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US Sends Envoys to Zimbabwe for Rare Talks

President Robert Mugabe


Two U.S. diplomats are visiting Zimbabwe this week — a rare occurrence in recent years because of frosty U.S.-Zimbabwean relations. The visit comes as Harare pushes for an end to travel and financial sanctions against its leaders.

A U.S. statement says Shannon Smith, the deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs, and Steven Feldstein, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, will meet with government officials, business leaders and civil society organizations during their four-day visit to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary for foreign affairs Joey Bimba said Harare wants to re-engage with Washington. The U.S., along with many other Western countries, imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's leadership in 2002 following reports of election rigging and human rights abuses.

Independent analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya says the visitors will analyze Zimbabwe's political climate and the ruling ZANU-PF party.

"To assess whether the political environment is stable enough for the U.S. government to review its policies against Zimbabwe. You may remember that the European Union lifted sanctions apart from those that related to the first lady and the president. But I think they will be largely disappointed because of the missing of human rights activists like Itai Dzamara. So what ZANU-PF is doing will not advance its cause to do its business with America," says Ruhanya.

Activist Itai Dzamara went missing on March 9. Zimbabwean police say Dzamara's wife last saw her husband when five men forced him into a car before driving off.

The opposition and civic organizations have been accusing President Robert Mugabe’s government of being behind the abduction. The activist had been staging protests to force Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old leader to step down for failing to prop up the country’s economy.

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa told parliament that the government had no issue with the missing activist and will arrest whoever kidnapped him.

“We are a democratic society and anybody in this country who commits a crime must account for the crime committed. This is why we have institutions like the Zimbabwe Republic Police to deal with those who commit crimes of this nature. Everything must be done to apprehend and bring to book whoever is responsible,” said Mnangagwa.

With more than two months passed since his disappearance, the activist has yet to be found. Analyst Ruhanya says the visiting American diplomats are expected to raise the issue when they meet Zimbabwean officials this week.

Earlier this week, the EU urged Zimbabwean authorities to provide regular and thorough progress reports on their search for Dzamara as ordered by the High Court in March. Brussels wants the government of Mugabe to take all possible measures to locate the missing activist.