Newly-appointed United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols says he is looking forward to seeing Zimbabwe return to being the powerhouse it used to be, once it embarks on a path of reviving its economy through agriculture, tourism and the use of its resources.
In an interview on Friday at the Voice of America’s Washington headquarters, Nichols (BN) told Marvelous Mhlanga-Nyahuye of VOA’s Zimbabwe Service, that the newly-elected government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa will get full support from the US if it abides by its constitution and implements the reforms it promised during the election campaign, such as observing the rule of law, and allowing its citizens such freedoms such as access to information and free speech.
On the removal of sanctions and the controversial Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018 (Zidera), Nichols said Zimbabwe has to fulfil the requirements of its 2013 constitution for the US congress and administration of President Donald Trump to revisit the scrapping of Zidera.
Nichols also restated that the US only has targeted sanctions on some individuals and entities, but not the entire country, and that US businesses are not restricted from investing or doing business in Zimbabwe.
MN: Ambassador, everybody has that question about Zidera (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018) and sanctions. What is the difference? As simple as it sounds, people still want to know.
BN: Thank you for having me. The US policy toward Zimbabwe has a number of elements, but one of those elements is legal and that’s Zidera. To put is as simply as I can, if Zimbabwe fulfils the requirements of its 2013 constitution, it will meet the requirements of Zidera.
Zidera covers lending by international organisations to Zimbabwe and forgiveness of the debt that Zimbabwe has to those organisations, and countries in the Paris Club.
The sanctions that exist are executive branch sanctions on 154 individuals and entities and it prevents people from the United States or through the United States economic system from providing economic benefits to those people, or it can prevent them from travelling to the United States.
So there are two different areas, but Zimbabwe’s progress in building a democracy that respects the tenets of the 2013 constitution is the key thing that it needs to do.
MN: And we saw only yesterday the US saying that they will not lift sanctions against Zimbabwe until there are reforms. What kind of reforms is the US looking at?
BN: Well, there is legislation that does not comply with the 2013 constitution, Aippa (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act), those legislations that cover the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), or freedom of speech restrictions.
Those are things that President Mnangagwa said during the campaign that he was committed to repealing, or revising, and I think if he were to repeal those laws in concert obviously with the legislature, that would be an important step in fulfilling the requirements of the legislation.
MN: And, on the health side, we know that the US is really involved in Pepfar (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief), but we have a cholera epidemic currently underway in Harare, and Zimbabwe. Is the US going to step in and help?
BN: Well, actually yes, I was just visiting the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and had the opportunity to discuss this issue with them.
We have an excellent relationship with Zimbabwe on issues of health, and I was very impressed to hear the close co-ordination and work that’s being done.
Cholera is a preventable disease, and one of the most important interventions is dealing with water and access to clean water.
So we definitely want to work with the people of Zimbabwe on promoting access to clean, potable water.
There is also a vaccine, an oral vaccine, that can help prevent cholera. Now, it’s not 100% effective, but it does help people either prevent infection or recover more quickly, if they are infected, and we are working with the government of Zimbabwe on a vaccination programme that hopefully will cover 300 000 people.
MN: Thank you. Also, more on the social, the Diversity Visa. A lot of Zimbabweans have been asking: what is the current situation regarding that?
BN: Well, the United States is a country that is interested in and welcomes immigration, but it has to be lawful immigration.
The Diversity Visa is one of the ways that people can access lawful, permanent migration to the United States.
Every year, the level is set by the administration and Congress, and we’ll be looking forward to see what the level is for 2019.
MN: And what kind of assistance in other programmes are you looking at as the new ambassador who is coming into Zimbabwe? What areas will you be concentrating on?
BN: Well, so many areas, but education and exchanges are very important, so hopefully people will be joining us with the Mandela Washington Fellowship, that’s a great exchange programme.
We have other cultural and educational exchanges, bringing artistes and athletes to Zimbabwe, and sending Zimbabweans to the United States to learn more about our country.
Cultural preservation is an area that I’m very passionate about, and we have some exciting things that we are going to be doing, and some of the most important cultural sites in Zimbabwe, going forward.
MN: You also spoke about some areas that Zimbabwe can actually promote more, areas like tourism. Tell us a little about that.
BN: Well, Zimbabwe has so much economic potential. When you look at the area of tourism, Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
It has amazing wildlife, amazing natural vistas, Victoria Falls is world-renowned, and Zimbabwe should be capturing more tourists and providing them with a world-class experience.
So hopefully we’ll get to see more investment in that area.
In addition, Zimbabwe agriculturally has been a powerhouse over time and hopefully the reforms that both candidates talked about during the presidential campaign will be implemented to help build a more resilient and successful agricultural sector.
And then obviously the extractive industry sector, mining, is one where Zimbabwe has tremendous potential — 40 different valuable minerals in Zimbabwe that, I think, if properly managed, could provide tremendous opportunities for both employment and foreign exchange earnings.
MN: Going back to the elections, you said you met both President Emmerson Mnangagwa and (MDC Alliance) opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. What’s your take?
BN: Well, I think they are both people who love their country, and are committed to improving Zimbabwe and changing many of the problems of the past.
I look forward to working with both of them, both of them were very gracious in receiving me on multiple occasions.
I look forward to getting back to Harare next week, to talk to both of them shortly after my arrival, and helping to find a way forward of co-operation and engagement between Zimbabwe and the United States.
MN: This is my last question, I am going back again to sanctions. Generally people in Zimbabwe believe that sanctions hurt the ordinary person on the street, not the ones that are on the target list. What can you say about that?
BN: Well, Zimbabwe has an opportunity for growth, and the sanctions really do affect specific individuals.
Decisions on investment in Zimbabwe are driven by the economic conditions in Zimbabwe, the rule of law, the assurances that people’s investments will be protected, that they have the right to have majority ownership in their businesses.
Those are the kind of things that the private sector is interested in.
There is a significant interest in investment in Zimbabwe, but investors want to see reforms that have been talked about, implemented.
We need to see the implementation and action on the reforms, not just a list of reforms that are proposed.