Gift Phiri 17 February 2017
HARARE – US President Donald Trump’s phone call to South Africa President
Jacob Zuma highlights neighbouring Zimbabwe’s high political risk and that
Washington does not consider President Robert Mugabe a serious factor in
Afro-American political and socio-economic relations, opposition and
analysts said yesterday.
This comes after Trump spoke with Zuma on Monday this week to discuss ways
to expand cooperation and trade between the US and SA.
According to a statement from Zuma’s office, “The two presidents
reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the already strong bilateral
relations between the two countries. There are 600 US companies in South
Africa and strong trade relations between the two countries.”
In a quintessential rebuff of the 92-year-old Mugabe as tensions escalate
over Washington’s February 6, 2017 concerns over “the continuing
deterioration of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe”, the White House
apparently snubbed Mugabe, with the businessman and television persona
turned president maintaining a tougher US line against Zimbabwe.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba has reacted with indignation to
US’ damning criticism of Zimbabwe’s human rights record, telling State
Department officials they can “go and hang on a banana tree.”
Charamba told the State media Zimbabwe was waiting for an overture from
the Trump administration to see how relations will be between the two
countries during the Republican leader’s presidency.
“We are waiting for a cue from a new government,” Charamba said.
But Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition MDC said the snub highlights the
deepening of an already toxic bilateral relationship that matters
increasingly less to Washington.
“Put bluntly . . . Mugabe has been nothing but a curse to Zimbabwe’s
international relations,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
“No one, including even the Chinese, no longer trusts Mugabe. He is not a
man of his word. He indicates left and then he suddenly turns right.
“Trump doesn’t consider Mugabe as a serious factor in Afro-American
political and socio-economic relations.
“Trump knows that Mugabe is yesterday’s man; he also knows that Mugabe is
in the political departure lounge, he is on his way out of power.”
Trump and Zuma, according to a White House summary of their call,
reaffirmed an “expressed interest in identifying new, mutually beneficial
opportunities for trade” and to “deepen the bilateral relations.”
Analyst Takura Zhangazha said people must not read too far into Trump’s
snub as it does not change the structural dynamics in a bilateral
relationship that is slowly worsening, and slowly fading in importance.
“Trump chose Zuma because the latter leads the largest economy in the
region and is a key trading partner with the US and also in recognition of
the fact that South Africa is a regional powerhouse, at least
“This is also the same reason why Trump also called Nigeria’s (President
Trump also spoke with Buhari to discuss the strong cooperation between the
US and Nigeria, including on shared security, economic, and governance
Analyst Maxwell Saungweme said SA has a larger GDP, larger population than
Zimbabwe, and better trade with the US.
The country exported $176 million in agricultural products to the US last
year under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – a US trade
agreement designed to help African exporters.
“Zimbabwe is a very small country, with a tiny GDP, dilapidated
infrastructure, and facing economic downturn. Zimbabwe also has high
political risk on investments.
“So all these factors, including poor governance make us not a favourite
choice for stronger bilateral relations with super powers seeking to
expand trading relationships.”
Dewa Mavinga, a senior Africa researcher at New York-based Human Rights
Watch, said: “President Mugabe’s government needs to know that investors
can completely ignore Zimbabwe if there are no urgent steps to restore the
rule of law and establish conditions conducive for business that secures
the best interest of Zimbabwe and its people.”
Senior consultant at the International Crisis Group Piers Pigou said Trump
cannot engage Mugabe because of targeted sanctions aimed to maintain
pressure on Zimbabwe by sustaining the costs of its blatant electoral
fraud and rights abuses.
“The US cannot legally move on certain areas of engagement with the
Zimbabwean government until there have been significant moves on
governance, rule of law, human rights issues. This is clear from Zdera
(Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001).
“This (US) law appears to inhibit the kind of shift from the politics of
the stick to the politics of the carrot that we have seen employed by the
UK and EU, which has had mixed results and generated significant
frustration, in turn leading to a growing concern about the Zimbabwean
government and ruling party’s commitment to reforms it claims it will
“I suspect the US has watched this and decided at this juncture there is
not much to work with in terms of those issues.”
Nevertheless, the US remains a vital contributor to humanitarian support
and key service delivery areas to Zimbabwe, in particular the health
“Trump can override Zdera but there has to be clear cause to do so. In
their calculations this is not so,” Pigou added.
Dinizulu Macaphulana, former researcher at Institute for Security and
Development Policy, said the US is focusing on SA, Nigeria, Botswana and
other countries in their scramble for the control of Africa.
“Zimbabwe will be inconsequential except as a problem to be solved.
Zimbabwe’s international relations died a long time ago,” Macaphulana
Trump, who so far has been mostly focused on his “America First” agenda,
has not spoken at much length about his policies concerning Africa. But
his controversial travel ban, one of his first major executive orders, has
targeted three African countries: Sudan, Libya and Somalia.