WORLD superpower, the United States of America, stands accused of interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal political affairs by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his government and the ruling Zanu PF party.
Recently the party termed the US Ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, a thug and threatened to throw him out of the country for allegedly pursuing a regime change agenda.
Nichols, last week, had a chat with the Daily News on Sunday Consulting Editor Constantine Chimakure on a wide range of issues. Below are excerpts of the no-holds-barred interview.
Q: What level of support has the United States given to Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and in what areas?
A: Since Zimbabwe’s independence, the United States has invested US$3,2 billion in Zimbabwe through multiple development and humanitarian projects, including initiatives to increase food security, support economic resilience, improve health outcomes, and promote democratic governance.
We want the government and people of Zimbabwe to succeed in building a democratic and prosperous nation.
The United States deeply respects the people of Zimbabwe and values its partnerships with them.
We remain committed to working together with Zimbabweans to realise the promise of a more peaceful, more productive, and more prosperous 21st century Africa.
We have a long history of working with Zimbabwe to improve its healthcare system and have provided over US$1 billion in health assistance, focused largely on addressing HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
We have also cooperated on many other health issues over the last 40 years, and we are going to continue to do that in partnership with Zimbabweans.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges globally, and we have provided over US$19 million so far to support Zimbabwe’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus. We have also leveraged existing assets we have in Zimbabwe to support the Covid-19 response.
In this regard, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) office serves as a key resource here with epidemiologists, physicians, and other experts across a full range of healthcare issues who now work on Covid-19.
For example, they are providing training on how to trace the contacts of someone who has tested positive; laboratory preparedness; and treatment options.
Five of the experts are collaborating with the Ministry of Health and Child Care’s working groups.
So, they are there every day providing their technical expertise to sharpen and improve the Covid-19 response here in Zimbabwe.
The UN and Zimbabwean authorities believe at least seven million people are food insecure.
This arises from the combined effects of failed economic and agricultural policies, corruption, consecutive poor agricultural seasons, the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, drought, and now, the Covid-19 pandemic.
The United States remains committed to responding to the humanitarian situation and providing critical food assistance to Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable, while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and maintaining essential services.
Through the US Agency for International Development (USAid) we will provide over US$60 million to the World Food Programme’s Lean Season Food Assistance programme in Zimbabwe. This programme began in August and will feed nearly one million people until April.
Such assistance normally targets rural areas, but in October, USAid injected an additional US$10 million to ensure 103 000 people in eight urban areas have access to adequate food supplies.
During the last lean season, USAid provided more than US$86,9 million to reach more than 1,8 million Zimbabweans in 22 rural districts.
The United States remains Zimbabwe’s largest bilateral donor of emergency humanitarian assistance.
Q: In the United States’ view, what are the reasons for the political and economic crises in Zimbabwe and how can that be cured?
A: Decades of economic mismanagement, fiscal and monetary policy incoherence, lack of juridical security, the challenging business environment, and high-level corruption are responsible for the country’s ailing economy.
Zimbabwe loses more than US$1 billion per year to corruption. In fact, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, said, “Zimbabwe could have lost up to US$7 billion to corruption in the past few years.” That is a staggering amount of money that could be used to address Zimbabwe’s myriad public policy challenges.
The government lists fighting corruption as a priority and has begun to hold some government and government-connected perpetrators accountable.
I am hopeful that Zacc (Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission) will make progress.
If Zimbabwe’s laws were evenly applied and enforced, government coffers would be full. Furthermore, corruption distorts a country’s democratic institutions. Politics becomes a scramble by rent seekers, and genuine reform that would benefit the people falls by the wayside.
Zimbabwe has tremendous economic potential.
First, it has well educated people. There are so many impressive Zimbabweans in this country, and when you add the Diaspora around the world, you see Zimbabweans at the best universities and at the top of businesses around the world. That’s an enormous resource others don’t have.
