The strained state of U.S.-Zimbabwe relations was the topic of a congressional hearing held Thursday by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
“The United States has experienced a troubled relationship with Zimbabwe since this southern African nation achieved majority rule in 1980,” said Smith, noting that Robert Mugabe, the liberation leader who has led the country for the past the decades, has long resented the U.S. government for not supporting his war against the previous white minority government.“Despite our efforts to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with Mugabe’s government over the past couple of decades, his regime has spurned our hand of friendship and flouted international law and convention. However problematic our relationship with Zimbabwe has been, we need to devise a policy that fulfills our national interests, protects the human rights of Zimbabweans and enables this former industrial power to resume its rightful role in Africa’s economy and the global economy as a whole.” Click here to read Smith opening remarks.
The hearing, entitled “The Troubling Path Ahead for U.S.-Zimbabwe Relations,” featured key Administration officials as well as human rights organizations. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, who has visited the troubled nation, also attended.
Testifying were: Deputy Assistant Secretary Shannon Smith, of the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Todd Amani, Bureau for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Arthur Gwagwa, International Advocacy Coordinator , Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and; Imani Countess, Regional Program Director for Africa for The Solidarity Center.
Said Deputy Assistant Secretary Shannon Smith, “The recent elections were a particularly acute disappointment because they followed some encouraging developments earlier in the year, when the parties of the former Government of National Unity agreed on a draft constitution and the Zimbabwean people overwhelmingly approved it in a peaceful referendum. However, in the days and weeks leading up to the election, that promise faded as the electoral process was systematically manipulated. There were serious irregularities in the provision and composition of the voters roll; political parties had unequal access to state media; and the security sector did not safeguard the electoral process equitably. These problems were highlighted by credible domestic and regional observers.”
USAID Deputy Asst. Administrator Amani said, “Since the political and economic crisis of 2008, Zimbabwe has been in the process of a protracted and difficult transition toward economic normalcy and greater democracy. But the nation’s intermittent progress has often been matched by daunting setbacks. While the economy has slowly stabilized since the disastrous crisis of 2008, the recent, deeply flawed elections represent a disturbing political and democratic setback from the cautious and sober optimism five years ago.”
Arthur Gwagwa, a lawyer with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum said, “Many people in Zimbabwe had expectations that the elections would usher in a democratically-elected government with an interest in addressing the country’s longstanding and serious human rights issues. They thought the new government would build on the positives achieved by the inclusive government. However, that hope was extinguished by a rushed and highly-flawed election.”
Imani Countess, the Africa Region Program Director for the Solidarity Center, an international worker rights development organization, said, “The government’s voter registration exercise was conducted in a manner that disenfranchised many urban voters in contradiction to the many international and regional protocols, to which Zimbabwe is a party. Furthermore, the electoral authorities withheld the voters’ roll of eligible voters until the eve of the election, only releasing a printed format. They did not release the electronic version as provided for in the electoral laws and instructed by a court order. Ballot paper printing was not done in a transparent manner and the number of ballot papers printed was more than the number of registered voters. The federation concluded that these factors created fertile ground for election rigging.”
Click here to read their testimonies or listen to opening remarks.