THE newly appointed United States of America ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has said his country will not scrap the Zimbabwe Democracy and Ec
onomic Recovery Act (ZDERA) even if President Robert Mugabe wins a free and fair election next year.
ZDERA was promulgated in 2002 and the government claims that the legislation was the source of declared and undeclared sanctions against Zimbabwe that have resulted in the current economic and political crisis.
The government said ZDERA was enacted as part of the USA’s and the West’s efforts to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.
In a wide-ranging interview last Friday, McGee (58) said apart from holding democratic elections, the authorities should also respect human rights and the rule of law if ZDERA is to be lifted.
“The United States policy on Zimbabwe is not about free and fair elections alone,” McGee, who succeeded the controversial Christopher Dell, said. “That is only one of the principles outlined in the law (ZDERA). There is need to address all the principles before the law can be repealed, such as upholding of human rights and the restoration of the rule of law.”
The former US ambassador to Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros denied that his country had imposed sanctions on ordinary Zimbabweans.
“Our sanctions were targeted against individuals in government. There are no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe,” McGee, who also served as US ambassador to Swaziland from 2002 to 2004,” said.
Asked why government recently claimed that it was failing to obtain balance of payment support from multilateral organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank because of the United States and its allies’ interference, McGee said: “We are not to blame. Let’s deal with facts. There are targeted sanctions against individuals. Are you aware that Zimbabwe qualifies for the United States’Agoa (African Growth and Opportunity Act )?”
The targeted sanctions prohibit Mugabe, his cabinet ministers and senior government officials from travelling to the US and the European Union.
McGee said his government was open to dialogue with Mugabe’s regime, but added that he was not sure who should take the first initiative towards building bridges between the two.
The career diplomat said there was no need for negotiations in the US.
“They (government) may come to me and negotiate with the US government. I can negotiate on behalf of the US. Why should they go to the US to negotiate?” questioned McGee whose foreign service career started in 1981 and has also served in Nigeria, Pakistan, the Netherlands, India, Barbados, Jamaica and Cote D’Ivoire.
He said government should not expect him to change US policy towards Zimbabwe because he was a black American and, therefore, a brother to the country.
“The fact that I am a black American is not an issue with your government,” McGee declared. “I don’t want your government to prejudge me because of the colour of my skin. I am here to represent the US government and to implement US policy.”
He denied that his country was pursuing a regime change agenda arguing that it was up to Zimbabweans to decide who should govern them.
McGee said he was not aware that the US intended to deport children of government officials on the travel sanctions currently studying in that country.
“I have nothing to say on that issue. I am not aware of the plan to deport the children,” he added.
When told that Dell made a pronouncement to that effect, the gesticulating McGee said: “My job is to implement policies as directed by the government of the USA. As far as I know there is no change in the USA policy on Zimbabwe. If there is change, we will inform you.”
McGee, who presented his credentials to Mugabe last Thursday, said he was “impressed” by the ageing leader.
“I was very impressed by your president,” the Chicago, Illinois, born diplomat said. “He is a very bright, thoughtful man. He chooses his words carefully.”
McGee, who served in the US Air Force from 1968 to 1974 and completed Vietnamese-language studies at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, said he was asked by Mugabe to improve bilateral relations between Zimbabwe and the US.
Asked whether he would take the government head-on on human rights issues as his predecessor Dell had tried to do, McGee said he was a different diplomat.
“If I see a grandmother homeless and starving in the streets I will say it out. Facts are facts. You cannot deny the truth, but I am not here to stick my finger everyday in the eye of the government,” McGee, who earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses during his duty in Vietnam, said. “If there are abuses we will say so. US policy towards Zimbabwe cannot be changed because I am here.”
Apart from working towards improving relations between the two countries, McGee said he would be overseeing US humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe. The US will give over US$$200 million worth of assistance this year.
It will help feed nearly one-in-five Zimbabweans from about US$170 million of food aid.
HIV and Aids assistance has increased to US$31 million this year, including anti-retroviral treatment for 40 000 Zimbabweans.
In his testimony before the Senate in September, McGee said Zimbabwe was once a prosperous nation now suffering under “authoritarian misrule”.
He said there was a “deep reservoir of democratic knowledge, capacity, and desire in Zimbabwe that needs continuing support to challenge the government” to enact democratic reforms and to keep hope alive that change was possible.
“Abandoning the people of Zimbabwe to the worst effects of their government’s misrule is not in America’s interests,” said McGee. “Returning Zimbabwe to a democratic state with a strong economy is necessary to promote regional stability and economic growth.”
He said the US would use all tools at its disposal to “achieve the results we seek (in Zimbabwe)”.
“The ZDERA and our targeted sanctions programme have increased the pressure on those individuals that have undermined democracy and prosperity,” McGee said. “We are working with like-minded members of the international community to increase this pressure.”
He added that the US would continue to lend support to regional efforts to help Zimbabwe to enact needed reforms.