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US Congressional Team Visits Zimbabwe

  • Peta Thornycroft

A team of U.S. congressmen are in Zimbabwe to assess the progress of the country's year-old inclusive government. The members of Congress were meeting with several politicians including President Robert Mugabe and Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

After the meeting with the four congressmen, Movement for Democratic Change Finance Minister Tendai Biti said he hoped the United States would re-engage with Zimbabwe and amend the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act, or Zidera. The legislation prohibits American officials at international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund from voting in favor of aid for Zimbabwe.

Biti has repeatedly asked that U.S. restrictions be lifted on two banks, one which services the agricultural sector; and, a commercial bank in which the government and ZANU- PF members have a large stake.

Democratic congressman, Melvin Watt, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, sits on the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives.

This is his second visit to Zimbabwe since the unity government was formed.

"I see conceptually the importance of engaging," said Melvin Watt. "The question is how do you do that without sending the wrong message? Whatever has happened in the past is OK. But, I also see the need to look forward and to try to form a new basis upon which to engage with this new government."

He said the task of lifting or amending Zidera, which also bans top ZANU-PF officials from traveling to the U.S. and freezes their U.S. assets, would not happen quickly.

"Obviously, I don't get to make that decision," he said. "We get to give input on that when we get back to the States. We need to figure out some way to give this new government the opportunity to move forward without being burdened by all of the sins of the past."

He said some progress has been made since the unity government was sworn into power in February of last year.

"Last time it was not clear at all that there was a basis for even the interim government being a foundation for moving forward, the parties were still basically at each other's throats and now they seem to have found some common ground and are using this new interim government as a foundation for moving forward rather than as a platform for exploring their differences in the past," said Watt.

This week the European Union extended sanctions on Zimbabwe for another 12 months, citing a lack of progress in fulfilling the power-sharing pact. The EU will meet again on Zimbabwe next week.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund's board will consider whether to restore Zimbabwe's IMF voting rights in a meeting on Friday, an IMF spokesman told Reuters Thursday.

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