LATEST: Zimbabwe deports US spies

George Charamba

FOUR United States nationals contracted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reportedly sneaked into the country last month without notifying the authorities as per protocol and proceeded to hold unsanctioned and covert meetings, which were to inform Washington’s adversarial foreign policy towards Zimbabwe.

The quartet — Brenda Lee Pearson, Norma Kriger, Sarah Logan and Loretta Bass — work for a US government affiliate, Navanti Group, and their mission was ostensibly to carry out a “democracy and governance assessment” to help USAID design its local programmes.

However, the team was busted and deported on February 17 after it was established their real agenda was more focused on seeking “a more effective method to effect regime change in the country”, informed sources told The Sunday Mail yesterday.

Curiously, the quartet entered the country without prior communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and went on to conduct assessment activities in the country, thereby violating the Geneva Convention.

After discovering that their team was being shadowed, the US Embassy, on behalf of Navanti Group, reportedly notified the Government on February 5, requesting meetings between Pearson and Kriger and Government ministers, institutions and the Chapter 12 commissions.

The commissions include the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC); the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC); the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC); the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC); and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).

But the arrival of Logan and Bass on February 5 for the same mission was kept under wraps.

Clandestine Meetings

Since arriving separately in early February, the team nicodemously held meetings with leaders of anti-government civic society organisations, journalists, some senior opposition figures and Western diplomats.

Sources indicated that on February 8, for example, Logan and Bass met Danish AID official David Takawira and later on engaged with Swedish Embassy Secretary Peeter Kamaan, who is suspected to be an intelligence officer.

On the same day, they also met Dr Frances Lovemore, the director of the Counselling Services Unit, over dinner.

The following day, they had a meeting with Mike Davis, an official from the Combined Harare Residents Association, before contacting ZIMCODD director John Maketo on February 12.

Their meeting also saw them having engagements with British Embassy official Peter Thomas (February 13); British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office official Nikolai Hutchinson (February 13); Labour, Economics and Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe director Godfrey Kanyenze (February 13) ; and Mass Public Opinion Institute director Eldred Masunungure (February 13).

On Valentine’s Day, they linked up with Pearson at the US Embassy and met with Larry Socha, the State Department public diplomacy officer.

On the same day, Logan and Bass had dinner with Valery Sviuya, director of the Legal Resources Foundation.

On February 15, the team met Heart and Soul TV journalist Blessed Mhlanga, before they were joined by Kriger in their meeting with US political chief Nicole Johnson.

Overall, the team had more than 12 engagements.

The Government has since confirmed the quartet was on a covert political mission.

Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications) Mr George Charamba said: “There were what we call consular infractions. Basically, that term refers to entry of foreign nationals in a country without due process as defined by that country.”

Under the Geneva Convention, foreigners entering a country under the cover of an embassy must notify the host country prior to arrival.

“As it turned out, the team arrived before any notification of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Zimbabwe.

“Upon realising that their team was being shadowed, the American Embassy sought, retrospectively, to fulfil this consular requirement and then raised a note verbale, or a diplomatic note, only on the 5th of February, 2024,” added Mr Charamba.

“Even then, that particular diplomatic note only disclosed two persons of foreign origin, namely Brenda Lee Pearson and Norma Kriger.”

The diplomatic note, he also said, claimed that the duo was set to be accompanied by a Zimbabwean national, Olivia Gumbo, who is believed to be associated with the Navanti Group.

“Unknown to them, the Government of Zimbabwe knew that, in fact, persons who had entered surreptitiously into the territory of Zimbabwe were in fact four, not two as declared.

“Incidentally, the other undeclared two had been very active on the ground, meeting interest groups, meeting leading opposition members, NGOs and travelling around the country with the express purpose of gathering information, and information of a political nature.”

He said the US authorities’ failure to abide by laid-down diplomatic protocol meant that the Navanti team would be deported in terms of Zimbabwean laws.

“Just the fact of one not timeously indicating the presence on the territory of a sovereign country called Zimbabwe of foreigners is enough offence to get those persons deported, let alone understating the number of persons who have unlawfully entered the State of Zimbabwe, and on that score, there is no politeness to be expected,” he said.

