THE United States of America and the Zimbabwean government have had strained relations for some time. Of late, Harare has been accusing Washington of funding, offering logistical support as well as co-ordinating demonstrations in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe Independent political reporter Elias Mambo (EM) caught up with US ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jr (HT), to discuss relations between the two countries, among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.
EM: What is the state of Zimbabwe and United States relations?
HT: The United States continues to seek ways to enhance our bilateral relationship. Our enduring interest and commitment to the people of Zimbabwe have not changed. We stand by the commitments that we made to the people of Zimbabwe at independence in 1980; to work together to increase mutual understanding between our peoples as well as promote democratic institutions, equitable economic growth, public health, and food security.
EM: Zimbabwe has accused the US government of funding, logistically supporting and co-ordinating demonstrations.
What is your comment?
HT: The United States supports freedom of expression and the peaceful manifestation of dissenting points of view — all of which are rights guaranteed in Zimbabwe’s constitution. The organisers of recent demonstrations have not requested US funding to coordinate demonstrations and we have not offered it.
EM: You have been photographed in the company of some of Zimbabwe’s social movement and protest leaders such as Sten Zvorwadza, Evan Mawarire and Patson Dzamara. Does this not suggest, as government officials have claimed, that you are either sympathetic or funding them?
HT: We share 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 that it is important to engage with government and non-governmental entities alike.
EM: What is the US position on the debt clearance and arrears strategy to pay US$1,8 million to international finance institutions?
HT: The United States supports every country’s efforts to repay its debts, and urges the government of Zimbabwe to review fiscal and economic policies to put Zimbabwe on a sustainable path to economic growth.
EM: Considering that the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) of 2001 is still in place, is it possible for Zimbabwe to get the money from institutions like the IMF and the World Bank where the US has interests?
HT: Zidera requires the United States to vote against new loan credits from the international financial institutions, with the exception of programmes supporting basic human needs or good governance, until the government of Zimbabwe restores rule of law, allows freedom of speech and association, and holds a presidential election that is free and fair. Zidera can be waived by the US President, but only if the government of Zimbabwe undertakes the meaningful political and economic reforms necessary, which has not occurred in Zimbabwe to date. The IMF and World Bank likewise have conditions, foremost being economic reforms and fiscal transparency, before Zimbabwe’s relations with those institutions can be normalised and new programmes approved. Zimbabwe will need to complete requisite steps already discussed many times with the IMF and World Bank before Zimbabwe is eligible for new funding.
EM: Is the US considering lifting limited sanctions on Zimbabwe or repealing Zidera which has been there for a decade?
HT: That’s a decision of US Congress and the President. However, the absence of progress on the most fundamental reforms needed to ensure rule of law, democratic governance, and respect for human rights leaves Zimbabweans vulnerable to ongoing repression and presents a continuing threat to peace and security in the region. We will monitor the government of Zimbabwe’s progress in implementing additional political and economic reforms, and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss repealing Zidera if the government of Zimbabwe were to demonstrate concrete, positive progress toward the reforms it committed to in its 2013 constitution. The ball is in the Zimbabwean government’s court.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) on Tuesday (last week) announced the removal of nine individuals and 11 entities from its Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List. These de-listings are part of a continuing effort to ensure that US sanctions remain targeted and relevant to the latest developments in Zimbabwe, and do not unduly harm ordinary Zimbabwean citizens. We continue to review sanctions as we monitor events in Zimbabwe. We note with concern the increasingly violent government crackdown against citizens of Zimbabwe, including reports of human rights violations during recent public protests throughout the country. We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to implement the significant political and economic reforms to which they have previously committed, to respect basic human rights including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, and to establish a credible, independent electoral commission ahead of the 2018 elections.
EM: What is the US understanding of the impact of Zidera on Zimbabwe’s economy? HT: As explained, Zidera is not sanctions; rather the legislation requires the United States to vote against new loan credits from the international financial institutions with some exceptions. Zidera has never been implemented since enacted into law in 2001 as Zimbabwe has been in arrears to the international financial institutions since that time and has not qualified for new programmes. For more than 30 years, the United States government has provided the people of Zimbabwe with over US$2,6 billion to increase food security, support economic growth, improve health systems and services, and advance democratic governance. In the past year, the US government, through USAid, has contributed over US$120 million in emergency assistance reaching 600 000 people since June 2015 in response to the drought — making us the largest contributor to emergency humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe.
EM: What should be done to ensure investment and economic recovery to achieve prosperity?
HT: Transparent and predictable pro-growth policies are essential to attracting business and investors.