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US Lawmakers React to Apparent Mugabe Ouster

  • Michael Bowman

FILE - U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks on the Senate floor in Washington, Oct. 24, 2017. He says he's had a "long-term interest" in Zimbabwe and thinks President Robert Mugabe will go down in history "as a long-serving thug."

U.S. lawmakers welcomed the apparent ouster of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, although not the military action that confined Mugabe to his home and could end his 37-year rule.

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, deemed Mugabe's sidelining a desirable outcome accomplished through less than desirable means.

"We obviously don't like coups," Cardin said Wednesday, but he suggested that "it's time for the country of Zimbabwe to move on. I hope that they will find a democratic process."

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake has firsthand knowledge of Zimbabwe. He lived in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and wrote his master's thesis on Mugabe, "trying to explain his hold on power. It's been a long-term interest for me."

But Flake spoke bluntly about how Mugabe would go down in history: "As a long-serving thug."

Mugabe "just killed the economy, and in the end lost an election and couldn't take it, so [he] intervened and then stayed in power. So it's not a good legacy," the U.S. lawmaker said. "You know, Zimbabwe, [people] would always say, was the breadbasket of southern Africa and became a basket case during his reign."

FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says that "with better governance, the sky is the limit" for Zimbabwe.
FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says that "with better governance, the sky is the limit" for Zimbabwe.

Another Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, agreed.

"He got more attached to power, more repressive in how he treated his people, rampant corruption. You know, Africa is the prize of the 21st century, I think, for the world at large. A beautiful continent, great people, a lot of natural resources. With better governance, the sky is the limit," Graham said.

'Concerned by recent actions'

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "The U.S. government is concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe's military forces. We call on all Zimbabwean leaders to exercise restraint, respect the rule of law, uphold the constitutionally protected rights of all citizens, and to quickly resolve differences to allow for a rapid return to normalcy."

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on background, also said the U.S. "does not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics and does not condone military intervention in political processes."

The U.S. Embassy in Harare had issued a statement early Wednesday encouraging U.S. citizens in the country to "shelter in place." The spokesperson said there had been no reports of U.S. citizens "being injured or arrested at this time."

U.S Ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas "has been in contact with his counterparts at other missions and with the government of Zimbabwe," the spokesperson said.

In Washington, Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico expressed hope the military action in Zimbabwe would soon end.

FILE - Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is calling for elections in Zimbabwe "as soon as possible."
FILE - Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is calling for elections in Zimbabwe "as soon as possible."

"I don't like coups. I think we should rely on democratic processes, but obviously everybody's gotten a little bit frustrated over there. They should go forward with elections as soon as possible," Udall said.

Future of Zimbabwe

A better future for Zimbabwe is there for the taking, Flake said.

"Nobody's going to mourn the ouster of Mugabe, but what comes next is what's important," he added.

Four members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Africa subcommittee — Flake, Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson — released a statement late Wednesday.

"While a change in leadership is long overdue, we are concerned about the military's actions. We urge the leaders of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces to ensure the protection of all citizens and a transparent return to civilian control," the statement read. "As the country grapples with a new political reality, Zimbabwe's leaders must adhere to democratic processes and establish a mechanism for the peaceful transfer of power that is consistent with Zimbabwe's Constitution and the will of its people."

General elections are scheduled for July and August of next year.

VOA's Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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