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Will Ambassador Designate Thomas Junior Transform Zimbabwe-USA Relations?

Ambassador designate Harry Thomas Jr. at a swearing in ceremony in Washington. (Photo: Courtesy, United States Embassy, Harare)

Some Zimbabweans say no dramatic shift is expected on Washington-Harare relations with the coming in of ambassador designate, Mr. Harry Thomas Junior, as a new U.S envoy to the southern African nation.

U.S foreign policy is determined by Congress, the White House and relevant legislation and no fundamental political and economic changes have taken place since President Robert Mugabe won the presidential poll in 2013 at the heart of a standoff with Washington over human rights violations, bad economic policies and alleged electoral fraud.

Most Zimbabweans believe that ambassador designate Mr. Thomas Junior is widely expected to continue with the same U.S policies that were being implemented by outgoing ambassador Mr. Bruce Wharton.

The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZIDERA), which enforces targeted sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle, is still intact with no indications that it will be repealed anytime soon.

Under this law, President Mugabe, his wife, Grace, several top Zanu PF officials and senior members of the armed forces mostly comprising the Joint Operations Command, are not allowed to conduct any business with United States citizens and companies.

America has over the years accused President Mugabe and his colleagues of serious human rights violations and electoral fraud. Mr. Mugabe has dismissed the sanctions, saying they were imposed in retaliation to the government’s moves to forcibly take over fertile land from white commercial farmers.

More than 3,000 white commercial farmers have been displaced from their land following the introduction of the land reforms in 2000.

Report on U.S Envoy Filed By Irwin Chifera
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Economic commentator, Masimba Manyanya, says the ambassador designate is well-acquainted with Zimbabwe after working in the country where he served as Labor/Political Officer from 1989 to 1992.

Manyanya says Mr. Thomas Junior will no doubt continue with America’s policy of rectifying many faults in governance issues and ensuring the creation of a democratic state in Zimbabwe.

“The new ambassador will obviously carry with the agenda that has been set by predecessors and there is no other way of looking at the agenda except in terms of what of American foreign policy clearly says to pursue democratization and to ensure that there is transparency in governance systems and to ensure that there is protection of the rule of law and that people participate in governance,”

Harare resident, Jeffrey Moyo, agrees with Manyanya saying there is no way Washington can have a policy shift given the current social, economic and political situation in Zimbabwe.

“My line of thinking is that the coming of a new US ambassador won’t change anything in Zimbabwe. Their position has always been the same. They seem to be indirectly maintaining the sanctions.”

Claris Madhuku, a political commentator and director of the Platform for Youth Development, echoes the same sentiments, adding that he does not see the new ambassador changing anything except to continue efforts to normalize relations between the two nations which Mr. Wharton has been pushing from the time he started work as the U.S ambassador to Zimbabwe.

“When I read part of his statement when he was appointed, he seemed to be appreciating the services of Mr. Wharton and in that case he is clearly someone who admires Wharton so he will do exactly what we have know Wharton for.”

Manyanya, Moyo and Madhuku agree that America put tough restrictive measures on the ruling elite in an attempt to force Harare to respect the rights of local people and hold free and fair elections but all that has come to naught.

We are part of an international grouping of nations and we have to abide by certain norms, values and rules that govern the general progress of society"

Manyanya argues that while laws like ZIDERA have allegedly hurt Zimbabweans in many ways, the U.S has been ready to repeal it but there was a lot of intransigence and stubbornness by Mr. Mugabe and his colleagues in implementing the necessary reforms.

“We are part of an international grouping of nations and we have to abide by certain norms, values and rules that govern the general progress of society and that is the perspective in which I see it. It’s not about creating enemies or trying to make other people suffer but I think it’s about engineering progress towards general progress of society which is in the interest of Zimbabweans.

Another Harare resident, Henry Shoko, says Zimbabwe should introduce democratic reforms in order to promote good relations with USA and all Western nations.

According to the U.S Department of Commerce, Zimbabwe was the United States' 142nd largest supplier of goods imports in 2012 and the U.S. goods trade surplus with Zimbabwe was $1 million in the same year, 89.9% less than in 2011.

Trade between the two nations appears to have been maintained over the years despite the targeted sanctions imposed on Mr. Mugabe and his close associates, numbering less than 200.

Shoko says the dominance of the U.S dollar, among a cocktail of multiple currencies being used in Zimbabwe including the Chinese yuan, is a clear indication that Washington is key to Zimbabwe’s existence.

“Apart from a major powerhouse, big brother US, we need them in certain way, in facilitating trade and investors have confidence in the US.

Madhuku concurs. “Those who try and attack America, they are attacking them because there is a lot of expectation for example when you talk of democracy, you can’t talk of democracy without the US and there are many things that the US have achieved technologically and we are talking of digitalization. I think there is a lot that we need to learn from the US.

The issue of the coming of a new ambassador to me it doesn’t mean anything and nothing is going to change."

Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo could not be reached for comment. But Zanu PF activists Goodson Nguni said the incoming ambassador won’t change anything as US foreign policy was determined in Washington. Another Zanu PF activist Spencer Rakabopa concurs adding the new ambassador was coming to defend American sanctions against Zimbabwe.

“The issue of the coming of a new ambassador to me it doesn’t mean anything and nothing is going to change. This has been happening a lot ambassadors came and people expected a lot of things but nothing happened. We know that America will maintain its stance on sanctions.

When Mr. Thomas Junior was appointed a month ago, he noted that America would always attempt to open dialogue with Zimbabwe.

Indications are that he will push for the full implementation of the 2013 constitution, credible, lasting democratic reforms and respect for human rights and rule of law by the government of Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean government has attacked Americans for imposing targeted sanctions on its leaders but of late has backed down under a crumbling economy. The country says it is now ready to engage any nation.