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"You Have Lost Your Way," US Envoy Tells Harare

Last month an opinion piece published in the state-controlled Herald newspaper argued that the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe is “a man on a failed mission." The paper justified this conclusion by citing the definition of ambassador as one whose job is to improve relations between his own nation and his host country.

Rhetoric aside, the relationship between Harare and Washington might indeed be said to have hit a new low on October 14 when Zimbabwean military authorities detained Ambassador Christopher Dell briefly after he entered a restricted area not far from the presidential place while on a stroll in Harare's Botanical Garden. Foreign Ministry officials apologized, other Zimbabwe government officials scolded Mr. Dell, and the U.S. Embassy accepted the initial apology and declared the incident closed.

In this interview with correspondent Safari Njema of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, Mr. Dell acknowledges that relations between the two countries are less than cordial.

AMBASSADOR DELL: I don't think it's a secret to anyone that the relationship is quite strained and that is very much to be regretted. I get asked by government officials all the time, why have you changed? Why is the relationship that used to be good not good anymore? My answer to that is very simple: it's because you have lost your way. Whereas Zimbabwe at independence embarked on a course of democracy, respect for human rights, respect for property and other rules of market economy. Since that time we have seen a worsening of human rights abuse, lack of respect for private property, lack of respect for citizens of this country and government policies which seem almost designed to maker the wrong economic choices. And therefore my answer is our relationship has indeed become more difficult over time because of the policies of the government of this country.

STUDIO 7: Mr. Mugabe blames the country’s economic collapse on the sanctions and economic boycotts imposed by Western governments. While that’s disputable, some Zimbabweans feel the sanctions may not be working that well. Others argue that the sanctions imposed by the West, and the US, are actually punishing ordinary Zimbabweans more than senior officials. What’s your response to this?

AMBASSADOR DELL: I think that view is nonsense - the country's problems are primarily due to the limited targeted sanctions that the United States has imposed and other countries as well. The truth is, it is the economic mismanagement of the Zimbabwean economy that has led to the current paralysis of the state of affairs. The sanctions do not have a broad impact, they are designed to affect only the individuals cited in the various proclamations by the US President. The argument that they are responsible for the general decline of the economy willl only be true if the 86 individuals named in the economic sanctions in fact control the entire economy of the country. Since those individuals are members of government and politburo and central committee of the ruling party, to make that argument is to say that politicians control the entire economy of this country. We in fact know that it is the misguided economic policies of the current government of Zimbabwe which are responsible for the economic decline, policies which in essence have made everything possible to discourage foreign investment by utterly disregarding respect for the rule of law, respect for private property and enforceability of legal contracts. Alll of which are things that a foreign investor would look to in the first instance about deciding whether or not to invest her money in a place. And When the policies of the government seem calculated to undercut the confidence of potential investors in the future that is what is having a severe effect on this economy. I believe however that the sanctions are having effect intended in making those responsible for the sufering of the people of this country feel the pain themselves. Every time the government complains about the sanctions, that to me is an indication that the sanctions are having the intended effect.

STUDIO 7: Zimbabwe faces a number of serious problems, including decreasing exports and recurring shortages of basic commodities including fuel and food. Harare has said that it will welcome food assistance from any quarter, providing such aid has – in Mr Mugabe’s words – “no strings attached”. What is the US government's position regarding food aid, given Harare’s prerequisite?

AMBASSADOR DELL: The United States remains committed to respecting international humanitarian standards and fulfilling our responsibilities to help those in need to the extent that we can. I have personally spoken to President Bush about questions of humanitarian assistance in the past and I know that he is firmly committed to the principle that we will not play politics with humanitarian assistance, in particular, with food aid. That is a key governing principle of our approach. Sadly it is not an approach of this government in Zimbabwe which continues to make food available based on political affiliation. We have in the past five years provided more than three hundred million dollars in food assistance, with the largest food donor to Zimbabwe. During the current year we have more than 50 million dollars available and as I speak food assistance is arriving in Zimbabwe through the WFP, World Food Programme to which the United States is the largest donor.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...