Second, the extractive industries and mineral resources here are vast. The country has world-class tourist attractions like Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe.
This country was once an agricultural powerhouse, saving southern Africa from a tremendous drought 21 years ago. It can do so again, with the right policies.
On the political front, the Zimbabwean government should protect and expand space for constructive dissent from the opposition, civil society, and ordinary citizens.
They play a vital role in making a successful democracy.
Ordinary citizens improve government accountability and respect for fundamental human rights.
They ask tough questions to ensure taxpayers’ money is used wisely, propose policy alternatives, and challenge the way things have always been done to improve service delivery to the Zimbabwean people. That is how you get the best ideas to propel a country forward.
Zimbabwe should also complete its electoral reforms to set the stage for free and fair elections through 2023.
My government is concerned by the indefinite suspension of by-elections, with the Zimbabwean government citing Covid-19 as the reason.
This impinges on freedom of expression, curtails the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and took place without Parliamentary oversight.
We fully recognise the serious challenges involved in holding elections. However, Malawi successfully held general elections in June.
My country and South Africa will both conduct elections in November 2020, taking appropriate safeguards. We believe that Zec and public health experts can organise by-elections safely.
Let me be clear. The United States supports democratic processes, not individuals or parties.
We believe any and all parties can play an important role in charting Zimbabwe’s future.
We believe the government should not use the courts to settle internal political party processes with an aim of weakening the opposition or facilitate political disenfranchisement by allowing the recall of democratically elected Parliamentarians.
Finally, the government should cease harassing and arresting political opponents and critical voices.
Instead, it should transparently investigate allegations of abduction, torture, and murder and hold those responsible for such crimes to account.
The United States continues to support the Zimbabwean people in need, especially through humanitarian and health assistance.
We will continue to press the government of Zimbabwe to implement necessary political and economic reforms to provide Zimbabwean citizens the prosperity, security, and well-being they deserve.
However, the United States cannot build Zimbabwe, only Zimbabweans can do that. United States support will be available where appropriate when Zimbabwean leaders request for it.
Q: You have been accusing Mnangagwa of not instituting reforms. What are these reforms you have been referring to and can you hazard a reason for Mnangagwa’s inaction on them?
A: This government campaigned on a platform of reform.
Zimbabwe’s Constitution enshrines many fundamental freedoms. The government of Zimbabwe should enact and implement its promised political and economic reforms.
In 2018, the government committed to implementing the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission.
As we have stated before, our engagement will depend on the government’s implementation of those reforms consistent with international standards.
The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act (Zdera) of 2018 outlines the steps Zimbabwe needs to take to gain the support of the United States government for new lending through international financial institutions.
The key conditions the United States requires Zimbabwe to satisfy remain the same: 1) the restoration of the rule of law; 2) free and fair elections; 3) equitable, legal, and transparent land reform; and 4) military and national police subordinate to a civilian-led government.
If Zimbabwe were to fully align its laws to the 2013 Constitution and follow through on President Mnangagwa’s own promises of reform, it would meet these requirements.
In his meetings with the President (Mnangagwa) and Foreign Affairs minister (Sibusiso B Moyo), Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy has emphasised the importance of implementing promised economic and political reforms to restore Zimbabwe’s international reputation, rebuild the economy, and give voice to all Zimbabweans.
Both President Mnangagwa and Minister Moyo have indicated Zimbabwe’s commitment to these reforms including holding security forces accountable for violent incidents in 2018 and 2019.
The Global Compensation Deed Agreement represents an important step forward in resolving Zimbabwe’s land tenure and agriculture problems. However, we will need to see its implementation before we can evaluate it fully.
The Zimbabwean government should continue taking action on its stated commitments, such as opening up the media space with more independent broadcast television and radio stations.
Q: What is the United States’ take on recent mediation efforts by South Africa and its ruling African National Congress (ANC) party?
A: We believe Zimbabwe’s friends like South Africa can play an important role in helping this country overcome the challenges that it faces.
