PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s global re-engagement drive suffered a major setback yesterday after the United States State Department submitted a damning report for adoption by the country’s Senate, urging Washington to adopt a cautious approach to relations with Harare over its highly militarised state and terrible human rights record.
Presenting his report before the US senate foreign relations sub-committee on African affairs, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Matthew Harrington, trashed Mnangagwa’s reform agenda, saying it was moving at snail’s pace and had failed to inspire confidence.
The committee is chaired by Senator Jeff Flake. Also presenting his testimony before the committee, a senior fellow of the Centre for Global Development, Todd Moss, said Mnangagwa’s government should be demilitarised.
Harrington raised concern over the deadly violence that rocked Harare soon after the general elections on July 30, in which the military shot dead six people.
He also warned the White House against offering economic support to the country until Zimbabwe effects tangible reforms.
“It is clear that Zimbabwe has a long way to go and requires profound political and economic reforms to sustainably change the path on which it has been for nearly four decades. Since taking power last year and since his election, President Mnangagwa has regularly stated his commitment to pursuing political and economic reforms, as well as a better relationship with us.”
“We welcome the change in rhetoric from the Mugabe years. Since the election, we have seen some promising signs from the government, including appointment of a new, more technocratic cabinet, announcement of an economic plan acknowledging the need for significant monetary and fiscal reform, and a budget which, if implemented, would make important strides in that direction.
“So far, however, the pace and scale of reforms has been too gradual and not nearly ambitious enough. A Zimbabwe that is more capable of providing for the needs of its own citizens and respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms will be a more responsible member of the international community. To reach that end, Zimbabwe will require implementation of fundamental reforms, not merely a commitment to do so.”
“That is a message we have shared consistently with Zimbabwean interlocutors, including President Mnangagwa and senior members of his government. We want Zimbabwe to succeed and would welcome a better bilateral relationship, but the ball is squarely in the government’s court to demonstrate it is irrevocably on a different trajectory,” Harrington said.
He added that Zimbabwe needed to take positive steps towards civil, political and economic reforms if it is to convince the international community about its re-engagement endeavour.
“There are several steps the government of Zimbabwe could take that would send a strong signal to its own people and to the international community that it is serious about taking the country in a new, more positive direction. First, it should repeal laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which have long been used to suppress the human rights of people in Zimbabwe and which violate Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.”
“Second, the government should immediately end the harassment of members of the political opposition. It should drop charges against former Finance minister and prominent opposition figure Tendai Biti and all those who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Third, government should allow the Commission of Inquiry to work transparently and independently, and hold perpetrators of the August 1 violence fully accountable. And fourth, the government should move quickly to ensure legislation is consistent with the 2013 constitution, as well as uphold its letter and spirit,” he said.
Harrington, however, said these proposed steps did by themselves not mean Zimbabwe will automatically be considered as a reformed state, adding that the US State Department would continue monitoring the situation. “These four actions won’t by themselves transform Zimbabwe, but would constitute significant steps in the right direction. We will continue to consult closely with Congress on our approach toward Zimbabwe.
“The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, recently updated by Congress, has provided a very important tool and clearly identified the reforms we expect: restoration of the rule of law, a commitment to equitable, legal and transparent land reform, and ensuring that military and national police forces are subordinate to the civilian government. Zimbabwe that is genuinely accountable to its citizens and responsive to their needs.”