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‘I will follow McGee’s strong example’

THE United States (US) ambassador-designate to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, has said prospects for political transformation in the country were “immensely challenging” but the US will remain “committed to facilitating peaceful change”.

Addressing the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Ray said his country’s assistance to Zimbabwe focuses on laying the groundwork for a return to democracy and prosperity by supporting democratic forces and civil society and by supporting life-saving assistance, including efforts to mitigate HIV and Aids and other epidemics.
This aid, he said, would go through non-governmental organisations and contractors rather than the central government to ensure it reached the targeted beneficiaries.
Ray said if confirmed ambassador, he would continue the “strong example” of his predecessor James McGee in speaking out against human rights abuses, lack of media freedom and rule of law, and the transitional government’s slow pace of progress in these key areas. 
“(President) Robert Mugabe’s assertions that Zimbabwe is “his” call into question his commitment to democratic principles and reform,” he said. “We will, however, continue to support those working for full implementation of the September 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), on which the transitional government is based, and to seek ways to ease the suffering of the Zimbabwean people without aiding those forces who cling to power through repression and corruption.” 
In this vein, he added, the US sanctions on “those individuals and entities that have hindered democracy in Zimbabwe” would remain in place because they were a “key motivator to elicit pro-reform, pro-democracy behaviour on the part of Zimbabwean officials, Mugabe included.
“The path to democracy, stability, and prosperity in Zimbabwe is long and it will be difficult,” Ray said.  “It involves beginning the process of drafting a new constitution, making significant progress on human rights –– including women’s rights –– and the rule of law and rebuilding public sector infrastructure,” he said. “In addition to a new constitution, reform of the electoral process and electoral institutions is essential to free and fair elections.” 
He said the US was willing to work with the transitional government as much as possible, but would insist on forward movement. 
“Perhaps the most important challenge the government faces is the restoration of the people’s faith in government,” Ray said. “As I explained, it will not be easy, but we remain committed to the people of Zimbabwe and will continue to support them in their efforts to build better lives for themselves and their children.”
He said Zimbabwe was at a crossroads in its history, adding that decisions made by its leadership now would be felt in the future.
“If confirmed, I will do my utmost to protect Americans and American interests, while at the same time working to help the people of Zimbabwe restore their country to a free and prosperous member of the world community,” Ray said.
Ray served as ambassador to Cambodia from 2002 to 2005. A member of the State Department Foreign Service since 1983, following his retirement from the US Army a year earlier with the rank of major, he has also been posted to China, Thailand and Vietnam.
The African-American diplomat served as deputy chief of mission in Sierra Leone. Since 2006 Ray has been deputy assistant secretary of defence for prisoners of war and missing personnel affairs. –– Staff Writer.


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