United States officials have made it clear that Washington won’t fund economic recovery in Zimbabwe unless there’s genuine political power sharing. A recent agreement between President Robert Robert Mugabe and two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has inspired hope that Zimbabwe may soon be on the road to recovery. The country’s been wracked with political violence and economic chaos for almost a decade. Mr. Mugabe has in large part blamed the West, including the United States, for his people’s suffering. President George W. Bush has dismissed Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government as “illegitimate.” Analysts say Harare will have to repair its damaged relationship with Washington if Zimbabwe’s economy is to improve significantly.
US officials are watching political developments in Zimbabwe with great interest, but analysts say they’re adopting a “wait-and-see” approach.
“Everyone wants to see if Robert Mugabe is truly going to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai. That’s the big question. If there are concrete indications that some power at least is shifting in Zimbabwe, then I think we are likely to see more pronouncements from countries such as the US,” says Professor Pieter Fourie, the head of the University of Johannesburg’s political science department.
As the euphoria has faded following the signing of the pact, Fourie says the complexity of the situation has revealed itself in the “grim reality” of negotiating for cabinet posts between the opposing camps.
Many in Zimbabwe and in the international community are skeptical that Mr. Mugabe will be able to put aside his differences with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s new prime minister under the terms of the power-sharing accord, whom the president accuses of being a “stooge” of Britain and the United States.
Fourie says it appears the deal is “unraveling” and that if this is indeed the case, Zimbabwe will continue to be deprived of Washington’s essential financial support.
During his speech at a function acknowledging the power-sharing pact, Mr. Mugabe continued his railing against Western “forces” he says are meddling in his country and cooperating with Tsvangirai in trying to exploit Zimbabwe.
“The problem we have had is a problem that has been created by former colonial powers, who wanted to continue to interfere in our domestic affairs and continue to have a share of our natural resources,” Mr. Mugabe stated.
ZANU-PF bitterness towards the United States increased during the first round of elections, when Washington’s ambassador in Harare, James McGee, clashed repeatedly with the authorities as a result of political violence in Zimbabwe. The diplomat accused Mr. Mugabe’s forces of brutality and repeated the charges as ZANU-PF supporters attacked MDC supporters before the June run-off poll. After Mr. Mugabe had won the run-off unopposed and once again declared himself president, President Bush made it clear that Washington did not consider this to be a legitimate expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.
“I think the Bush administration has been right to tell it like it is, to be honest about repression in Zimbabwe,” says Michelle Gavin, a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations and the author of her organization’s Special Report on Zimbabwe.
She is, however, convinced that the US government’s constant, direct and strong “condemnation of Robert Mugabe specifically – in sort of an individualized attack and letting that be the main message – maybe was a bit of a mistake.”
Gavin says rather than attacking Mr. Mugabe, the US could perhaps have focused on providing more aid to the people of Zimbabwe and mobilizing international help for the country’s inhabitants.
She says President Mugabe has used the vehement criticism against him by Washington and others to his advantage. Gavin says he’s been “quite good at spinning out this narrative in which all of the problems in Zimbabwe – which are really largely the result of gross economic mismanagement and corruption – are the result of some kind of Western neo-colonial conspiracy.”
Gavin says Washington sometimes made it sound as if US policy was just about condemning Mr. Mugabe, rather than wanting to protect the rights of Zimbabweans, and this “inadvertently” allowed the president to claim he was a victim.
Throughout his political campaigning, Mr. Mugabe alleged that the MDC was a front for the US and Britain. He continued this theme in his speech after the agreement had been signed, saying, “Why, why, why the hand of the British? Why, why, why the hand of the Americans here? Let us ask that. Let us not ignore the truth as we move forward….”
Analysts say Mr. Mugabe’s paranoia about the West is clearly evident in the language used in the power-sharing accord itself. Under an article entitled “External Interference,” the parties commit themselves to “non-interference” in internal matters and agree that the responsibility for change in Zimbabwe rests with its people and that “no outsiders have a right to call for or campaign for regime change in Zimbabwe.”
President Mugabe’s hand is also seen in a clause that implicates the US and others in the suffering of Zimbabweans. For example, it takes note of Washington’s enactment of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, “which outlaws Zimbabwe’s right to access credit from international financial institutions in which the United States Government is represented or has a stake.”
The agreement says measures taken by the US have “contributed to Zimbabwe’s economic decline.”
Sanctions, economy and human rights
Mr. Mugabe constantly blames sanctions, especially those imposed by the United States and the European Union, for Zimbabwe’s economic implosion, but Gavin says the president is “totally wrong” in this.
“Those sanctions really have nothing to do with the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. They are quite narrowly targeted to address travel restrictions and the assets of a very small group of elites in Zimbabwe. I do think that they were entirely appropriate. It makes sense to isolate and try to put pressure on actors who are repressing their own people and sending Zimbabwe into this downward spiral.”
The power-sharing agreement nevertheless calls for the lifting of all sanctions – something the US says it will not do unless it’s convinced that real democratic reform is underway.
Washington denies that its policies and sanctions have hurt Zimbabweans and points out that it remains a leading donor of humanitarian aid to the southern African nation.
Gavin acknowledges that the US sanctions against President Mugabe and leading members of his administration have had “limited effect. They’re probably most powerful as a clear expression of condemnation more than anything else.”
She’s sure, though, that Washington will continue to press for certain key reforms in Zimbabwe, no matter which direction the talks on the form and shape of a new cabinet take.
“Basic respect for human rights, and civil and political rights. No more rounding up and beating people for their political views. Accountability, when incidents like this do occur so that the perpetrators of these crimes are held responsible in a court of law. Freedom of the press. An end to the manipulation of humanitarian aid where one has to declare loyalty to ZANU-PF in order to access assistance, while others are denied.”
Gavin says as far as the US is concerned, “sweeping economic reform” has to be one of Zimbabwe’s top priorities.
“The economy has to be wrested from the grip of the Joint Operations Command, this group of ruling party security elites who are essentially running the country. There will have to be transparent, sound governance of the economy for the international community to be interested in providing the support necessary to stabilize this catastrophic economic situation,” she explains.
US relations with Tsvangirai
Gavin says Mr. Mugabe has made a lot of Tsvangirai’s perceived friendly relationship with the West, and especially Washington. But she’s adamant that “US policy isn’t to be backing Morgan Tsvangirai because he’s Morgan Tsvangirai. There’s certainly a desire to see the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed in the March election, respected, but then these basic governance issues have to be addressed, no matter who is in power.”
She says the US will support Tsvangirai in the event of “real reform” in Zimbabwe, not because the MDC leader is a “darling” of the West.
“It’s really about governance issues rather than the specific individual ruling the country,” Gavin maintains. She says if Zimbabwe begins to change for the better, Washington will be willing to provide “significant financial and technical assistance” for a recovery plan.
“That plan would have to be multifaceted, it would have to multilateral. No one country is going to help Zimbabwe get back on its feet. It’s going to take an international effort,” she insists.
But Gavin says the US would be a “robust player” in this international effort, “with resources…technical assistance and political backing to address a range of problems, like the stabilization of the currency, the need for better economic governance…and the critical issue of land reform.”