Zimbabwean government officials applauded the departure on the weekend of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell, an outspoken critic of Harare, saying they hoped the end of his tenure might lead to improved relations with the United States.
Following what many observers describe as three turbulent years, Dell is headed for Afghanistan to serve as deputy chief of mission to Ambassador William Wood. The White House and State Department have not said who will succeed him in Harare.
Dell’s departure has been the occasion of many a barb in the state-controlled Herald newspaper, which reflected the rocky and at times overtly hostile relations between Harare and Washington, and Dell’s outspoken criticism of the ZANU-PF government and President Robert Mugabe, who once invited the envoy to “go to hell.”
Dell left Zimbabwe on Saturday without officially taking leave of Mr. Mugabe, saying that under the circumstances such a gesture would have been “inappropriate.”
The relationship was problematic from the outset: Harare was already accusing the U.S. government of seeking “regime change” in Zimbabwe, and things went downhill from there to the point where Dell acknowledged that the relationship had iced over.
Activist and human rights lawyer Brian Kagoro told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that relations were tense even before Dell came on the scene, and worsened as the country slid deeper and deeper into crisis.
Harare took exception in particular to public statements by Dell placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the ruling party, the government and Mr. Mugabe, alleging gross misgovernance and corruption, at one point threatening him with expulsion.
Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu did not mince words in describing Harare’s distaste for Dell, calling him the worst envoy Harare had ever accredited.
While Ndlovu and other Harare officials said Dell broke diplomatic protocol by overtly criticizing the government, others said his interventions were appropriate and timely.
International affairs expert Robert Rotberg, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and head of an institute on intra-state conflicts, credited Dell with raising global awareness of conditions in Zimbabwe.
Rotberg said Dell's course was appropriate in light of Zimbabwe's situation.
Ambassador Dell was not available for comment prior to his departure.