Incoming US ambassador talks tough

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UNITED States ambassador-designate to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jr, who will replace Ambassador Bruce Wharton, whose term comes to an end before the end of the year, says he will insist on the respect for human rights and upholding of the rule of law by the Harare government.

Wongai Zhangazha

Appearing before the US Committee on Foreign Relations after being received by the US Senate last week, Thomas, a former ambassador to Philippines and Bangladesh, said while his country would not push for regime change in Zimbabwe, it would demand upholding of democratic principles and respect for the constitution.

Thomas said Zimbabwe had huge potential to succeed and thus US-Zimbabwe relationship should move beyond aid into the realm of investment and development.

The US has assisted Zimbabwe with nearly US$1 billion in humanitarian relief and health-related assistance in the last decade.

“We need, however, to prepare to move beyond a relationship defined by aid. Zimbabweans are fully capable of feeding themselves, meeting the nation’s health and education needs, building a dynamic political system, and restoring what was once one of the strongest economies in Africa,” he said.

“Zimbabwe can and should be a nation of economic opportunities, of respect for the rule of law and the human rights of all people. Those are values that reflect the core of what Americans share with Zimbabweans and that we should pursue together. US policy in Zimbabwe is not about regime change. Only the people of Zimbabwe have the ability to change their government.”

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He said although the US does not support political parties or other partisan interest groups people, his country would not pay a blind eye to human rights violations.

“When, however, self-determination is denied, as it is in Zimbabwe through political violence, fraudulent and mismanaged elections, and restrictions on the right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the United States cannot ignore such human rights violations,” he said.

“We have taken principled steps to demonstrate our concern about the actions of those responsible for, and those who profit from, miscarriages of the promise Zimbabwe offered at independence. We will consistently stand for the rights of Zimbabweans to participate fully in their nation’s political processes.

“If confirmed, I will work to enable Zimbabwe to become a just, prosperous, and democratic state that meets the needs of its people, contributes to security and development in the region, and plays an important role in world affairs.”

Thomas said while Washington DC will not always agree with Harare, it will attempt to maintain respectful and open dialogue.

He also pointed out that the US would push for the full implementation of the 2013 constitution as well as credible and lasting democratic reforms, respect for human rights and rule of law.

Despite the numerous challenges facing Zimbabwe, Thomas said the country had “foundational human and physical infrastructure upon which it can build a strong future”.

Thomas is not new to Zimbabwe as he visited the country to witness the late former South African president Nelson Mandela’s initial visit to Harare just after his release from prison after 27 years. Mandela first visited Zimbabwe in 1990.

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