The resignation in November of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has opened a window of opportunity for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people. The nearly four decades-long rule by Mugabe was marked by economic devastation, violence, disregard for the rule of law, and contempt for fundamental human rights.
In 2001 the United States began imposing targeted measures against the Government of Zimbabwe, including financial sanctions against selected individuals and entities, a ban on transfers of defense items and services, and a suspension of non-humanitarian government-to-government assistance.
Nevertheless, as U.S. Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Stephanie Sullivan noted recently in testimony before Congress, the United States has maintained a strong relationship with the Zimbabwean people. Since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the United States has provided significant development assistance in the areas of health, food security, education and economic opportunity for Zimbabwe’s citizens – though none of the U.S. foreign assistance now involves direct funding to the government.
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Sullivan said the change in Zimbabwe’s government “offers an opportunity for reform that could allow the United States to [engage] in ways we have not recently been able to do.” That means, she emphasized, that current President Emmerson Mnangagwa [nah-gah-gwah] “must demonstrate his commitment to a democratic, just, healthy and prosperous Zimbabwe.”
The U.S. policy for expanded engagement requires a focus on constitutional democracy, free and fair elections, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and an improved trade and investment climate.
“The country has a strong civil society and an experienced political opposition whose voices must count in charting a path forward,” Ms. Sullivan said. ”The military needs to return to its barracks and state institutions should be demilitarized. Perpetrators of abuses against civilians should be held accountable, regardless of party affiliation.” And the government must engage in hard economic reform, including addressing budget deficits and reducing corruption.
“If President Mnangagwa wants improved diplomatic relations and access to international assistance and cooperation, particularly with the United States, his government must first implement reforms,” declared Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Sullivan. “The United States stands ready to help the government and the people of Zimbabwe to achieve these goals…Fundamentally, this will be about the people of Zimbabwe,” she added. “We want to support their aspirations for a country that can reach its full potential.”