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Public Statements

U.S. Policy Toward Zimbabwe

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, on November 2, our Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the current U.S. government policy toward the Republic of Zimbabwe and to consider how our policy toward this southern African nation may develop in the years ahead. Zimbabwe is considering a new constitution that will lead to the elections in 2012 that had been postponed from this year.
There has been mutual hostility between the United States government and the Zimbabwe government of Robert Mugabe since that country became independent in 1980, although Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said in his testimony that the relationship worsened with the extra-legal seizures of white-owned land in the 1990s. Mugabe and his supporters blame America for not supporting its liberation struggle, while the United States has criticized Mugabe's government consistently for human rights abuses, especially against its political opponents. With U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray encouraging U.S. businesses to invest in Zimbabwe last month, it would seem that U.S. policy is in the midst of a transformation.

Following independence from Great Britain in 1980, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's policy of political reconciliation was generally successful during the next two years, as the former political and military competitors within ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the rival Patriotic Front-Zimbabwe African Peoples Union began to work together. Splits soon developed, however, and PF-ZAPU's leader, Joshua Nkomo was removed from government.
When PF-ZAPU was accused of initiating a rebellion due to the removal of Nkomo from the cabinet, government military forces began a pacification campaign primarily in his base in the Matabeleland area, which resulted in as many as 20,000 civilian deaths.

In part through its control of the media, the huge parastatal sector of the economy and the security forces, the Mugabe government managed to keep organized political opposition to a minimum through most of the 1990s. Beginning in 1999, however, Zimbabwe experienced a period of considerable political and economic upheaval. Opposition to President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government had grown, in part due to the worsening economic governance issues. At one point, one U.S. dollar was worth more than 2.6 billion Zimbabwe dollars. Following the seizure of white-owned commercial farms beginning in the 1990s, food output capacity fell 45 percent, manufacturing output dropped by 29 percent and unemployment rose to 80 percent.

The opposition was led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was established in September 1999. The MDC led the campaign to handily defeat a referendum that would have permitted President Mugabe to seek two additional terms in office. Parliamentary elections held in June 2000 were marred by localized violence and claims of electoral irregularities and government intimidation of opposition supporters. Still, the MDC succeeded in capturing 57 of 120 seats in the National Assembly.

The last four national elections--the presidential election in 2002, parliamentary elections in 2005, harmonized presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2008, and the presidential run-off in June 2008--were judged to be not free and fair by observers. In the March 2008 elections, two factions of the opposition MDC, known as MDC-T to denote Morgan Tsvangirai's faction and MDC-M for the group led by Arthur Mutambara, gained a combined parliamentary majority. Mugabe was declared the winner of the June 2008 run-off election after opposing candidate Tsvangirai withdrew due to ZANU-PF-directed violence that made a free and fair election impossible. Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President for the International Crisis Group, told the Subcommittee that as many as a third of MDC

Parliamentarians have been arrested since the 2008 election.
Negotiations subsequently took place, and in September 2008 the three parties signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA), a power-sharing agreement under which Mugabe would retain the presidency and Tsvangirai would become prime minister. In February 2009 Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister, and new cabinet ministers and deputy ministers from the two IvIDC factions and the ruling party also were sworn in. According to Dewa Mavhinga, Regional Information and Advocacy Coordinator for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, stated that key state institutions remain unreformed despite the change in the composition of the government.
There is serious contention within the ruling party for the right to succeed President Mugabe once he leaves office, and added to the division within the opposition, politics in Zimbabwe is in flux to say the least. Paul Fagan, Regional Director for Africa for the International Republican Institute, testified that the ``imminent constitutional referendum and national elections have the potential to graduate the crisis in Zimbabwe from a steady but manageable simmer to boiling over.''
It is in this environment that the United States faces the challenge of examining our current policy and determining how it might best be adjusted. I appreciated hearing from our witnesses on how the U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe may change to help that nation reach the desired goals of democracy and good governance. Sharon Cromer, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Africa Bureau, told us that her agency is finalizing a democracy and governance assessment that ``highlights impediments and opportunities for us to promote democratic institutions in Zimbabwe.'' We eagerly await the release of that assessment for its impact on U.S. policy in Zimbabwe.


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