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New US ambassador insists on democratic reforms in Zim

Constantine Chimakure

UNITED States ambassador-designate to Zimbabwe, James McGee on Wednesday said his country was working with the international community in pursuit o

f a democratically-elected government which respects human rights and the rule of law.

In testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations in the US Senate, McGee said Zimbabwe was once a prosperous nation now suffering under “authoritarian misrule”.

He said there was a “deep reservoir of democratic knowledge, capacity, and desire in Zimbabwe that needs continuing support to challenge the government” to enact democratic reforms and to keep hope alive that change was possible.

“Abandoning the people of Zimbabwe to the worst effects of their government’s misrule is not in America’s interests,” said McGee. “Returning Zimbabwe to a democratic state with a strong economy is necessary to promote regional stability and economic growth.”

The career diplomat said the US would use all tools at its disposal to “achieve the results we seek (in Zimbabwe)”.

“The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act and our targeted sanctions programme have increased the pressure on those individuals that have undermined democracy and prosperity,” McGee, who served as ambassador to Swaziland, Madagascar, and the Comoros,” said. “We are working with like-minded members of the international community to increase this pressure.”

He added that the US should continue to lend support to regional efforts to pressure Zimbabwe to enact needed reforms.

The US, McGee said, strongly supported Sadc’s initiative to resolve the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, but he bemoaned what he termed the government’s continued repression and intimidation of civil society, religious organisations, businesspeople, and political groups.

“It is essential now more than ever for the United States to continue its support for civil society and pro-democratic elements in Zimbabwe. We need to play a major role in ensuring that these organisations survive the current repression to participate in Zimbabwe’s eventual recovery,” suggested McGee.

The ambassador-designate — who will succeed Christopher Dell — accused the government of enforcing policies that have produced economic collapse, food shortages, and the destruction of once strong judicial, financial, health and educational institutions.

He said regional stability was under threat as Zimbabweans were fleeing “their rapidly disintegrating country” to neighbouring countries.

McGee said while the prospects for a democratic transformation were “very” challenging, the US remained strongly committed to facilitating peaceful change.

“Our goal,” he told the lawmakers, “must be that the presidential and parliamentary elections take place as scheduled for next year and meet international standards.”

He termed it “imperative” that there be a substantial period of time for all candidates to campaign on a level playing field, prior to the election.

McGee said he would use his experience in Africa and elsewhere to bring the desired change in Zimbabwe. The ambassador-designate has 26 years experience in the diplomatic service, which saw him serving in Swaziland, Madagascar, and the Comoros.

“In these and other assignments, I sought to strengthen our bilateral relations while advancing US interests by pressing for democratic reforms,” said McGee. “I worked closely with pro-democracy civil society organisations in Swaziland to help write and eventually enact the first constitution that country had seen in over 30 years.”

He claimed that he helped Madagascar to prepare for and implement successfully free and fair polls following the election crisis of 2001.

“I would work diligently to strengthen pro-democracy organisations in Zimbabwe,” said McGee.

Additionally, McGee pledged continued humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people.

In 2007, he said, the United States donated more than US$170 million in food aid to that country.

The US claimed it was now feeding one in every five Zimbabweans.

Non-food aid humanitarian assistance in 2007 equalled US$5,1 million and HIV and Aids programmes were increased to US$31 million in 2007.

The Zimbabwe government blamed the US, Britain and its Western allies for imposing sanctions on it in a bid to effect regime change as revenge for the country’s chaotic land reform programme embarked on in 2000, which resulted in about 4 000 white commercial farmers losing their farms.

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