Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Interview: US Ambassador to Zimbabwe

SW Radio Africa journalist Alex Bell speaks to the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, about his country’s targeted sanctions policy, and what changes need to happen in Zimbabwe for those targeted measures to be removed.

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton

Alex also gets reaction to last week’s decision by Europe to remove its targeted measures against the Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corporation.

BELL: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to Diaspora Diaries on SW Radio Africa, your independent voice. I’m Alex Bell and on tonight’s show I speak to the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, about his country’s targeted sanctions policy.

Later we also get more reaction to the decision by Europe to remove its targeted measures against the Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corporation.

But first up tonight, ZANU PF has been relentless in its efforts to blame the targeted western sanctions, still in place against key individuals and companies, for all the problems in Zimbabwe, including most recently, the poaching crisis in the Hwange National Park.

The sanctions rhetoric has been constant within the state media, as part of what analysts say is a systematic ZANU PF propaganda campaign.

However, the US has said it stands by its sanctions policy and will do so until real democratic reforms are achieved. Last week, I spoke to US Ambassador Bruce Wharton for more information on where his country stands. I really do appreciate you joining us on SW Radio Africa and thank you for your time.

We are trying to unpack some of the myths, mis-truths I suppose about the targeted sanctions policy from the US; we’ve spoken to some officials from Europe about their particular measures, but Ambassador I’m hoping that you can help us clarify some of the issues that have been raised in recent weeks. I’m sure you are well aware what the state media has been saying so let’s look particularly at what the US policy on Zimbabwe is – maybe you could explain exactly what the measures are on Zimbabwe and are they typical sanctions as are being described at the moment?

WHARTON: Thank you very much for the opportunity and for the work that Short Wave Radio Africa has done to get accurate and balanced news and information into Zimbabwe for several years now. I think it’s important to understand that there’s really two different components of US targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe – one comes from the executive branch of government and is authorized legally by an executive order from the president.

These are the most talked about sorts of sanctions – it’s a combination of travel restrictions on 113 people which makes it difficult, not impossible, but difficult for them to travel to the United States and financial restrictions on Americans and American businesses from doing business with those 113 people and 70 entities. Most of the entities are farms and businesses owned by those 113 people.

So that’s the executive branch of US government approach to bring pressure to bear on those people that we believe have the power to make decisions that can either strengthen or weaken Zimbabwe.

The other part of our targeted sanctions effort here is from the American Congress; it’s a law called the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which was passed in 2001 and it essentially instructs American representatives to the international financial institutions to oppose either debt relief or new loans for Zimbabwe until such time as respect for human rights, rule of law and democratic institutions are restored in Zimbabwe.

The curious thing about that piece of legislation is that in fact it’s a moot point – Zimbabwe lost the right to get new loans or debt relief from the international financial institutions about 18 months before ZEDERA was passed because it had stopped paying on its existing debts.

BELL: So you have already mentioned that there are 113 individuals on the list that these targeted measures are against – but who exactly are they against and why were they imposed originally?

WHARTON: They were imposed originally against people that we felt were making decisions that were weakening Zimbabwe. Decisions to abrogate the rule of law, decisions to not respect fully the human rights of people in Zimbabwe and decisions that weakened democratic institutions in Zimbabwe.

We believed that these targeted sanctions would bring pressure on these people, would make it more difficult for them to enjoy the benefits of some of their actions which had positive financial implications for them and so again this is a small group of people that we think have the power to strengthen or weaken Zimbabwe and so as long as we believe they are making decisions that weaken Zimbabwe, we will have these sanctions in place.

BELL: Ambassador there’s a lot of rhetoric about these measures, so is it true that the measures are to blame for many issues like hyper-inflation, the economic decline in the country, even the collapse of social services in Zimbabwe – is this true?

WHARTON: No, not at all. I think it’s important to make the point that Zimbabwe as a sovereign nation has the right to direct its policies, political and economic policies but I think if you take a critical look at the trajectory of Zimbabwe’s economy, you can see that starting in 1997, the government of Zimbabwe made some sovereign decisions that had very direct, clear effect on the economy.

The infamous crash of the Zimbabwe dollar in November of 1997 for example is a very good example of that. We also, I look at the decision to send military forces to the DRC which we calculate was costing Zimbabwe at least a million dollars a day for a couple of years. We look at the way the land reform process, the fast track land reform process was conducted in Zimbabwe and the very clear effect that had on food security, on this nation’s ability to export and on this nation’s ability to attract investors.

We look at the biggest change in Zimbabwe’s economy in the last decade and a half occurred in 2009 when completely independent of targeted sanctions, there were no significant changes to targeted sanctions, the economy of this country reversed course and instead of declining precipitously, grew by about 12% in 2010; I think it was about 7 or 8% in 2011 and about 5 or 6% in 2012.

That change in the economy was the result of a sovereign economic decision to change their currency regime here. So when I add all of that up it’s pretty clear to me that the condition of Zimbabwe’s economy today is directly related to sovereign policy decisions that Zimbabwe’s leaders have made and not because of targeted sanctions.

