Op-ed by Ambassador Brian A. Nichols first published in the Newsday on October 29, 2020
Harare- The Zimbabwean government announced on September 8th a mining ban in all national parks – reversing a decision to permit Chinese firms to explore for coal in the world-famous Hwange National Park.
This was a wise decision for sustainable development and a significant step to safeguard Zimbabwe’s protected areas and assure wildlife conservation. The decision acknowledges that transparency is vital to create an open and fair business environment in Zimbabwe, to nurture homegrown enterprises, and to attract foreign investment.
Equally important, the reversal responded appropriately to Zimbabwean citizens’ who had exercised their constitutionally protected rights and demonstrated the high risks of not following the country’s established environmental compliance procedures, including serious ecological degradation of wildlife habitats that bring in valuable and sustainable international tourism revenue. Democracy in action means not just holding elections but responding to citizens’ concerns between elections as well.
The decision also sends a positive message to international companies interested in mining in national parks.
The U.S. Embassy strongly supports the combined efforts of all interested stakeholders to protect national parks, as these protected areas provide valuable revenue to the National Parks Authority, the tourism industry, and most importantly, to the communities that live around them.
Beyond just revenue, the national parks represent a magnificent piece of Zimbabweans’ heritage for all to cherish and enjoy.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) community-based resilience and natural resources management program, we work with targeted communities so that they receive the benefits from prudent use of the natural resources around protected areas in the southeast Lowveld.
Additionally, we work closely with the tourism industry to assure that communities are an important partner to help conserve Zimbabwe’s natural resources – its spectacular protected areas that are world renowned for their diversity of stunning landscapes and wildlife.
The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe claims they are “friends without strings” that do not “meddle in the internal affairs” of Zimbabwe.”
Let us examine this statement. What is meant by internal affairs? Is asking the government of Zimbabwe to honor its own regulations to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments of potential mining operations meddling in internal affairs? What about the prevention of the illegal wildlife trade that is run by criminal organizations who slaughter wildlife for sale outside of Zimbabwe and destroy natural habitats – is this meddling in internal affairs?
When animals flee poachers and destroy crops or damage water sources outside of protected areas during a humanitarian food security crisis that requires food assistance from the United States and other donors – is this an internal affair? Is the support, training, and technological assistance to the health sector in Zimbabwe considered meddling? What about ensuring a transparent and welcoming business environment in Zimbabwe to attract international business investors – another internal matter?
We encourage and support all democratic efforts to broaden local dialogue, strengthen independent media and provide the voiceless with a stake in the future of Zimbabwe – one more internal affair?
The U.S. government has demonstrated time and again our long-standing friendship through our investments to improve the lives of the Zimbabwean people. Whether with local or international partners, we provide over $300 million annually to the people of Zimbabwe on a wide range of domestic matters. Since 1980, the United States has provided over $3.5 billion in assistance, including nearly $1.2 billion in health assistance.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the U.S. government has committed more than $19 million to assist Zimbabwe fight the pandemic and support essential health services. Our All-of-America approach highlights the generosity of American private businesses, nonprofit groups, charities, faith-based organizations, and individuals, as well as the ingenuity of our scientists, researchers, and innovators.
Through USAID programs, we have trained more than 8,200 healthcare workers and experts to provide technical support at health facilities in Zimbabwe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through longstanding support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for laboratory quality assurance and information management systems, high quality COVID-19 testing could commence rapidly at the onset of the pandemic.
Attracting international business partners, including U.S. private sector enterprises, can play an important role in helping Zimbabwe restart its economy. We support U.S. companies who seek to trade and invest in Zimbabwe.
This aids both of our nations’ prosperity, and the business practices of our companies – many of them global leaders – have a positive impact wherever they operate. U.S. sanctions only restrict companies from doing business with 37 specific entities and 83 individuals.
These targeted sanctions have not hindered U.S. companies who entered Zimbabwe with great fanfare and no complaints about sanctions. The U.S. Embassy facilitates private sector business relationships and promote U.S. investment in Zimbabwe, which is why we know that credible private sector actors always conduct supply chain due diligence and their company policies do not support harmful activities.
Individual businesses decide where and when to invest based on the investment climate, predictable tax policies, and rule of law. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe ranks near the bottom on several key indicators, including the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list; Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; and the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom report.
While we have seen U.S. companies enter Zimbabwe, we have also seen some exit due to these challenges. It is up to Zimbabwe governmental institutions and private sector partners to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and integrity.
The ban on mining exploration in Zimbabwe’s national parks sends a clear signal that transparency and integrity will be applied in the sector. This is a meaningful step in the right direction. I encourage the government to continue on this path to realize the broad political and economic reforms that President Mnangagwa promised when he took office. Once fully implemented, these necessary reforms will help improve Zimbabwe’s economic growth prospects as well as its ability to attract new investment.
Our continued partnership with the people of Zimbabwe and their government on these internal, domestic priorities demonstrates true friendship that improves the everyday lives of the people of Zimbabwe.