Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary in the ministry of information Nick Mangwana has defended his government's US$500,000 deal with a United States-based lobby firm canvassing for the removal of targeted sanctions imposed on top Zanu PF officials to be removed by Washington.
But human activists have criticized the deal as a waste of scarce resources in a country where more than 5 million people are food insecure.
Zimbabwe has engaged a man regarded as the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, Brian Ballard, linked to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the president’s 2020 re-election bid. His mission is to have targeted sanctions on 141 individuals and entities in Zimbabwe removed.
Mangwana told VOA Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe prioritizes international engagement.
“What I can only say is that Zimbabwe is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to ensure that the illegal sanctions imposed upon the nation are removed. So we are doing everything that’s possible, everything that is legal to make sure that the livelihoods of Zimbabweans are improved, and we can only do if we can trade freely, if we can be able to sell our minerals at the appropriate price, on the open market, rather to go using third parties and so forth, losing money. Buying things and selling at a premium. It doesn’t work. So we need sanctions removed.”
U.S-based newspaper Politico reports that former State Department official in the Bill Clinton administration, James Rubin, will be the lead lobbyist for Zimbabwe.
Director of Vanguard Africa Jeff Smith criticized the deal saying it shows everything that is wrong about Washington DC.
“I think in summation, it really is a very apt manifestation of all that is wrong with Washington DC at this point. You have this lobby firm with obvious close links to the administration representing one of the more repressive countries, not only in Africa but the entire world – this is a government that has opened fire on its citizens in the streets, it has brazenly disregarded regional and international norms and standards, for four decades now. People point to the fact that there is a new president at the helm but lest we forget, he’s been there or was there, by the side of president Robert Mugabe for four decades, so this is nothing new in terms of the dispensation in Harare, but definitely a new development in terms of the battleground and their new allies here in Washington DC.”
This is not the first time Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has tried to lobby President Trump to lift sanctions and try to normalize ties with Washington.
In 2018, speaking on the sidelines of his inaugural address to the United Nations in New York, Mnangagwa said he had offered land to President Trump to build a golf course in a national park teeming with wildlife - the resort town of Victoria Falls, on the border with Zambia.
Mnangagwa told journalists that he made the offer to President Trump’s staffers at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos. Trump owns about 17 golf courses in America and abroad.
"I had offered President Trump ground to build a state-of-the-art golf course so that as he plays he can be able to see the big five," Zimbabwe's president said.
Zimbabwe is home to the so-called big five animals namely lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard.
Politico describes Ballard as “closer to the president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town.” It adds, “He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else on K Street.
Ballard was one of the top fundraisers in the country for Trump’s campaign and continues to raise millions for his reelection campaign.
Ballard has also represented Moise Katumbi, the opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo who feared being jailed by former President Joseph Kabila and went into exile in 2016. Katumbi was last year barred from returning to contest the country’s December presidential election. Katumbi is the president of the Congolese soccer outfit, TP Mazembe, the first African side to play in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010.
The U.S firm also represents Nigerian opposition People’s Democratic Party leader Atiku Abubakar who had previously been barred from traveling to Washington before engaging Ballard and Partners. Atiku allegedly demanded a bribe from former Louisiana Representative, Willian Jefferson.
Jefferson was in 2005 caught in an FBI corruption sting operation and was recorded on wire saying he needed to give Abubakar, then Nigerian vice president a bribe to obtain contracts for iGate and Mody's company in Nigeria.
In another incident, U.S senate investigators alleged that one of Atiku’s four wives helped him transfer more than $40 million in “suspect funds” into the United States from offshore shell companies.
Politico reports that other Ballard clients include financial giants, Amazon, Dish Network, Uber, Pernod Ricard (the makers of Jameson whiskey and Absolut vodka) and Trulieve (a Florida-based medical marijuana company). Efforts to get in touch with Ballard were futile as he was said to be travelling to Florida.
Rubin was said to be out of the office and was yet to respond to an email sent to him by VOA News.