areas of food security and water supply. The cumulative total of the German Government’s development cooperation commitments for the period from 2009 to 2016 was approximately 148 million euros.
During the most recent drought (2015-2016), the German Government provided support for numerous measures by multilateral institutions, NGOs and civil society actors to combat famine and promote projects to grow food. This especially benefited Zimbabwe’s poor rural population.
A cultural agreement concluded between Germany and Zimbabwe in 1996 entered into force in 1998. For decades, German cultural activities have focused on the education sector. Since 2010, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has provided 678 scholarships enabling Zimbabweans to study at German universities, as well as sur place scholarships at the University of Zimbabwe. There is a German section at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Modern Languages, where more than 100 Zimbabwean students are learning German.
Despite the poor political climate of recent years, Germany has continued to provide annual support to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) and the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF). This support is highly appreciated by the Zimbabwean partners.
The Goethe-Zentrum in Harare, together with the Zimbabwe-German Society, conducts a very active cultural programme, which is held in high regard in Zimbabwe. The numerous events it organises, in particular concerts, are very well received. It also offers German courses.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.