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New US envoy faces bumpy landing

Dumisani Muleya/Gift Phiri

THE United States has appointed Christopher Dell as its new ambassador to Zimbabwe amid fears in the diplomatic community that incoming Western ambassadors might have difficulty secu

ring their “agreements” — permission from their hosts to commence duties.

The White House said Dell — an experienced career diplomat who has previously served in two African countries — will soon assume his new role in Harare, replacing Joseph Sullivan who has already left.
Dell is a career foreign service officer and currently serves as chief of mission in Luanda, Angola. He previously served as the designated chief of mission in Pristina, Kosovo, and held earlier postings in Bulgaria and Mozambique.

Several Western countries including Britain, Germany, Australia and Spain are expected to soon post new ambassadors to Zimbabwe.

However, diplomatic sources say the new ambassadors could face a hostile reception from President Robert Mugabe’s government as a result of the political stand-off between Harare and Western capitals.

The sources said when a new ambassador is nominated the host country must issue an “agreement” before the foreign diplomat can start official duties. In Zimbabwe Western representatives could be forced to wait for a long time before Mugabe accepts presentation of their credentials as a result of bilateral disputes. Harare is said to be still fuming, for instance, over Kumbirai Kangai’s treatment by British immigration officials when he transited London earlier this year.

Zimbabwe has been locked in political disputes over systematic repression and autocratic policies with the United States and European Union states, as well as countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

This has often forced Western ambassadors to square off against authorities in Harare. British ambassador Brian Donnelly, who is due to leave next month, has borne the brunt of government hostility towards the West.

Despite official threats and abuse by the state media, Donnelly has remained defiant. In the latest edition of Britain-Zimbabwe magazine, Donnelly said his country still shared “a common appreciation that in a number of key areas — political intimidation and violence, democracy and human rights, freedom of expression, justice and land reform — the situation in Zimbabwe has appreciably worsened”.

Only a few countries in the EU appear to have less serious problems with Zimbabwe at a diplomatic level. France, whose ambassador Didier Ferrand left recently, did not have any hitches in securing an agreement for its new top diplomat, Michel Rambaud.

Meanwhile, press reports in Ethiopia say an estate agency has taken the Zimbabwean diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa to court for failing to pay rent.

The Daily Monitor this week said the state-owned Agency for the Administration of Rented Houses has sued the Zimbabwean embassy in absentia at the Federal First Instance court in Addis Ababa last week and won.

The paper said despite the mission’s diplomatic immunity the housing agency put up a charge against the embassy claiming default of rent payments. The agency is understood to be owed 14 880 birr (Z$9,2 million) by the Zimbabwean embassy and has also complained about damage to its property.

The agency has been frantically trying to engage Zimbabwean ambassador to Ethiopia Andrew Mtetwa. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pavelyn Musaka said she was unaware of the issue.

“This is news to me,” she said. “I will check with the mission there. But we have been sending them reimbursements and we thought the mission was up to date with their payments.”

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