The future lies in Zimbabweans’ hands: Wharton

via The future lies in Zimbabweans’ hands: Wharton – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 17, 2015

Zanu PF has for long accused the United States (US) of seeking to effect regime change in Zimbabwe and President Robert Mugabe has not hidden his disdain for its interference in the internal affairs of the country. NewsDay Senior Reporter (ND) Richard Chidza this week caught up with US envoy to Harare Bruce Wharton (BW) and talked about these and other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:

ND: United States-Zimbabwe relations, where do they stand now?

BW: I think we are in a better place today than we were last year. My ability to have honest and useful conversations with a whole range of Zimbabwean officials, from ministers, deputy ministers as well as provincial ministers, I think it is better today than we were last year. Within the last week I have met three different ministers and we discussed important issues of mutual concern — public health, economic development, tourism and I am always proud of the fact that more Americans continue to visit Zimbabwe than any other nationality outside Africa.

We can always do more and we continue our long-term support to the people of Zimbabwe, a commitment we made in 1980 at independence and we have brought in about $2,6 billion worth of assistance to this country since then.

While we do have policy disagreements with the government here, my sense is that both sides are looking for ways that we can do things that are of mutual interest, and there are a lot of those, so I feel we are in a better place now.

ND: Do government officials appreciate the work you are doing given the fact that they seem to think that the US has a hostile foreign policy thrust against Zimbabwe?

BW: Our foreign policy is not hostile and our policy towards Zimbabwe seeks to strengthen the country so that it can meet the needs of the people — the social, educational and economic needs. We can work together and find ways of how to get this economy going. It is my firm belief, based partly on research and partly from talking to American businesspeople — and we had a business delegation just a week ago — that Zimbabwe’s future is in the hands of Zimbabweans.

It is important and completely doable, policy reforms that can make this country much more attractive to investors and get the economy moving. So those are the sort of things we support, like public health, strong institutions such as Parliament and rational economic policies that seek to protect the interests of Zimbabweans, but also attractive to investors. We want Zimbabwe to succeed.

ND: What would you say are the major policy disagreements between the US and Zimbabwe?

BW: I would refer everyone to the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), passed by our Congress in 2001 and it sets out very clearly what our concerns are, it speaks about the importance of the rule of law, the protection of private property, an electoral process that has the confidence of the people of Zimbabwe, transparent, credible and peaceful elections. Those are the things that we believe will help make this country strong again and they also happen to be reasons why we imposed targeted sanctions against a relatively small number of people here in Zimbabwe.

ND: Having observed the just-ended by-elections, do you think Zimbabwe has moved in the kind of direction you would be happy with?

BW: We participated in a diplomatic watch along with other diplomats, but those reports are still coming in and we will be happy to share them once they are all in.

ND: If you were to judge them based on the 2013 harmonised elections, have our processes moved positively?

BW: We are all grateful that the 2013 elections were peaceful, but I would note that the turnout for these by-elections was very low.

ND: The main opposition party MDC-T boycotted the by-elections, do you support such a stance or you are for participation and gradual positive gains?

BW: We do not have a position on the strategies of individual political parties in Zimbabwe, but I simply note that a relatively low turnout does not build confidence in an electoral process whether in Brazil or the US.

ND: What is it that President Robert Mugabe and his government have to do for the US maybe to follow the European Union example of scaling down the sanctions or removing them altogether?

BW: Again, I would refer you back to the Zidera which lays out clearly our concerns about Zimbabwe and the reasons we imposed limitations on debt relief to Zimbabwe and the targeted sanctions. That Bill is very clear those concerns and the kind of reforms that we think will make Zimbabwe strong again.

ND: On a scale of one to 10, how much would you rate Zimbabwe in terms of meeting the requirements of Zidera?

BW: That is a question you would rather ask the government of Zimbabwe I cannot speak for them.

ND: To what extent is Zimbabwe and the US co-operating to curb international terrorism?

BW: There are a lot of things that Zimbabwe and the US have in common and one of them is preventing international terrorism from flourishing, our co-operation and relationship on this topic is quite good.

ND: So is it true that the US is supporting the Central Intelligence Organisation in Zimbabwe materially?

BW: I am not going to offer any answer on intelligence matters.