The polarisation in Zimbabwean society, as identified by the Catholic Bishops in August, and earlier by the Motlanthe Commission and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, underscores the urgent need for a broad-based and inclusive national dialogue.
Such a dialogue, coupled with political and economic reforms, holds the promise of a more prosperous and successful Zimbabwe.
The United States supports efforts to realise this broad dialogue and build consensus as the way forward.
Q: Any truth in suggestions that the United States is exerting pressure on South Africa to intervene in Zimbabwe?
A: There is no truth to such rumours. As you have seen or heard messages from various political groupings in South Africa, the situation in Zimbabwe has an impact on South Africa given the numbers of Zimbabweans crossing the border to seek better economic opportunities there.
That said, we welcome international and regional efforts to encourage broad and inclusive national dialogue to chart a more prosperous and democratic future for Zimbabwe.
Q: The ANC delegation claimed you requested to meet them when they visited Harare recently. Why did you request the meeting?
A: I wanted to learn their views and share my own. If the ANC delegation is interested in meeting with me, I welcome the opportunity to share our views on how to help Zimbabwe resolve its myriad crises.
Q: We have noted that Zanu PF has been issuing personal attacks on you. The other day, the party’s acting spokesperson, Patrick Chinamasa, described you as a thug. What is your response to these attacks?
A: The United States shares the desires of the people of Zimbabwe who want to see a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Zimbabwe that provides for its people and contributes to regional stability.
To realise these goals, we strongly believe it is important that government and non-governmental entities alike promote our shared values and to work in areas of common concern.
Whenever we may differ on the best means of achieving these goals, we will seek to engage in a dialogue that is respectful and that seeks to uphold the universal values and rights that Zimbabweans fought so hard to gain 40 years ago.
Q: Has it ever crossed your mind that one day, the Zimbabwe government may throw you out of Harare?
A: My job as United States Ambassador is to promote the interests, values, and ideals of the United States.
The United States shares the desires of the people of Zimbabwe who want to see a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Zimbabwe that provides for its people and contributes to regional stability.
I have a frank, fluid and constructive relationship with senior officials here. As I’ve stated, whenever we may differ on the best means of achieving these goals, we will seek to engage in a dialogue that is inclusive and respectful.
Q: Your take on assertions that the United States is sponsoring the opposition, civil society and activists to effect regime change?
A: The United States supports democratic processes, including representative government and rule of law, but not individuals nor specific political parties.
We believe all political parties, civil society organisations, and ordinary citizens have a role to play in charting a more democratic and prosperous future for Zimbabwe.
Q: What kind of evidence do you have that human rights violations are on the increase in the country?
A: The Motlanthe Commission recommended that the government promote political tolerance as well as responsible and accountable leadership and citizenry. It also called on the government to bring perpetrators of politically motivated violence to account.
The government has yet to implement either recommendation.
There has been an increase in the number of individuals who say they have been abducted, assaulted, and tortured — by State security forces.
Civil society leaders and journalists have been arrested for exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and affiliation.
Some have been denied bail or legal representation on unexplained grounds.
The government of Zimbabwe bears the responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens under its Constitution.
It is the responsibility of the police to protect citizens exercising their right to demonstrate, not actively prevent them from doing so.
It is the responsibility of the police to conduct serious, non-partisan investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and present evidence for the court to evaluate impartially.
Arresting, prosecuting, and convicting the perpetrators of human rights crimes and corruption, rather than the victims and whistleblowers, would demonstrate the government’s commitment to advancing justice.
Q: When you recently met Foreign Minister SB Moyo did you challenge him on the human rights violations? What was his response?
A: At every opportunity, we have reiterated our call for the government of Zimbabwe to enact promised political and economic reforms.
Minister Moyo has told me his government is committed to reforms. As we have stated before, our engagement will be based on demonstrable and real implementation of those reforms.