Expulsions spark explosive Zim, US diplomatic spat

The meetings were convened after Zimbabwe expelled scores of officials, who the United States said were assessing development and governance dynamics in the country.

IN crucial back-to-back meetings between Harare and American embassy officials in the past few weeks, the world’s superpower at some point described as “egregious” Harare’s move to expel its nationals last month, as relations plunged to new depths, according to diplomatic sources.

The meetings were convened after Zimbabwe expelled scores of officials, who the United States said were assessing development and governance dynamics in the country.

It said the assessments were meant to “help inform the United States Agency for International Development (USAid)’s work supporting civic participation, democratic institutions, and human rights”.

The Zimbabwe Independent understands that the deportations triggered a verbal showdown behind the scenes.

“There were meetings which were held in the aftermath of the deportation of US officials, who were in the country in February to conduct USAid business,” a diplomatic source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The meetings were attended by US embassy officials and representatives from Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs ministry.

“US embassy officials reaffirmed their position that Zimbabwe’s conduct was unacceptable and frustrated efforts to mend fractured relations,” the source added.

The deportations, described by the US as “forced”, were followed by a shock announcement that the US would replace its 2003 executive orders sanctions regime with the Global Magnitsky framework.

Under the fresh embargo, 11 individuals, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri, Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Owen Ncube and Central

Intelligence Organisation deputy director Walter Tapfumaneyi, were designated, accused of “fuelling corruption” and “human rights violations”.

USAid spokesperson Jessica Jennings told this publication that embassy officials made it clear during the meetings that Harare’s actions were extreme.

“Approximately 10 days after arrival, the assessment team faced inappropriate and aggressive treatment in the lead up to their deportation,” Jennings said.

“Since the incident, the US government has made it clear to the Government of Zimbabwe that these actions are egregious, unjustified, unacceptable, and in violation of accepted diplomatic norms.

“This action undermines past claims by the Government of Zimbabwe that it is interested in democratic reform and re-engagement with the United States,” she added.

Although Mnangagwa has repeatedly declared Harare’s commitment to normalise relations with Washington, the US has maintained that Zimbabwe has not demonstrated genuine political will to embrace democratic reforms, uphold human rights and curtail corruption.   

When the US placed Mnangagwa and members of his inner circle under the fresh round of sanctions, the superpower also pulled out of the African Development Bank (AfDB)-led dialogue initiated to help Zimbabwe settle its US$22 billion external debt.

The AfDB initiative, which is being spearheaded by the bank’s president, Akinwumi Adesina and former Mozambican head of state Joaquim Chissano, began in 2022 as a strategy to thrash out a viable debt settlement plan with Zimbabwe’s foreign creditors.

During a conference held in Harare last year, Adesina and Chissano underscored that it was crucial for Zimbabwe to stage credible elections among other conditions in order to extinguish its external debt and unlock fresh funding.

Conditions outlined by Adesina and Chissano also resonate with the terms Washington has said are crucial before sanctions are removed.

Harare has insisted the deportees had “surreptitiously” entered the country in violation of dictates of the Geneva Convention.

George Charamba, deputy chief secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, was quoted this week describing the deported officials’ actions as “consular infractions”.

“They were what we call consular infractions,” Charamba said. “Basically, that term refers to entry of foreign nationals in a country without due process as defined by that country.”

However, Jennings indicated that the deportees had satisfied laid down procedures, including formally notifying the government of the purpose of their visit.

“Before the assessment began, USAid notified the Government of Zimbabwe of our plan for an assessment through an official diplomatic note and requested meetings with the government,” she  said.

“The team of US government officials and contractors are development professionals, who were legally and openly admitted to Zimbabwe on February 5 and February 7.”

Questions posed to Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Nick Mangwana seeking an understanding on the circumstances surrounding the deportations were not addressed at the time of going to print.

The Independent also sought to understand the nature of discussions held between officials from the US embassy and the Zimbabwean government following the deportations.

The same questions posed to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Michael Mukura were not responded to.

Commenting on the impact of the deportations in light of Mnangagwa’s re-engagement agenda with Washington, Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London, said Harare’s gesture betrayed its paranoia when dealing with the West, particularly the US.

Such actions, he stressed, risked unsettling potential investors.

“It means that Zimbabwean government paranoia triumphs over good relations with the US,” Chan said.

“It will discourage many US firms from seeking to do business with Zimbabwe. They will think Zimbabwe is certainly not open for business.

“The response on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, among the senators and congress people, not experts on Zimbabwe, will be that the regime and the President are not only wicked but naive.

“They will take these double qualities as warning signs not to engage with him or his government,” he added

The deported US officials, include Brenda Lee Pearson, Norma Kriger, Sarah Logan and Loretta Bass.

Chan dismissed claims that the quartet was US spies deployed on a mission to advance Washington’s regime-change agenda in Zimbabwe.

“At least one of those named was a highly distinguished academic - Norma Kriger. She is a major authority on the conduct of the liberation war. She, like her colleagues, were not spies but were knowledgeable experts on Zimbabwe,” he said.

The Global Magnitsky sanctions programme covers travel bans and asset freezes within the US.

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