In a marked departure from its previous tough stance against Zimbabwe, the United States of America has given President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration significant encouragement — which should lead to the normalisation of relations between the two countries if Harare manages this year’s watershed elections well.
With ousted former president Robert Mugabe’s relations with the West having been toxic for most of the past two decades, the US government has to date been renewing its targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe and the country’s then top leadership.
But on Thursday, Washington introduced a Bill which amends the biting Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), which introduced tough sanctions against Mugabe personally, as well as many of his senior officials and State entities.
The new Bill, now referred to as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018, does not only contain conditions which are specific to Mnangagwa’s new dispensation — but if these conditions are met, will see Trump’s administration completely removing the current sanctions and re-establishing wholesome relations with Harare.
US Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, who are both members of Washington’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Bill which clearly lays out the framework for both currencies and future American relations with Zimbabwe.
According to the Bill, the US will fully embrace Zimbabwe if Mnangagwa’s government implements a raft of measures which include setting up an independent electoral body; allowing Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to vote; this year’s elections being both free and fair, and taking place without the involvement of the country’s military.
“The Defence Forces of Zimbabwe are neither permitted to actively participate in campaigning for any candidate nor to intimidate voters, and must verifiably and credibly uphold their constitutionally-mandated duty to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan in character.
“(Observers should be) permitted to observe the entire electoral process, both prior to, on, and following voting day, including by monitoring polling stations and counting centres, and are able to independently operate in a manner enabling them to access and analyse vote tallying, tabulation, and the transmission and content of voting results.
“Candidates should be allowed free and full access to State media, which must afford equal time and coverage to all registered parties in an impartial manner, and must be able to campaign in an environment that is free from intimidation and violence,” reads part of the new Bill.
Other conditions that are included in the new Bill are that the government releases without cost to all registered political parties print and digital formats of the biometric voter registration roll.
“Civil Society Organisations must freely and independently be able to carry out voter and civic education, and to monitor the entire electoral process, including by observing, recording and transmitting public-posted or announced voting results, including at the ward, constituency, and all higher levels of the vote-tallying process, including through the conduct of one or more parallel vote tabulation exercises,” the new Bill demands further.
Since assuming office in November last year — on the back of a military-assisted intervention — Mnangagwa has embarked on a spirited campaign to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation.
The 75-year-old Zanu PF leader has so far played nice with not just the Americans, but also other Western powers, as well as Russia and China. However, his critics have accused his government of not prioritising law and electoral reforms at home.
This has seen rights and opposition political groups demanding sweeping reforms — including the addressing of past violations such as Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina and the violence that followed the hotly-disputed 2008 polls — all of which date back to Mugabe’s era.
Washington’s new Bill also demands that Mnangagwa’s government looks into all these outstanding issues, including repealing restrictive laws such as the much-criticised Public Order Security Act (Posa).
Mnangagwa — who served as Mugabe’s right-hand man for five decades — signed into law the National Reconciliation Bill in January this year, which seeks to address previous conflicts such as the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s.
Early this month, Zimbabwe’s new president also appointed a former High Court judge, Sello Nare, to head the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) — two years after the death of Cyril Ndebele who previously chaired it.
Since the fall of Mugabe late last year, civil society groups have stepped up pressure on the new government to deal with all the outstanding issues emanating that require urgent attention.
Topping the issues that civic groups want Mnangagwa and his government to deal with is the emotive Gukurahundi killings.
During his maiden appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, Mnangagwa said the government was keen to address Gukurahundi.
“We are not saying the past must be thrown away from history, it has happened, it is there. Just a week ago, I signed a Bill — the National Healing and Reconciliation Bill — into an Act and have assigned one of my vice presidents to deal with that so that the communities that were affected can air their grievances … and with recommendations from that commission we should be able to address those issues,” he said.
“Let me assure you, just recently I had a meeting with chiefs from Matabeleland, discussing with them, because I feel there is that bad patch in our history and we would want to correct it … we would want to say whatever wrong was committed we must say the government of the day must apologise.
“Wherever a community has suffered any injury, if it is possible to repair that injury, do it. So, as a community, as a government and traditional leaders we have agreed on how to deal with that issue. I am happy (about) that,” Mnangagwa added.