THE United States government has poured cold water on President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured)’s claim that he held a crucial meeting with President Joe Biden last month to discuss ways of removing sanctions against Harare.
Harare and Washington have had a tumultuous relationship since 2001, when the global power enacted the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zdera) to punish the ruling party for alleged human rights violations, electoral fraud and corruption.
The US action followed a chaotic land redistribution programme in 2000, which displaced over 3 500 white former commercial farmers.
The European Union (EU) in 2000 also slapped Zimbabwean rulers with embargoes.
Their assets were frozen across the globe and were barred from travelling to these countries. After taking over the reins in 2017, Mnangagwa was caught up in the diplomatic tiff.
He, however, pledged to pursue a re-engagement exercise to bring Zimbabwe back into the international community.
Mnangagwa also hoped to take the opportunity presented at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last month to meet the world’s most influential leaders, including Biden.
Ahead of the summit, Mnangagwa’s administration hyped up the visit, presenting it as a big diplomatic win.
The Zimbabwean leader raised the hopes of his supporters on arrival at the Robert Mugabe International Airport when he said the re-engagement effort was paying off.
He chronicled his meetings with world leaders including Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and EU council president Charles Michel.
Mnangagwa claimed that during the meetings, he pressed the leaders to remove sanctions.
“I had an opportunity to chat with President Joe Biden and the spirit which he has towards Zimbabwe is totally different from what we see from the US Embassy in Harare,” Mnangagwa said.
“In fact, he called a staffer and said ‘please make sure that I have a chat with the President’ (referring to President Mnangagwa),” Mnangagwa told Zanu PF supporters.
Zimbabwe claims that it has made serious reforms since 2017, but a US State Department spokesperson told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Washington was still concerned about alleged human rights violations in Harare.
In e-mailed responses to the Independent, a US State Department spokesperson rebuffed Mnangagwa’s claims that he met Biden.
The spokesperson said the two leaders had nothing short of a brief encounter during a reception.
“President Biden did not have a scheduled meeting with President Mnangagwa during the COP26 Leaders’ Summit held in Glasgow, Scotland,” the US State Department spokesperson said. “They did interact briefly at a reception.”
The US State Department shot down Mnangagwa’s claim that the US embassy in Harare’s views were not representative of Washington.
The Biden administration said Harare still had significant ground to cover to be reintegrated into the global community.
“Under the direction of the President and Secretary of State, the Chief of Mission serves as the President’s highest-ranking representative to a specific nation or international organisation abroad,” the spokesperson said.
“The responsibilities of the Chief of Mission include pursuing and explaining US policy in the country where they serve. The United States shares the same fundamental interests as the Zimbabwean people: a stable, peaceful, democratic Zimbabwe that reflects the people’s will and provides for their needs.”
The spokesperson said the US government wanted to ensure those few Zimbabweans who use their positions of power to undermine democratic progress do not benefit from their actions.
“We have made it clear the easing of restrictive measures, including targeted sanctions and visa restrictions, will only occur following positive changes in circumstances or behaviour. This includes credible, transparent, and lasting democratic reforms,” he said.
“Zimbabwe’s economic ills are caused by leaders abusing power and misdirecting public funds to their private accounts, not US sanctions – which only target 83 individuals and 37 entities. The US government reviews the sanctions list regularly to acknowledge developments in Zimbabwe.”
The Zimbabwean government, the spokesperson said, committed to systemic reforms in the 2013 Constitution, and again when Mnangagwa became president, yet many provisions of the 2013 Constitution remain unimplemented.
“We share the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people who seek a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Zimbabwe. The US government assistance programme works to promote the Zimbabwean public’s economic recovery, and to highlight opportunities for trade and investment that will benefit US and Zimbabwean businesses alike,” the spokesperson said.
“The Biden-Harris Administration reviews the sanctions list regularly to ensure it remains relevant and acknowledges developments in Zimbabwe.”
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba declined to comment yesterday. He said he would only respond to a statement from the White House, Biden’s office and residence.
The Zanu PF government has been blaming the US sanctions for triggering a 20-year economic meltdown on the southern African country.
But the US has insisted that sanctions are targeted at 83 individuals and 37 entities.
However, Zimbabwe’s business leaders, including bank executives, have said the international embargo has negatively affected economic growth for 20 years. The sanctions, they say, have seen Zimbabwean companies struggling to access crucial funding from the global financial system.
Correspondent banks, which link domestic lenders to the global financial system, have withdrawn at a massive scale after several others have been slapped with big fines for dealing with Zimbabwe, the business leaders pointed out.
Coincidentally, Biden is one of three senators who sponsored Zdera at the time when he was serving as a senator for the state of Delaware.
In the meantime, Zimbabwe’s efforts to rejoin the Commonwealth also suffered a huge blow when the UK House of Lords said authorities should meet conditions including holding free and fair elections to return to the group of Britain’s former colonies.
Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “Within Zimbabwe, we must see rights restored, Constitution respected and human rights – which includes the rights of other political parties to participate fully in the democratic process guaranteed. These will form part of our current and future discussions with key partners.”
This also came out during a recent Twitter Space meeting held earlier this month by local journalist Hopewell Chin’ono with US acting Ambassador Thomas Hastings, EU Ambassador Timo Olkkonen and South African Head of Public Diplomacy Clayson Monyela.
During the Space dicussion, Monyela revealed that behind closed doors, the South African government had no kind words for their Zimbabwean counterparts.
“I know it doesn’t appear like people are speaking out quite strongly in the language that comrades in this space would rather prefer but take my word for it, some of the language that is used when there are meetings behind closed doors, you would be shocked,” he said.
“What is said publicly in statements and also when people are meeting behind closed doors where conversations take place you also have to think about that. Diplomacy also requires a certain measure in terms of how you engage with sovereign countries and that is when the issue of language comes in.”
Monyela added: “Megaphone diplomacy has advantages and disadvantages, quiet diplomacy has advantages and disadvantages; so it is about considering when to adopt a particular approach and strategy. The objective, however, has to be that we are seized and work with a particular country to resolve whatever particular challenges it may be confronted with involving the other stakeholders.”
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