BELL: We’re talking as there’s growing pressure on the nations who have these kinds of targeted measures on Zimbabwe – the pressure on them is growing for them to lift these measures – what is the US’s policy at the moment? I understand that the measures are not going to change right now – what is the plan moving forward?

WHARTON: Well in fact we have recently said, there was a Congressional hearing last week in which one of our officials, a deputy assistant secretary of State said as it has been our policy for some time, we regularly review the targeted sanctions, they could go, we could add some new names or entities and we can take some off.

This has not been a static policy over the last decade; as recently as April we removed a couple of institutions – we removed AgriBank and the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe from the sanctions list and we’ve removed some individuals so it’s not a static policy and I think that given the fact that the real politic, that ZANU PF is going to be in charge of Zimbabwe for the next five years, we need now to look for reforms coming from government that will allow us to further review and revise our policy.

BELL: So really the ball is in the new government’s court in this particular instance?

WHARTON: Well I think we have a shared responsibility. I think yes, essentially what we’re looking for are further indications of reform, of goodwill. For example bringing the new constitution into full force by aligning existing laws with the guarantees in the new constitution; clarifying exactly how the indigenization programme is to work – to build confidence in international business and investors; continuing on some of the reforms that were suggested under the Global Political Agreement – media reform for example. Ensuring that the Human Rights Commission is robust and effective – these sorts of progresses, signs of progress here in Zimbabwe will elicit a positive response from my government.

BELL: Final comments then Ambassador Wharton – I guess it’s a bit of a non-question and it goes without saying that the US’s commitment to helping Zimbabwe in anyway really stands firm?

WHARTON: Absolutely – look we were the first nation to recognize an independent Zimbabwe in 1980, we then made a strong commitment to the people of Zimbabwe specifically in issues such as health, education, economic growth and I think we’ve been true to that commitment. Over the last 33 years we’ve provided over two billion dollars worth of development assistance, health assistance and humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe.

We’re concerned right now that there’s a growing humanitarian need in Zimbabwe for food assistance and we’re doing what we can to organise ourselves and other donors to step up and meet that challenge.

I’m very proud of the record that we’ve got here; we do stand for values, we do believe that stronger democratic institutions, respect for rule of law, respect for human rights will help strengthen Zimbabwe and in the long term – that’s why we do these things.

That’s why we impose sanctions against that small number of people we think can make a difference here and why we continue to support the people of Zimbabwe is because we recognize that a democratically stable, economically prosperous and healthy Zimbabwe is far and away in the best interests of the United States.

BELL: On that note I would like to say thank you very much Ambassador Wharton for joining us on SW Radio Africa.

WHARTON: My pleasure, thanks for having me on.

BELL: That was the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton. My interview with Ambassador Wharton coincided with a decision by the European Union to lift its targeted measures against the Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corporation which is just one of two remaining entities on Europe’s list of targeted measures.

The decision by Europe to remove its measures against the ZMDC, which as we know controls the bulk of the diamond trade in Zimbabwe, has been met with an outraged reaction particularly from human rights campaigners who say that the ZMDC has been involved in financing a parallel structure in Zimbabwe and possibly financed the election rigging that we’ve just witnessed in Zimbabwe.

So I got reaction from Emily Armistead, a senior campaigner at the pressure group Global Witness which is based here in London. I first asked her for her reaction to Europe’s decision.

ARMISTEAD: Global Witness is extremely disappointed that the EU has decided to lift sanctions against ZMDC, particularly we think this decision has been hurried before the dust has settled on the Zimbabwe election. We don’t believe that the EU has taken proper account of much of the evidence that suggests that a) the election was rigged and b) that diamond revenue may have helped fund that manipulation of the votes.

BELL: What should have happened before this decision was taken? What would you have hoped to have seen happen by now?

ARMISTEAD: Well there have been very credible reports that suggest that ZANU PF, Mugabe’s party, rigged the vote. There’s particular concerns around the manipulation of the electoral roll and also the fact that many voters were turned away from polling stations etcetera, we think that a proper investigation should have been done into those claims.

Also we understand and have seen some evidence to suggest that diamond companies, some of the diamond companies in Marange, helped fund those activities including one ZMDC company. We think the EU should have properly made an assessment of those claims before it lifted these sanctions. We’re very concerned especially that really it’s been a push from the Belgian government protecting its diamond interests in Antwerp that has led to this rushed decision and means that sanctions have been lifted before a proper assessment of the election has been done.

BELL: It’s quite ironic actually that the EU has made this decision not long after officials from the European grouping actually did express concern about the reports of rigging. What does it say about the EU’s role in Zimbabwe at the moment?

ARMISTEAD: Well I think the EU has taken, as you say, quite a mixed stance about the election; whilst on one hand it’s raised concerns it hasn’t really stood up and said the election wasn’t credible and then acted on that assessment.

We’re unclear as to what the EU can do now to support democracy and the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe. It’s our concern that now ZANU PF have taken power with such a massive landslide victory that the situation in terms of civil and human rights is only going to get worse.

BELL: That was Emily Armistead, she’s a senior campaigner with Global Witness. The group has done a significant amount of research into the alleged illicit activity at the Marange diamond fields and you can go to www.globalwitness.org.uk to see more of their reports. Don’t forget you can get in touch with me anytime on [email protected]