The rare compliment was a boon for the public media which took Ray’s remark that the “man has an encyclopedia of a brain” to mean the octogenarian is better than his nemesis Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But the meeting might have left many Zimbabweans wondering if the US, which has been in the forefront of calls to isolate Mugabe because of his not-so-impressive human rights record, has been forced to abandon its hardline stance.
It was not the first time Ray had tried to reach out to Zanu PF and Mugabe. In speeches delivered at a Sapes Trust policy dialogue and at a public meeting organised by Bulawayo Agenda respectively, US president Barack Obama’s point man in Harare empasised the need to open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.
The meeting with Mugabe was a follow up to another one Ray held with Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo where he relayed the same message. The US and other Western countries slapped Mugabe and his inner circle with sanctions after controversial 2002 presidential elections.
Despite the formation of a unity government in 2009 nothing much has changed in Zimbabwe, especially on the human rights front. The US and the European Union said as much when they renewed the sanctions against Zimbabwe early this year.
It is in this context that Ray’s pronouncements might have seemed contradictory to many. However, analysts say the policy shift was inevitable as America was fighting for its own economic survival.
MAJOR SHIFT IN US DIPLOMACY
Trevor Maisiri of the African Reform Institute says the US international diplomacy was going through a major shift, mainly influenced by the global economic conditions.
“This is the reason why President Obama has made efforts in reconnecting with the Eastern bloc countries and the ’BRIC’ (Brazil, Russia, India and China),” Maisiri said.
“Traditionally, the US diplomatic onslaught was based on closely guarded enclavity which was mainly determined by ideological considerations.
“Today it has opened up a lot and is beginning to consider relations even with traditional and perennial rivals — all in search of economic survival.”
He said Ray’s gesture must be read from a broader perspective of the prevailing geo-politics and international diplomacy of the US in the wake of the economic pressure it was facing.
Ray told Mugabe he was going to be hosting a business meeting in Washington where US business people were going to be interacting with their Zimbabwean counterparts.
The envoy said he had been receiving increasing amounts of enquiries from Americans who want to do business with and in Zimbabwe. “So this engagement is purely based on the economics of the relationship that Zimbabwe and the US can ride on,” Maisiri said.
“More and more we will see the US adopting a more aggressive engagement policy even with those countries that they have traditionally had major political and ideological differences with.”