THE United States does not favour any political party in Zimbabwe and would work with whoever wins a “legitimate, non-violent and credible electoral contest”, the US’ ambassador to Harare, Charles Ray has said.
Dismissed by President Robert Mugabe’s key allies as an agent for illegal regime change and “Washington’s Uncle Tom in Harare”, Ray insisted that the US government was not “anti-Zanu PF” and believed the party had an important role to play in the country’s future.
“It is not for the U.S. or any other outsider to dictate or influence who should make up the government; that is for the Zimbabwean people alone to decide,” Ambassador Ray said on Thursday evening while addressing a public policy dialogue meeting on icy US-Zimbabwe relations in Harare.
“As long as the process is credible and respected, we do not care which party wins. Let me repeat that: ‘We do not care which party wins, as long as the process is legitimate’.”
Relations between Harare and Washington have been frosty since the United States backed Europe in imposing sanctions on the country, citing alleged human rights abuses and electoral fraud.
Zanu PF dismisses the allegations, claiming the sanctions are part of a wider plot to drive President Mugabe out of power and punish the party for its controversial land reforms.
The party accuses the US and other Western embassies in Harare of sponsoring opposition groups as part of the “illegal regime change” agenda.
But Ray said the US was not in the business of cherry-picking between the country’s political parties.
“The U.S. does not favour any one party over another in Zimbabwe. We want to see an environment where all parties have the same ability to present themselves to the public and to compete to represent the people in government,” he said.
“The U.S. fully believes that Zanu PF will, and should, continue to play an important role in Zimbabwe’s future; we are not anti-Zanu PF and we do recognise the many achievements that Zanu PF has had over the decades for the good of the Zimbabwean people.”
He added that it was unfortunate that America’s support for “an activist parliament, independent courts, a responsible media, a professional electoral commission (and) an apolitical military” were seen as part of efforts to impose its political will on the country.
The US, he argued, had learnt “through trial and error” the importance of maintaining strict “differentiation between party, government, and state”.
“We have learned that when the strict differentiation between the political party, the government, and the institutions of the state are breached the public’s interest begins taking a back seat to vested interests of those in positions of power,” he said.
“We are not interested in imposing our way on any of these groups and we fully understand that Zimbabwe’s democracy will have its own character and will not be a duplicate of any other specific model from the U.S., Europe, or elsewhere.”
Ray conceded that the US imposed sanctions against “about 120 Zimbabweans, about 60 of the farms or companies they own, or a dozen public enterprises”.
He, however, rejected claims these were responsible for the near-collapse of the country’s economy in the last decade.
“If this economy is that dependent on 120 people and a few dozen companies then we should be concerned about a lot more than just sanctions,” he said.
“(But) as soon as the parties honour their commitments under the GPA [Global Political Agreement] to allow for a return of the rule of law; once state institutions are separated from partisan allegiances; and once credible elections are held and honoured, there will be no reason to retain the few restrictions that are in place.”
The US envoy called for increased dialogue between the two countries as part of the “re-engagement” process.
“Let us re-open those lines of communication that have closed and rebuild the bridges of mutual confidence that we have allowed to fall into disrepair for the people of both of our great nations,” he said.
“Let’s have those tough conversations. When we must, let’s disagree, but do so without being disagreeable. When we can, let’s collaborate to advance our common interests.”