By Prince Kurupati*
The US has had its say concerning Zimbabwe’s efforts to re-engage following decades of toxic political and economic relations that existed between the two countries. While Zimbabwe’s new leader was waiting eagerly for the US’s response, the response is one that does not really put a smile on his face as it invokes more questions than answers.
Zimbabwe’s new leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made it a public secret that he wants to work with all countries including those that were not in good books with his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa has had to travel to several countries including South Africa, Rwanda, and Switzerland enticing investors from these countries to visit Zimbabwe while at the same time sending messages to the US, Europe and Australia for re-engagement efforts.
Mnangagwa’s efforts to re-engage with the UK, in particular, seem to have hit the right spot as she is now more sympathetic to Zimbabwe and willing to work together. Numerous delegations have paid courtesy calls on President Mnangagwa from the UK and the UK’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing is on record saying the country is moving on the right path.
Things are however different when it comes to the US, instead of warming up to the new administration, the US is somewhat sceptical and is taking a more measured approach. With several officials from Washington expressing commitment to working with Zimbabwe’s new leadership, they at the same time state that they need more (action) from Zimbabwe before any re-engagements efforts can start.
The US’ main policy towards Zimbabwe since the turn of the millennium has been directed by the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) of 2001. Recently, two US Senators Messrs Jeff Flake(Republican) and Chris Coons (Democrat) who are members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a revised version of ZIDERA guiding the US’s position on Zimbabwe at least until the upcoming elections to be held in 3 months’ time.
A raft of measures were included in the revised ZIDERA in addition to maintaining restrictive measures otherwise known as targeted sanctions on select Zimbabwean nationals including the President himself, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The revised ZIDERA calls for the government among other things to revise the composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) by removing army officials, respecting human rights and launching investigations into the disappearance of human rights activists such as Itai Dzamara and ensuring that state media affords all political parties access to equal media coverage. The measures are meant at ensuring that the environment is conducive to free and fair elections.
The measures contained in the revised ZIDERA do resonate closely with the main opposition party, MDC-T’s Plan and Environment for A Credible Election (PEACE) document outlining its 10 demands to be implemented before the elections. This has led many to suggest the revised ZIDERA is a work of the MDC-T meant at ensuring that the US keeps in place the sanctions as a way of forcing regime change. There is no evidence to suggest this is true or not except circumstantial evidence used by some when the leader of the MDC-T, Nelson Chamisa, member of MDC Alliance, Tendai Biti and Human Rights Watch director, Dewa Mavhinga went to the US and presented before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While the measures in the revised ZIDERA resonate with MDC-T’s blueprints and also largely with the wishes of the masses, there is one measure in particular which raised eyebrows and has led some patriots to suggest that the US is using a confrontational approach to re-engagement. The US, as one of the measures Zimbabwe needs to implement for free and fair elections want the Mnangagwa administration to have a relook at the Land Reform programme and compensate farmers who lost land during the violent land grabs of the early 2000s. While all other measures are pragmatic for Mnangagwa to implement, this one particular measure is tricky for him. If he fails to implement it, then he is likely to be regarded as a failure by the US, something that is going to affect his legitimacy if he goes on to win the elections. On the other hand, if he does implement it, then he stands to lose much support from the many people who benefitted from the violent land grabs, something that he surely does not want especially a few months before elections. The verdict is, he is not going to implement this measure.
We may at this stage not know the likely steps to be taken by the US if Mnangagwa fails to honour the measures they stipulated in the revised ZIDERA. Will the US just keep ZIDERA in place until such a time when the government of the day does what she wants or will they look for tougher strategies, we don’t know? What we know however is that the US is keen on Mnangagwa to fully implement these reforms before any meaningful re-engagement efforts can start.
A number of top Washington officials have stressed this including Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs. In media chat with a select group of Journalists at the state Department recently alongside Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Don Yamamoto, both Officials said the US was happy with the words being said by Mnangagwa, but what they want is action first.
Echoing the same sentiments was Mr Don Cordell, the Desk officer responsible for Zimbabwe in the US State Department Bureau of African Affairs who said “We are really optimistic that the language would then actually turn into action and as that is turned into action, that is when we will be able to continue to see further engagements between the United States and Zimbabwe,” during his recent second trip to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans have expressed mixed feelings over the pronouncements made by the US, those aligned to the ruling party said that the measures showed the US is taking a confrontational approach to re-engagement rather than adopting a constructive stance as is the case with the UK. However, those on the other side say that the US’s demands are welcome as they resonate deeply with what they have been crying for, all this time.