The Sunday Mail
Since November 2017, Zimbabwe’s new administration has been promoting FDI and international re-engagement. Potential FDI now tops US$3billion while several deputations have been to Harare as part of the re-engagement effort. Last week, Government hosted a United States delegation comprising Mr Adrian T. Bogart III (National Security Council director for African Affairs), Mr Thomas Hastings (deputy director of Southern African Affairs at the State Department), Ms Pamela Ward (regional senior commercial officer) and Mr Mark Billera (USAid deputy director for Southern Africa). The Sunday Mail and Zimpapers Television Network spoke to Mr Hastings and US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Harry Thomas Jnr regarding that visit.
Mr Thomas Hastings
The four of us spent last week in South Africa – because, of course, that’s one of the key countries in the region – looking at ways we can strengthen our relationship with South Africa, especially at this time.
We felt it was very important, given the moment that Zimbabwe is at right now, to come up and visit Zimbabwe as well. So, we arrived on Monday. We have had a very full and interesting visit. We were received by President Mnangagwa, which was an honour that he gave us some of his time.
And our message with the President and everyone we’ve met – Government officials and others – has been very simple: we are very optimistic about Zimbabwe. We think Zimbabwe has a great opportunity right now to put itself on a new and positive path, and the United States would like to join in that and help it do so.
At the same time, the key actions that must take place really rest with the Government of Zimbabwe. For there to be a changed relationship, there must be change which takes place on the ground here in Zimbabwe.
The first among those changes is, of course, the overwhelming importance of an election – coming up in a few months in July or August – which is free, fair, credible and non-violent. We had a conversation about that.
Ambassador Harry Thomas Jnr met with the President last week as well and had a conversation on that same theme. So, we reiterated those points.
We are also interested in economic reforms. Zimbabwe has tremendous economic potential. We know that there are US companies which – looking ahead – would like to get involved in Zimbabwe. Some of them spoke to us in South Africa; some of them spoke to me in America and they are asking our opinions about the country.
So, we conveyed that to the Government. We, basically, asked Government officials whom we met with what plans they are putting in place to improve the economic situation in this country so that it can get itself back onto a more positive path and attract foreign investors.
Those were the general themes of our visit.
Well, we met the President, Vice-President Mohadi and the Foreign Minister together. Again, we were largely stressing the importance of the elections. We have indicated out desire to send monitors for those elections and we received a clear signal from the Government that that would be welcomed.
So, we are happy about that.
It’s important that when you talk about election monitors that you’ll be talking about not only Election Day, but also (part) of the period before the election. That’s when the preparations and systems are put in place to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe really have the opportunity to express themselves freely.
That seemed to be received well also.
We want to do all we can to enable a free and fair election. We think that when international observers are allowed in that builds the credibility of the election. The fact of inviting observers into your country when you are having an election does add to the credibility of the exercise.
It singles out lessons that can be improved upon next time because no election is perfect. So, any election that’s going to have observers . . . they are probably going to identify things that can be improved upon. I think it’s in Zimbabwe’s own interest to welcome the international community to be part of this process.
US$15 billion promise to MDC-T: That’s not true. There’s been no promise of financial assistance to any political party after the election. It’s not the approach we take. But we want these elections to be free and fair and to be open to all parties, and we look forward to working with whatever administration emerges after these elections.
Impressions: Our impressions, ultimately, aren’t what matters. What’s going to matter is the Zimbabwean people who get a chance to cast their vote in July or August. But for what it’s worth, I think what we can say is President Mnangagwa and his Cabinet members are saying many of the right things and we are encouraged by that.
But following that initial message, there must come action. And so, we will still wait and see; follow and see what the actions are. I can tell you that the President said that he intends to take on corruption; that he recognises that it’s a problem in the country.
We are pleased to hear that and the President sending that message from the highest level is the necessary first step. But that doesn’t mean corruption disappears overnight as soon as the President says it. There will be a lot of hard work to address that problem in the months and – let’s be honest – years ahead to change those sorts of problems.
I can tell you that the Trump administration is looking at Africa as a region of opportunity and any country that seems to be putting itself on a path of more democracy, more openness to international business is going to be a partner we are eager to work with.
Sanctions: I’m glad you raised that because I think there’s been a little bit of misunderstanding. There was a move – a few weeks ago – to extend the existing sanctions that are in place. This is actually an annual renewal of sanctions that have been in place since President George W. Bush.
Whenever the US government has a sanctions programme in place, there has to be that automatic renewal every year just to keep it going. So, that’s all that it was a few weeks ago. I believe it was reported in one of the newspapers here that it was new sanctions being placed against President Mnangagwa.
That’s actually not true. There’s been no change in our sanctions since November: no new sanctions, no lifted sanctions. As of now, the policy has remained unchanged.
We would definitely like to see a day come on which our relationship with Zimbabwe can be much more normalised without sanctions. As I said at the beginning, though, changes have to occur here before that change can take place in our relationship.
No sanctions programme is permanent. We have had sanctions against many countries in the world and you’ve seen that as changes have taken place in Burma, Sudan and even Cuba our policies change as well. So, over the long term, that’s the trajectory we would hope for Zimbabwe.
But again, it comes back to the Zimbabwe Government holding a free and fair election; the Zimbabwe Government respecting and protecting the rights of Zimbabweans, rights that are already written into your Constitution. They just have to be implemented. And then, of course, the types of economic reforms that would repair the economic relationships that Zimbabwe has with other countries.
