Latest News Editor's Choice

News / National

Mystery surrounds Mnangagwa meeting with sheik

by Staff reporter
20 Sep 2020 at 07:58hrs | Views
MyStery surrounds the recent visit to Zimbabwe by a top United Arab emirates (UAE) official, Sheik Fayez Muhamad Salem Sultan Al Qassimi, who arrived in Harare last Sunday to reportedly discuss investment opportunities with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Al Qassimi is from the Ras Al Khaimah royalty, one of the seven UAE emirates and, according to the government controlled media last week, the Sheik was visiting Zimbabwe for the first time.

Mnangagwa visited the UAE twice last year. He cut short his first trip in early 2019 to attend to the Cyclone Idai disaster that had hit Manicaland province, claiming many lives and displacing thousands, but went back later.

During this March 2019 visit, Mnangagwa held talks with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE army, to discuss strengthening bilateral relations.

Before his hurried return to Zimbabwe, the sheik held a banquet for Mnangagwa and his high-powered delegation.

the presidential team comprised of Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Valerio Sibanda, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, a Mnangagwa protégé and Mines minister Winston Chitando.

Government has not explained the inclusion of the army general.

The UAE hosting party also had a military presence in the form of Lt General Issa Al Mazrouei, the deputy chief of staff in the army.

the public media has barely followed up on Al Qassimi's recent visit amid concerns of secrecy of his engagement with Mnangagwa.

It is not clear if the sheik managed to meet government officials outside Mnangagwa as earlier reported.

Critics have expressed concern at the revelation that the UAE official came at the invitation of the first family rather than the government of Zimbabwe as authorities showed ignorance of the finer details of Al Qassimi's visit.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba declined to give details regarding the sheik's visit, saying late last week that it was too early to talk about the trip.

"We are not yet in a position to talk about this business because there are things that are still at gestation," Charamba said.

"When the time is ripe, we will make it public. the first family has a national role to play."

But the president's wife, Auxillia, seems set to benefit from the UAE.

Immediately upon arrival, Al Qassimi pledged support for the Angel of Hope Foundation that she is running.

The Foreign Affairs ministry also professed ignorance over the nature of Al Qassimi's visit.

Ministry spokesperson Mofait Chemwayi said: "I'm not aware of what is happening. I will have to check with the relevant department."

Nor is the Zimbabwean parliament in the loop about what the sheik's trip involved, even though Al Qassimi has already expressed interest to invest in various areas that include the energy and health sectors.

Zanu-PF MP Kindness Paradza, who heads the Foreign Affairs parliamentary portfolio committee, was also in the dark.

"I'm not aware of the development in question (the sheik's visit)," he said through the phone from his rural Makonde constituency.

A government critic and politician, Wurayayi Zembe, raised a red flag over the visit, saying it was not clear if the sheik's visit was private or part of the bilateral relations that the Zimbabwean government has said it was keen to promote.

A private visit is seen as part of a process to benefit the president and his family - which is already dogged by accusations of corruption - instead of the nation.

Said Zembe: "We haven't heard of any meeting with government officials since the arrival of the UAE official last Sunday.

"It would seem he is in the country on private business with the first family and it looks like there are private Zimbabwean investors with interests in the UAE."

But Denford Mutashu, a local businessperson and economic analyst, did not see anything wrong with the sheik's visit.

"If Sheik Fayez came at the invitation of the president and the first lady and is interested to personally invest in the country, he is welcome," Mutashu said.

"There is a prospect that the relationship will be developed into a government-to-government model."

However, Prosper Chitambara, an economic analyst, called for transparency and accountability in investment deals.

"There is need for transparency so that authorities can be accountable."

The UAE economy is prospering and is the second largest in the Gulf region, after Saudi Arabia.

However, there are concerns that part of that prosperity is coming from illegal deals in gold. Reuters reported in April 2019 that the UAE was being used as a conduit for unrefined gold smuggling and opaque trade.

An investigative report by the news agency indicated that, in 2016, there were discrepancies between the gold receipts that the UAe announced and the reports from some 19 African countries that had exported to the Gulf nation, and Reuters described this as a "red flag for illicit trade".

Zimbabwe, though, was not among the official exporters of gold from Africa and, then, foreign relations between the two countries were lowkey, only picking up after the removal of the now late president Robert Mugabe from who Mnangagwa took over.

Billions of dollars worth of gold have been smuggled from Africa every year through the UAE into European, US and other markets, according to Reuters.

Zimbabwe is a haven for unauthorised artisanal gold mining and smuggling and Mnangagwa's Midlands home province has featured regularly in reports of illegal mining.

Illicit gold mining and crossborder leakages are believed to be feeding the UAE market, which is mostly centred in Dubai to which the precious mineral is imported with little documentation.

Source - the standard