As the world responds to the Covid-19 pandemic and its ripple effects, including restricted movement among nations, our Political Editor Fungi Kwaramba (FK) sat down with Egyptian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Mahmoud Amin (MA), to get his views on the two country’s relations, including his perspective on how the Second Republic under President Mnangagwa, has confronted the pandemic. Below are excerpts of the interview.
FK: Let us talk about diplomatic ties between Zimbabwe and Egypt. What is your assessment of the two countries’ relations?
MA: We have excellent political relations between both our countries, Egypt is one of the countries that was helping Zimbabwe until it got its independence in 1980. We were one of the first nations in the world to recognise Zimbabwe.Egypt and Zimbabwe have a very long history of excellent relations. We support each on foreign affairs issues; we both are member states of the African Union; both are in good standing in the African Union.
FK: What should be done to transform the excellent relations between the two countries into economic prosperity for both parties?
MA: There is a lot of work to be done on my part and on the part of the Zimbabwean ambassador to Egypt in order to boost economic and commercial relations between our countries and bring it up to par with our excellent relations under the guidance of His Excellency President Mnangagwa and His Excellency President Sisi. There is political will to shore up the relationship and boost it commercially and economically.
FK: Are there Egyptian companies interested in coming to invest in Zimbabwe?
MA: Commerce is a two-way traffic. There are lot of goods that Zimbabwe exports to Egypt and a lot of goods that come from Egypt to Zimbabwe. On the ground, we still need to bring more companies that are interested in the Zimbabwean market to come and look at investment opportunities, especially in the booming mining, tourism and agriculture sectors. These are very promising sectors. My mission as the ambassador is to look into these sectors thoroughly in order to pin-point opportunities for Egyptian companies in these sectors. These are the three pillars of Zimbabwe’s economy. There are many interested Egyptian companies that are eager to come here. Before I came here, three months ago, I went around consulting Egyptian companies and they are promising attitudes and intentions on the part of the Egyptian business community to come and invest here.
FK: What is your take on President Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive?
MA: That has been a very commendable initiative; that is the political will that Zimbabwe needs to show to reach the heights it deserves. A very commendable move by President Mnangagwa, we support the efforts of His Excellency to reach the levels and utilise to the maximum, Zimbabwe’s potential to re-engage the international community. I am particularly pleased by the efforts of the President to combat corruption. This is an effort that all Zimbabweans should back the Government in order to abolish this menace.
FK: Have you had the opportunity to meet Government officials, the President for instance, on a one on one platform and what did you discuss?
MA: I haven’t met the President, but I have met Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister (Dr Sibusiso Moyo) twice. The meeting was very cordial and we discussed many issues of bilateral interests. We agreed that we should look at the opportunities that are already there and cement the commercial and economic ties between the two countries. As Egypt and Zimbabwe, we always support each other’s candidature on the international arena — that is a manifestation of very good political relations. My main task is to boost the economic ties between the two countries.
FK: Zimbabwe is still under illegal economic sanctions that were imposed by the Western world, what is Egypt’s position on this?
MA: That is an important issue indeed, we in Egypt believe that it is most appropriate, that because of Covid-19 and difficulties it has presented, Zimbabwe should be offered a chance to manage this pandemic by lifting the sanctions. In order to give Zimbabwe a chance to fight this pandemic, it is important to lift sanctions because it’s a worldwide problem. I commend the steps and action that have been taken by the Government of Zimbabwe to fight the pandemic. These efforts are manifested on the very minimal numbers that are affected by the pandemic. The international community should, however, help Zimbabwe to have all resources within its means so that it wins the war against the pandemic.
FK: How is Egypt fighting the pandemic and what are the challenges that you are facing?
MA: We have different situations. We have something around 45 000 to 50 000 (cases). But don’t forget that we are 100 million and so we are doing our part in order to curb the spread of the virus. We have now opened Egypt for international tourism, starting today (yesterday).
FK: Tell us about the construction of the Ethiopian Dam and the position taken by the country’s Foreign Affairs minister that it will be filled this month, how will this affect Egypt?
MA: Without the agreement from all the three countries, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and the filling of the reservoir, the starting of the operation of the dam, they will be an adverse impact on Sudan and Egypt, who depend on the Blue Nile river. Having said that, we must conclude a comprehensive legal agreement on the issue of the filling of the dam and its operations, we must start an agreement before we start operations. Once you start filling the dam, the process of negotiations ceases to exist. Egypt will uphold and protect the vital interests and survival of its people, this is not a question of choice, but an imperative one because the water from the Nile is the existence of Egypt. Egypt has very scarce water sources. We depend on the Nile river between 95 and 98 percent for water resources. If they start filling and the water that is coming to Egypt is decreased, this will cause serious problems in my country. That is why we need to reach an agreement before they start to fill the dam. The dam that is being constructed in Ethiopia, since the Nile River is international waters, there is an international law which applies to international waters. Our brothers in Ethiopia cannot unilaterally built a dam and do whatever they want to do without taking into consideration the interests of other parties.
FK: You have been accused of warmongering. What is your response to these allegations?
MA: We are not warmongers. We have never resorted to military action, directly or indirectly. Instead, we are seeking a political resolution to this crisis. We have been in negotiations for 10 years.
FK: Why is it difficult to reach an agreement?
MA: Because there is no political will among our brothers — the Ethiopians, to come up with a solution that is amicable to both sides.
FK: Some would say that when you build infrastructure along the Nile River, you don’t consult the Ethiopians, why is it a problem now that there are also seeking to benefit from the same river?
MA: We have the right to use whatever water that comes to us, we are not like Ethiopia. The river flows to downstream country, the Nile River ends in our country and whatever comes to us does not affect Ethiopia. The water is already there. We can use whatever water that comes to us.
FK: Any last words Ambassador. What message do you have for the people of Zimbabwe?
MA: I am very happy to be in Zimbabwe. I have been here for three months. It’s my first time to be in this part of the world. From what I have seen during the few months I have been here, Zimbabweans are very nice, hardworking and ambitious people.