Everything we’ve been saying here, everything we communicated to your President on Monday is consistent with the sanctions laws that we have in America. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act has a section which specifically says these sanctions can be removed if there are the following things which have taken place: a free and fair election, the end to intimidation and violence, the establishment of the rule of law.
(These are) basic principles which are not US ideas. These are international standards about what democracy and well-functioning government should look like. So, yes, if the Government of Zimbabwe takes the steps we have been talking about, we could see a time when the situation changes with regard to sanc- tions.
Positives: There are positive initial signs and we are going to continue to watch from now until July or August and hopefully see more of those and see some of the very positive initial statements being followed through by action as well. For example, the fact that the President has said that he wants a free and fair election; the fact that we received an indication that Americans will be permitted to come as monitors, which has not been the case in the past. Those are positives.
The fact that the voter registration period was extended – we view that as a positive sign.
There have been indications on the economic side that the Government realises it needs to make some changes to certain laws or policies that have created uncertainty and probably kept investors away from Zimbabwe. Those are positives. It’s still early days, so these need to be followed through.
We can talk about a certain law and say that it needs to be changed, but until Parliament takes action, the law is still the same. International companies are going to see what the law actually says. It’s nice to hear that it’s going to be changed, but they want to hear what the law actually says.
So, there’s still going to be a process of implementation that’s going to have to follow through some of these statements.
Investment: I can’t quantify it. We were in South Africa for a week and whenever we mentioned to a US company that we were travelling next week to Zimbabwe, they were right away asking, “Oh, how do you see Zimbabwe?”
They were interested and so on. But that’s not a quantifiable sample. What I can tell you is that most companies are still in a wait-and-see mode. US companies, like any international companies, want to invest where there is basic safety and security, and I just don’t mean security in terms of violence but security of investment.
They want to know that they are going to be able to invest in a country and if they begin to do well and make profits, the Government isn’t going to seize those profits in some way. They want to know that the rule of law is established and that the rules are clear for every com- pany.
Honestly, the reputation of Zimbabwe in the past has not been strong on those points. So, it takes time to build confidence again and repair the reputation.
Ambassador Harry Thomas Jnr
We were very excited that General Electric came. And even better, they are going to come back soon! They are looking at infrastructure projects. We will have to see what details there are. We were pleased they met with the Parliament and Cabinet (members).
I think that’s key as we go forward.
They’ll make the decisions that are in their best interest and also on how they can best help the people of Zimbabwe because you want jobs, you want power. So, GE can be key to that because, of course, they were very involved in Hwange years ago.
I don’t think they will (outline the scale of investment to us) but will to the Government of Zimbabwe. The important thing that you should be excited about is that they came and that they are coming back.
A company as large as GE takes time to make decisions. They have to talk to everybody there. But I think it’s positive that they came; the most important thing for them is: can they get their money out? What are the property rights? Those things will be key.
But we are very encouraged that they were here and that they are coming back.
Who else is coming? We know this: American firms are asking us, calling us in droves. We know that there will be, in coming months, American firms that are part of investment missions being put together now.
And I think they will join our German, British colleagues who are bringing investment firms, or our Italian colleagues who took Zimbabweans to Italy. But let’s remember this: Under my distinguished predecessor, Ambassador Bruce Wharton; he took a group of Zimbabweans to the United States a few years ago to look at investment.
We will encourage them to go again to talk to American businesses about the new dispensation, what is possible under that new dispensation. We’ve been told that Zimbabwe itself is looking to have investment conferences in New York, London and Washington; and we would welcome that.
(The delegation’s composition) is absolutely a signal. There’s no way a delegation would have come probably a year or two years ago because frankly, there wouldn’t have been that much for us to say or talk about.
There was not a sense that things were moving in a positive direction in this country. Right now, there is a sense that there is potential to move in a very positive direction. And so we want to be supportive of that; we want to be engaged.
To my knowledge, this was not something that President Trump himself ordered. The National Security Council, in conversation with the State Department, USAid and Commerce, agreed that it would be good to have Zimbabwe as part of this trip.
Our relations are not just about Harare-Washington relations. More broadly, relations between the Zimbabwean people and the United States are excellent, very deep and broad. I know the US was the first country to establish an embassy here after Independence.
I visited Zimbabwe in 1992 when I was a back-packer, a tourist. I travelled all over the country. I was struck by, of course, the beauty of the country and also the friendliness of the people.
That hasn’t changed.
I’ve been learning this week how many Zimbabweans travel to the US and study at some of the best universities we have; which are the best in the world. So, there is a very rich relationship between the American people and the Zimbabwean people.
Where the relationship has been a bit more difficult has been on the government side because this has been a difficult 20 years.
We are optimistic that that’s about to change. We want to be a part of that change.
Ambassador Harry Thomas Jnr
Africans and the whole world are invited to observe American elections.
So, anybody who (says none of them is allowed) is extremely wrong. We welcome the new Zec chairperson (Justice Priscilla Chigumba). She’s a respected jurist. I think that she is committed to free and fair elections.
We welcome the fact that President Mnangagwa is going to operate elections in accordance with the law. But just as important, the United States is very committed to having American businesses come here and visit and see if they can help you with jobs.
Everybody I meet talks about jobs; having their children come home; having the Diaspora come home and establishing businesses. You know, every Zimbabwean has three, four degrees. Why not every Zimbabweans have three, four, five functioning businesses?
And we think with the technology, the innovation in America that there’ll be success and we can partner with you in them. So, we are committed to jobs. President Trump always says America is open for business.
We know Zimbabwe is open for business and let’s try and make that happen together.
Watch video at www.ztn.co.zw