Relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe have strengthened in recent years. Soon after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Switzerland opened a diplomatic representation in the country, complemented by humanitarian assistance and development cooperation since 2008. In the future, the implementation of economic reforms and democratic principles could pave the way for a further deepening of relations to promote socio-economic development, trade and investment.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
In 2017, Switzerland and Zimbabwe signed an International Cooperation Agreement on Humanitarian Aid and Technical and Financial Cooperation. The agreement provides for strengthened cooperation between Switzerland and Zimbabwe for the realisation of humanitarian, technical and financial assistance projects that contribute to sustainable poverty alleviation, democratic development, the promotion of peace and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Since 2015, Switzerland has been supportive of Zimbabwe’s intentions to clear its debt arrears and normalize relations with the international financial institutions, in order to revive the economy and improve investment in the social sectors.
Following the political and economic events of the early 2000s in Zimbabwe, which resulted in grave human rights violations and breaches of the rule of law, the Swiss Federal Council defined targeted sanctions on the Zimbabwean Government in 2002. After the establishment of the Government of National Unity and the adoption of a new democratic Constitution, economic and travel restrictions were since 2013 maintained solely on the former President, Robert Mugabe, his wife and the state-owned defence company.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing low growth in recent years. However, the country's natural resources (agriculture, mining, tourism), its strong institutions and its well-educated population represent a considerable economic potential.
Several Swiss companies have a long-standing presence in the country, producing goods and creating jobs. Since 2001, Switzerland and Zimbabwe are bound by a Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement (BIPPA). Still, Swiss farmers who were dispossessed of their land and investment during the ‘fast track land reform program’ of the early 2000s are yet to be compensated.
Promotion of peace and human security
Since 2015, Switzerland has been working with Zimbabwe’s Government, Parliament, civil society, churches and private sector to promote peace and democracy. Switzerland supports the country’s efforts in aligning its laws to the Constitution; dealing with the past; developing capacity in negotiation and mediation and conducting inclusive dialogue among different stakeholders. As the 2018 general elections approach, Switzerland has been supporting initiatives by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and political parties to strengthen mechanisms to peacefully resolve electoral disputes and prevent election-related violence.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
In 2008, Switzerland started humanitarian operations in Zimbabwe to respond to a large cholera epidemic by providing emergency aid and logistical support to the Government of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is now part of the SDC Regional Program for Southern Africa. Under the 2018-2022 strategy, the Regional Program focuses on development programs for the prevention of HIV/AIDS among young people and for the promotion of food security.
In the field of HIV/AIDS, Switzerland strives to ensure that young people in Zimbabwe have increased competencies in Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights and benefit from protective services. Switzerland also supports efforts to ensure that vulnerable young people living with HIV adhere to treatment for continuous viral suppression. Main partners include the Newlands Clinic of the Swiss Ruedi Lüthy Foundation, as well as United Nations agencies and regional non-governmental organizations.
In food security, Switzerland focuses on increasing resilience for smallholder households. Switzerland’s approach includes enhancing seed security, productivity and access to market for small holder farmers, the promotion of disaster risk reduction instruments and youth employment in the agriculture sector.
Swiss nationals in Zimbabwe
At the end of 2016, there were 240 Swiss nationals living in Zimbabwe.
History of bilateral relations
After recognising Zimbabwe’s independence on 17 April 1980, Switzerland opened a consulate in Harare, which became an Embassy in 1981. In 2008, the Swiss Cooperation started operations, dedicated first to humanitarian assistance and later on to development cooperation. The regional office of the Swiss Cooperation was relocated from Pretoria to Harare in 2016.
An important aspect of the relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe is the role of Swiss Christian missionaries who have been present in the country since the early 1900s, working mainly in Masvingo province. The largest Swiss mission is Driefontein, established in 1906. The mission is mainly known for the primary school built in 1934 where many prominent Zimbabweans were educated. The Mission has also adopted the Swiss approach to vocational training and established a technical school.