Bilateral relations

Relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe centre on development cooperation and humanitarian aid. In response to human rights violations in the country, Switzerland imposed sanctions on President Mugabe and individuals close to him.

Key aspects diplomatic relations

In March 2002, the Federal Council imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and firms in Zimbabwe, including a prohibition on the supply of arms, the freezing of assets and travel restrictions. Vote rigging, human rights abuses and the imposition of sanctions by other countries – in particular the EU and the United States – led Switzerland to take these measures.

Since 2013, the sanctions have only applied to President Mugabe, his entourage and one firm.

Bilateral treaties

Economic cooperation

The volume of trade between Switzerland and Zimbabwe is low. Switzerland mainly imports agricultural products from Zimbabwe and exports machines and pharmaceutical products to the country. A bilateral investment protection agreement between Switzerland and Zimbabwe was signed in 2001.

Trade Promotion (Switzerland Global Enterprise)

Cooperation in the field of education

Scholars and artists from Zimbabwe can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships

Promotion of peace and human security

In 2013, the Regional Programme for Southern Africa of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) helped support the referendum and election process in Zimbabwe. The Human Security Division supported two organisations in the area of peacebuilding.

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid

The SDC works to meet the emergency needs of population groups affected by disasters, and also to restore secure and sustainable livelihoods and support transition in Zimbabwe. In 2013, Switzerland provided support worth approximately CHF 17.5 million.

Zimbabwe is included in the SDC’s Southern Africa Programme, which focuses on food security and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In order to ensure food security and protection for the civilian population in Zimbabwe, the SDC carries out a number of country-level programmes in the following areas:

  • water
  • sanitary installations
  • hygiene
  • humanitarian aid

The SDC works together with the UN, the African Development Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private institutions. With their help, the SDC implements around 40 projects, for example the AIDS clinic of Prof. Ruedi Lüthy and programmes of the Swiss NGO “Solidarmed”.

The rehabilitation of water and sanitary infrastructure in 46 clinics and hospitals is implemented by the SDC itself.

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid

Swiss nationals in Zimbabwe

At the end of 2015, there were 242 Swiss citizens living in Zimbabwe.

History of bilateral relations

From the end of the 19th century onwards, a number of Swiss explorers, gold seekers, soldiers, craftsmen and above all missionaries went to Rhodesia, where they established schools, hospitals and churches. Rhodesia consisted of the British colony of South Rhodesia, which in 1980 became the Republic of Zimbabwe, and the Protectorate of North Rhodesia, which in 1964 became Zambia.

In 1965 white settlers in South Rhodesia declared independence and in 1970 they proclaimed the Republic of Rhodesia, which was recognised by Switzerland. Switzerland did not apply the sanctions imposed by the UN but it took measures to isolate the racist regime. These included an export ban on war materials, restrictions on economic relations in 1967 and in 1970 the closing of the consulate in Salisbury (now Harare). In 1978 a ban on “triangular deals” involving persons resident in Switzerland was imposed.

After the black majority population was granted greater political participation rights, the Federal Council lifted most of its sanctions at the end of 1970. Switzerland recognised the newly established nation of Zimbabwe on 17 April 1980, opening a consulate in Harare, which was upgraded to an embassy in 1981.

At the end of the 1990s, Zimbabwe fell into a state of political and economic turmoil, with the rule of law, respect for democratic institutions and individual freedoms falling victim to the crisis. Following the example of the EU, in 2002 the Federal Council thus imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe. There followed a cooling of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

In a referendum in March 2013, the people of Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution. At the end of July that year, presidential and parliamentary elections were held, which were won by President Mugabe and his party. The elections took place in a mainly peaceful atmosphere, and the election observation missions judged them to be credible, though not free and fair. The opposition rejected the results, alleging fraud and vote rigging.

Entry in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (de, fr, it)