Monday, June 30, 2008

Stop the presses

Following the blatant election farce in Zimbabwe, there are signs that the German government is finally putting pressure on the Munich-based company Giesecke & Devrient to cease its dealings with the Mugabe regime.

Among other activities, Giesecke & Devrient, according to their corporate website, 'is a leading supplier of banknote paper, banknote printing, [and] currency automation systems'. Among their many customers (such as the European Central Bank and the U.S. Government) is the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

As the Sunday Times reported back in March, cash (even rapidly devaluing cash -- the inflation rate in Zimbabwe is currently running at something like 160,000 percent) has been a crucial tool in the efforts by Mugabe and the Joint Operations Command to curry favour with key institutions, especially the military:
According to a source at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, G&D delivers 432,000 sheets of banknotes every week to Fidelity printers in Harare, where they are stamped with the denomination. Each sheet contains 40 notes and the current production is entirely in Z$10m notes.

Last week some of this money was used to award huge pay rises to the army in an apparent move to buy their loyalty ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29. Teachers belonging to a union supportive of the government were also given large sums.

Soldiers received windfalls of between Z$1.2 billion for privates and Z$3 billion for officers, while teachers received Z$500m on average. Those belonging to the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, which criticises Mugabe, were excluded.

Even despite such open bribery, as we know, the regime lost the election, though it succeeded in forcing through a run-off, then using terror and violence to ensure a result that would be laughable if it hadn't cost so many lives.

Pressure on Giesecke & Devrient has since grown, with increasing press attention in Germany and abroad and criticism from politicians becoming more vocal.

Now, according to Der Spiegel, development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SDP) wrote to the company on Friday, strongly requesting that it cease delivering money to Zimbabwe. This may sound weak, but the government states it has no legal authority to take more direct steps in the absence of stronger EU or UN sanctions. The company also claims that it is abiding by World Bank rules.

Nonetheless, there are signs that a rising tide of political pressure, press coverage and public outcry might be working. After weeks of steadfastly denying that there was anything wrong in their dealings with Zimbabwe, Der Spiegel reports that the company has now agreed, following Wieczorek-Zeul's letter and further discussions with the Development Ministry, that they have to 'reconsider the situation'.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports a German government spokesperson's statement that the 'whole German government stands behind Ms. Wieczorek-Zeul.'

This could be significant.

This is Zimbabwe (via) has provided excellent background on this issue and information for taking action, such as e-mail addresses and sample letters.

This seems a good moment to up the pressure on Giesecke & Devrient. See This is Zimbabwe for (continuously updated) suggestions.

[UPDATE] For what it's worth, I sent the following to some of the senior management contact addresses at Giesecke & Devrient, along with the general contact address, provided at This is Zimbabwe. (Background on the names provided there is available from the company's website.)

Feel free to re-use, adapt and improve as you wish (it's not perfect, I know, and I didn't have the time to come up with a German version. I'm sure that English will get the message through just as well...)

Dear ______

According to an article in Der Spiegel online (‘Deutsche Firma soll kein Banknotenpapier mehr liefern’, 27.6.2008), Development Minister Wieczorek-Zeul wrote to your company last Friday requesting that it cease its deliveries to Zimbabwe. This request has come, you are no doubt aware, in the wake of what Chancellor Merkel and many others have described as an electoral ‘farce’ engineered by Robert Mugabe and his supporters in the military.

The same article reports a spokesperson for your company as saying that Giesecke & Devrient are ‘reconsidering’ their relationship with Zimbabwe (To quote the article: ‘“Wir müssen die Lage neu bewerten”, sagte er.’)

I find this statement encouraging, and am writing to urge that your company suspend its contract with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe immediately.

As the London-based Sunday Times reported in an article in March (‘Planeloads of cash prop up Mugabe’, 2.3.2008), the brutal and illegitimate regime in Zimbabwe is assisted in maintaining its grip on power through its control of the money supply. In that article, a Zimbabwean professor points out that ‘The regime is surviving by printing money’ and opposition politicians describe how the banknotes your company provides have assisted the government’s efforts to stamp out opposition to its rule.

As a Zimbabwean banker quoted in that article observes, Giesecke & Devrient are, ultimately, ‘bankrolling the regime’: ‘These notes are being used to buy votes, to purchase foreign exchange to import electricity and vehicles to keep their regime going, and to fund the import of Chinese water cannons and police equipment to keep us intimidated.’

This article was written – you may note – before the more recent escalation in intimidation, violence and outright murder that Mugabe and his allies have unleashed upon the people of Zimbabwe and which has received detailed coverage in the German press.

Previous statements by Giesecke & Devrient spokespeople have argued that your company only deals with central banks rather than governments and that the transactions are made in accordance with World Bank rules. While both these statements may be true, they miss the point.

First, the Mugabe regime has effective control of the central bank, so the distinction is meaningless. Second, while your company’s relationship with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe may fit within current World Bank guidelines, these guidelines do not require your company to continue activities that clearly violate Giesecke & Devrient’s stated commitment – in its code of conduct – to ‘respect the personal dignity, privacy, and rights of every individual, regardless of their origin, nationality, culture, religion, or gender.’

Your company proudly claims that this commitment is valid ‘worldwide’.

If this is not to be seen as rank hypocrisy, I urge you to demonstrate this commitment to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe by ceasing to deal with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe until such time as a legitimate, democratically elected government is in place.


[Name and Address]

Articles referenced above:,1518,562644,00.html

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