Charles Ray, the US ambassador, told a roundtable discussion with senior editors in Harare on Wednesday that his country, the world’s largest economy, would consider lifting the sanctions only if there was “real and tangible” reform.
Ray was reacting to the decision by Sadc leaders this week to intensify pressure for the removal of the sanctions, which they say are hurting Zimbabwe’s economy.
He described the sanctions, imposed in 2001, as a reaction “to a situation that was hurting the people of Zimbabwe and when that situation is rectified then there is no need for them”.
“If you read the language of these various sanctions or restrictive measures, they all point to the fact that the motivation behind them was the human rights violations that were violent and blocking progress,” said Ray. “This part gets ignored. They are sanctions that are designed to try and influence behaviour that creates a better Zimbabwe for the people.”
Ray’s comments put the issue of sanctions into perspective as some lawmakers in the US congress have been pushing for the repeal or amendment of the 2001 sanctions law, known as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera).
At the beginning of this month, US Senator, Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) introduced the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010 seeking to lift economic sanctions imposed on the country.
Inhofe said the government of national unity had resulted in the recovery of Zimbabwe’s economy and a repeal of Zidera was necessary to fully restore
the economy and assist the transition to
Inhofe’s Bill becomes the second proposed legislation aimed at repealing Zidera. Senator Russ Feingold, supported by two other senators, Johnny Isakson and John Kerry, introduced a Bill in May this year called the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act to replace Zidera.
Feingold’s Bill sought to “update US policy and authorities and help advance genuine transition to democracy and promote economic recovery in Zimbabwe”. Ray acknowledged the two proposals, but said they were not government policy as they only represented the views of the sponsors.
Mugabe and long term rival and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai promised economic stability and democratic reforms as part of their power sharing arrangement.
Ray said while there had been progress in some areas such as the elimination of hyperinflation and reduction of cases of violence, more needed to be done to open the political and democratic space which he classified as still closed.
“There is need for more freedom of information, there is need to air different ideas” said Ray. “Zimbabwe’s situation is not simple, and it does not lend itself to a simple sound bites solution,” he said. “It requires very intense and reasoned analysis and a response that takes into account that there are a lot of people who are involved in the decision-making process and whose interests have to be taken into account. And my recommendation in general is let us look at what is in terms of what we would like to see and not focus on individuals.”
Relations between Zimbabwe and the US deteriorated in the past decade to a level “of name-calling,” according to Ray, adding that while there was still “some negative spin” it was less vitriolic than in the past.
“My philosophy is I do not have time for name- calling,” said Ray. “I feel I am here to represent the interests of the American people and the US government and in the process to try and help Zimbabweans have a good life. When little negatives arise, I treat them like a speed hump on the way. I slow down and drive over.”
He said despite the sanctions, trade between Zimbabwe and the US has trebled during the first half of the year compared to the same period last year.
“In the first six months of this year, Zimbabwe’s exports to the US were more than three times higher than in the first half of 2009,” said the ambassador without giving figures of the volume of trade. “The year-on-year increase in bilateral trade volumes exceeds 50%,” he said
On possible elections next year, Ray said only Zimbabweans should decide on the issue, but warned against a flawed process.
“The question whether or not the people of Zimbabwe are ready for elections is one for the people of Zimbabwe because they are the ones that would do the voting and live with the outcome,” he said. “There are certainly things at a minimum that need to be done for an election to be effective. They have to be free of violence and intimidation.”
Despite frosty relations between the two countries, the US continues to fund humanitarian projects in the country.
Following a US$310 million commitment for humanitarian assistance made by President Barack Obama after meeting Tsvangirai in 2009, the US increased assistance this year by 20% in the budget to fight HIV/Aids.
Ray said the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief budget for 2011 would rise by US$10 million to a total of US$57,5 million. In addition, the US would continue to support Zimbabwe’s scale up of antiretroviral treatment. — Staff Writer.