Sunday, September 20, 2009

Zimbabwe Political Agreement Needs Full Implementation, U.S. Says

By Stephen Kaufman

Washington - One year after the signing of the Global Political Agreement between Zimbabwe's leading political parties, the United States is looking to see significant and sustained progress in the implementation of the agreement as a demonstration of the Zimbabwean government's commitment to reform and democratic freedoms.

"There are lots of things that can and should be done that would reflect a genuine change in spirit and attitude towards the implementation of the Global Political Agreement," Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told America.gov. "If in fact we see significant and sustained progress in the implementation ... I think that we have an obligation to be responsive to that progress" in the form of reviewing U.S. sanctions that target prominent individuals and entities that are undermining democratic reform in Zimbabwe.

The September 15, 2008, agreement between President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and its main political opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, paved the way for the current transitional government between the two parties and calls for a new constitution.

Carson says that the full implementation of the agreement also includes the need for ZANU-PF and Mugabe to show more honesty and transparency toward their MDC partners.

"We would like to see the end of all harassment of MDC members ... [and] the end of the very subtle but ongoing effort to discredit elected members of the MDC from their parliamentary positions," as well as the swearing in of MDC members still waiting to take their government jobs following the inauguration of the transitional government in February, he said.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since the country's independence in 1980, also needs to eliminate "all emergency laws that give the executive branch the ability to do things that are of questionable legal means," allow more free and open media in Zimbabwe, and end invasions of white-owned farms in the country, Carson said.

The United States maintains sanctions on 208 individuals and entities that have hindered democracy in Zimbabwe, and the assistant secretary said the Obama administration hopes the sanctions "serve as a political lever encouraging them to make the kinds of political reforms that will ultimately allow Zimbabwe to return to a state of political and economic normalcy."

Carson said he reached out to Zimbabwean leaders, including Mugabe, in an effort to encourage reforms and the full implementation of the agreement. He described his July meeting in New York with Vice President Joice Mujuru as "productive and relaxed," saying Mujuru seemed to understand the U.S. desire to see real change in Zimbabwe.

However, Carson described his meeting in August with Mugabe at the African Union summit in Libya as being "strained and difficult," and said Mugabe "saw the dialogue as being an intrusion into the sovereignty of Zimbabwe and an assault on his authority and his power."

Despite targeted sanctions on certain ZANU-PF officials, the United States remains "one of the most significant and largest providers of assistance" to Zimbabwe, Carson said. Working through nongovernmental organizations, the Obama administration expects to have provided more than $200 million to the country by the end of 2009, focused mainly on humanitarian programs to benefit child survival, the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and discouraging cholera through the provision of clean drinking water. The assistant secretary said President Obama also announced an additional $73 million aid package in June that provides assistance for combating HIV/AIDS and for furthering democracy and good governance.

Carson said Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership are the main elements inhibiting progress in the country because of their "absence of political will and commitment" to reform.

"Again, we see an African country being torn apart at the expense of its people by bad leadership - leadership that consistently puts its own interests ... its own survival, [and] its own desires above those of its people and its citizens," he said. But he said the same leadership that has brought distress to Zimbabwe over the past 10 years can also "help turn the political and the economic situation around."

The United States is continuing to work with Zimbabwe's neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to encourage change in the country. Carson said he recognizes the impact of Zimbabwe's economic and political instability on countries including South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, which have had to take care of millions of Zimbabwean refugees.

"The image of the region as well as the economic benefits that flowed out of Zimbabwe into the region have been diminished as a result of the economic downfall" in Zimbabwe, Carson said. While the United States and countries like South Africa may sometimes differ in their tactics to encourage change in the country, "our common objectives remain very much the same, and that is to see the re-emergence of a strong, stable, democratic, economically viable and strong Zimbabwe that can play its rightful role in southern Africa as well as in international affairs."

What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment on America.gov's blog Obama Today.

(Published by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State).