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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, seeking to boost his country's once-thriving mining industry, recently told potential investors at a mining conference there that progress made by the county’s 7-month old transitional government makes it good place for doing business.
With the collapse of a farm sector that once made Zimbabwe the breadbasket of Africa, mining accounts for about half of the nation’s foreign earnings, and it’s understandable why Mugabe hopes to see it grow. He overstates the case, however, and due to reluctance by him and many of his supporters to share power and fully implement the September 2008 Global Political Agreement, “progress” is in the eye of the beholder.
While members of opposition political parties have taken roles in government, not enough is being done to address human rights concerns and the rule of law. Also, concrete steps must be taken toward holding free and fair elections, under international supervision, in the near future.
Ironically, some of the abuses that alarm both Zimbabweans and the international community can be found in the mining industry that Mugabe is holding out to foreign investors. A human rights group reported that Zimbabwean security forces killed more than 200 people in late 2008, after thousands desperate for money because of the country’s economic collapse swarmed into the Marange diamond field to illegally mine for gems.
A team from the Kimberley Process, the international system established to curb the trade in conflict diamonds, confirmed that security forces remain in control of some areas and are involved in mining activities in and around the fields themselves, reportedly by conscripting local residents.
While appealing for international investment, Mugabe has also called for an end to the targeted economic sanctions imposed on him and his cohorts by the European Union, United States and other nations.
The U.S. wants to do everything possible to encourage urgently-needed improvements on democracy, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of the press as well as on the economic front.
As President Barack Obama said in June, the people of Zimbabwe need things such as properly functioning schools and medical centers, and a farm sector that can feed its people. But until there is true power-sharing, respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and major behavioral changes by the president and his supporters, those targeted measures will remain in place.