ND: Why has the US and other western powers held back on signing up to the International Criminal Court (ICC) when as you say are in support of its broad ideals?

BW: I cannot speak on other countries’ decision, but I am aware that about 35 African countries are party to the ICC. The US was concerned that the mandate of the ICC was too broad; and needed further definition before we could sign up. We are a signatory although it has not been confirmed. Fundamentally, we support the ICC although we had specific concerns regarding the breadth of the mandate.

ND: African countries seem to be considering a total pullout given the behaviour of countries like the US, what would be your advice?

BW: It is a sovereign matter, for each nation to decide and I cannot offer any advice in that direction.

ND: There was a business delegation from the US recently. Is there scope for more interaction?

BW: The five American companies that were represented in the delegation were very impressed with Zimbabwe and the next issue is a Zimbabwean delegation that would be visiting the US. I will be accompanying them and they will meet with US government officials, trade associations and civil society. I think the Zimbabwean embassy in Washington is setting up more meetings for them. Outside that I do not have a clear plan although I gather from those that visited last week that they would want to return later this year.

ND: Any particular concerns from US business leaders regarding Zimbabwe.

BW: They want an investment environment that is clear, rules that are understood and predictable. The rules tend to change from week to week and month to month. Clarity and predictability are the two greatest needs of American investors.

ND: Clarity of rules, can you specify?

BW: Indigenisation is a good example of the rules because they seem to change from time to time, depending on who you are talking to. Over the years, the rules of indigenisation have shifted somewhat, American investors have specifically told me that they need that framework clarified. Indigenisation makes sense philosophically as a way of protecting citizens economically. The US does it, Zambia and South Africa have these, but these need to be very clear and predictable and then businesspeople can decide whether to come in or not.

ND: Is Zimbabwe still a threat to American foreign policy?

BW: The President (of the US) has to renew every year an Executive order that maintains the targeted sanctions against 106 individuals and 69 entities and in that Executive order it talks about threats to American security interests. We define security very broadly and that includes health security, economic and democratic security. President (Barack) Obama and (George W) Bush before him have consecutively decided that some of the situation pertaining to Zimbabwe does threaten the US.

ND: Would you describe Zimbabwe as an “outpost of tyranny” in the same vein as Iran and North Korea?

BW: No. I think they are very different and again you have to look at the reality of the situation. We have had diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe since independence. We have a fairly decent and growing trade relationship which is in Zimbabwe’s favour. Zimbabwe sells to the US more than it buys and there is no impediment to that growth.

It is currently $125 million and I think it should be a billion dollars a year and one of the things I am doing with my staff is trying to grow that trade relationship. Zimbabwe and the US are bound by values, the men and women of Zimbabwe fought the war so that all people have the same rights, as everyone else, one person, one vote and that justice is administered equally to all people regardless of the colour of their skin or religion. Hence, I am confident that the things we share in security and economics draw us together even more and those values we share will overcome the differences we have today in matters of policy and we will have a fine relationship in the future.

ND: What does the future hold?

BW: For 15 years now, the US has pointed to a relatively small number of issues which are important and we believe would strengthen Zimbabwe economically, socially and democratically, and which we think would strengthen our relationship. Those things are the basic rights in your Constitution and not external demands, but things Zimbabweans have said in their
own Constitution they want. That they want equal application of the rule of law, regardless of who you are or your family connections, property rights and clear respect of human rights. The disappearance of (journalist-cum democracy activist) Itai Dzamara reminds us that all of our countries have progress to make in human rights and the US is not exempt from this. But given Zimbabwe’s recent political history where outspoken human rights activists like Dzamara disappear, it causes real concerns. These are not secrets that we are concerned about, but issues that we think if addressed would help Zimbabwe grow its economy and create jobs for its citizens.

ND: Has the US ever followed a policy of regime change on Zimbabwe?

BW: No! No! What we want for Zimbabwe is for its people to determine their own future. We happen to practice regime change in the US every four to eight years, we think it is a good thing that there be political renewal, that there be a dynamic political system. But we are not going to dictate to Zimbabwe how it should manage itself only that certain fundamentals like rule of law, respect for human rights, property rights and a clear and credible election system, are fundamental to building confidence in the country and helping to grow the economy, and allow the people of Zimbabwe build the future they want.