“The State will invoke its rough hands in order to enforce the laws of the land, but to also get that foreign country to respect the sovereignty of that country.

“Let me make it very categorically clear that whilst this is a specific incident, the American government and its agencies are best advised that Zimbabwe is determined, capable and prepared to deport as many unlawful missions from any country, including mighty America, for as long as those countries are prepared to raise such unlawful missions which violate the integrity of Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe, he added, “shall be brutally efficient” and “use the full might of our law” wherever the country’s sovereignty is threatened.

“That message must go out very, very clearly to all countries, including the Americans,” he said.

“The size of the country, the military might of that country, the economic might of that country, the diplomatic might of that country is absolutely inconsequential when it comes to the sovereignty of this country and the need to preserve it.”

Political Mission

Mr Charamba said the team’s mission to Zimbabwe was manifestly political and meant to gauge the political environment ahead of the 2028 harmonised elections.

Washington was determined to modify its strategies regarding interference in Zimbabwe’s internal politics following the drubbing of their preferred party in last year’s general elections, he said.

“The mission of the quartet was intensely, exclusively political,” he continued.

“It sought to interfere with the politics of this country in spite of the fact that Americans are no stakeholders in the politics of Zimbabwe.

“They have never been; should never be and will never be stakeholders in the politics of Zimbabwe.

“The same way that Zimbabwe is not a player in the politics of America.”

America, he said, must respect Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and refrain from interfering in Zimbabwe’s domestic politics.

“Again, let me make this very clear: if America thinks it has a holy mission to refashion the politics of this country after its own image of democracy, they are out for a very rude awakening.

“That kind of politics, that kind of meddlesome politics, simply will not be countenanced here.

“We are determined to frustrate them, to stop them in their tracks until they realise American political dreams are the preserve of the American people on American territory.

“They do not overspill to the continent of Africa, let alone to the polity of Zimbabwe.

“We have nothing to do with their politics, we have nothing to do with their model of dreaming.

“Any interference in the internal politics of Zimbabwe will be resisted, and will be resisted vehemently.

“The post-election politics of Zimbabwe are a question for Zimbabweans.

“They are not for the Americans; they are not an issue for the Americans; they are not an issue for American experts, least of all an issue for USAID.”

Liaisons with opposition

The teams’ meetings with members of the opposition were also described as suspicious.

On February 10, Pearson and Kriger held a meeting with former Citizens Coalition for Change representative for Harare East constituency Rusty Markham at York Lodge.

Sources added that the meeting focused on an “intrusive exploration of the country’s macro-political economy”.

During the meeting, Pearson is said to have expressed the US’ interest in funding the capacitation of opposition councillors.

The following day, they held a meeting with US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elaine French in the embassy compound in Westgate.

They later held separate meetings with ambassadors of Sweden (Per Lindgarde) and Netherlands (Margret Verwik) at their respective embassies on February 12.

On February 16, they travelled to Bulawayo, where they held a series of meetings with civic society organisations, including Accountability Lab Zimbabwe.

Interestingly, they also sought to understand the general sentiment of Zimbabweans on the US’ illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Added Mr Charamba: “So, all these are desperate efforts carried out through USAID to rescue and remake the opposition with a view to influencing 2028; it will not happen . . .

“So you can see that there is a whole systematic campaign that includes propaganda and aspersion, which is meant to delegitimise the ZANU PF leadership, hoping that that will make way for a failed opposition they have here. Again, that project will come to grief.”

The US Department of State spokesperson, Mr Matthew Miller, has since angrily reacted to the deportation, alleging that “members of the assessment team were subject to aggressive handling, prolonged interrogation and intimidation, unsafe and forced night-time transportation, overnight detention and confinement, and forced removal from the country”.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Miller also curiously claimed the team was “legally admitted to Zimbabwe”.

Diplomatic sources say the US State Department — which is staffed by bureaucrats, some of who are sentimentally attached to Zimbabwe, in which they served in various diplomatic capacities — has an adversarial posture towards Harare.

However, their position is reportedly different from that of the White House. Sunday Mail.

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