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U.S. Demands Credible Zimbabwe Elections, Smooth Transition

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chaired the committee that asked about the political and economic future of Zimbabwe.

U.S. Senators heard Tuesday that the Obama administration will “look at every issue and every option” as it monitors pre-election events in Zim.

The United States says it will “look at every issue and every option” as it monitors political developments in Zimbabwe, as President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic change party bicker over the scheduling of this year’s national elections.

Speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington Tuesday, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto, said that the U.S. government wants Harare to conduct a credible election and uphold the rule of law, particularly in the area of property rights. This, he said, would likely improve relations between the two countries.

But when asked by committee chairman Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) what the United States would do if Zimbabwe fails to hold a free and fair election, Mr. Yamamoto said the Obama administration would look at a number of options, though stressed that currently the U.S. is focused on supporting steps taken by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body, to push for democratic reforms and a credible election.

“Nothing is off the table. We’ll look at every issue and every option that’s before us, but right now we’re so focused just on what SADC has done to try to move these elections to a much more freer and fairer opportunities for all sides, but also to kind of continue the good things that are happening,” Yamamoto said.

Among the "good things that are happening," Yamamoto noted, is Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s recent acceptance of financial terms from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that should make the nation’s financial systems more “open and transparent,” but warned that the “electoral process” was the “main area” the U.S. would be watching, as it would determine Zimbabwe’s future.

Also testifying was a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, who told the senators that a lack of security sector reforms remains a real threat to true democracy in the country.

“There is a slim chance that Zimbabwe will have free, fair, and credible elections, particularly given the shortcomings of security sector reforms and reforms in other sectors,” Mr. Mavhinga said. “On June 13, President Robert Mugabe used a presidential decree to set July 31 as the election date for harmonized elections. It is critically important that these elections be held under conditions where Zimbabweans can freely vote for the leadership of their choice.”

Mavhinga added that many Zimbabweans worry that this year’s elections may bring violence on a scale seen following the 2008 election that left scores of people dead.

Also discussed were priorities for the United States’ ongoing development assistance to Zimbabwe, in order to help the economy recover and grow. Earl Gast, assistant administrator for Africa in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told the Senate committee that he believed help for small farmers would have the greatest impact on Zimbabwe’s economy.

“Obviously institution building would be needed, putting in good systems of accountable governance, to include economic governance, but one area that could make a big difference in Zimbabwe is in the agriculture sector. And doing more in supporting small landholders, getting people employed in the agriculture sector, and starting with that,” Mr. Gast said.

“The industries that have languished over the years will take years and years of investment before they come back on line, but to make an immediate impact, we feel that on the economic side, the focus should be on agriculture and linking small farmholders, landholders, with larger markets and buyers in the region.”

A strong recovery of Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector would improve the country’s food security. According to the USAID website on Zimbabwe, since 2009, the United States has provided almost US$350 million in food assistance to Zimbabwe.

SADC leaders asked Mr. Mugabe at a regional summit last Saturday to request the Constitutional Court to reverse its order for polls to be held by July 31, and push them back so broad political and democratic reforms can be put in place.

Mr. Mugabe obliged on Tuesday. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa filed an application to the same court seeking an "extension of the elections to the 14th of August 2013.”

Zimbabwe's military chiefs are on record vowing to resist a transfer of power to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the event that he defeated Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled the country for over three decades.