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Zimbabweans Await U.S. Election With Apathy, Anticipation

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Global Press Journal


THE upcoming vote could mark a major shift in American politics, but it’s unclear how the outcome will affect the two nations’ frosty relationship.

Whether the issue is the coronavirus pandemic, international aid, trade policy, climate change or immigration, the upcoming United States election could affect nations in virtually every corner of the globe.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, are battling for the White House, while 88% of the seats in Congress are up for grabs on Nov. 3.

For Zimbabwe, a southern African country under U.S. sanctions since 2003, the upcoming vote stirs anticipation, hope – and apathy shaded with cynicism.

Global Press journalists in Zimbabwe asked experts how the election might impact their nation in four broad areas: democracy and human rights; funding for nonprofits; health care and HIV/AIDS; and immigration.

DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Eldred Masunungure, director of Mass Public Opinion Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, doesn’t expect the American election to shift U.S.-Zimbabwe relations – regardless of who wins.

The relationship has been frosty since the U.S. Congress passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) in 2001, he says.

Lawmakers approved ZIDERA in response to what the U.S. State Department called then-President Robert Mugabe’s “undemocratic practices, human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.”

ZIDERA demands free and fair elections; mineral revenue transparency; commitment to economic recovery; and the rule of law by the government. An amended version in 2003 laid down a series of sanctions.

But Masunungure notes that Zimbabwe’s transition from Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2017 didn’t soften tensions.

“The system remained the same, and what the Zimbabwean government was doing under the Mugabe regime continued under Mnangagwa,” Masunungure says. “Therefore, the U.S. found no basis [for] changing the course of the relations or embarking on robust reengagement.”

Masunungure suggests the U.S. will remain mindful of human rights. A report by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nonprofit that examines abuses around the world, says the Zimbabwean government scorns basic rights, peaceful dissent and free expression. In January 2019, following nationwide protests, the report says security forces killed at least 17 people, raped at least 17 women, shot 81 people and arrested over 1,000 demonstrators.

“The change will be determined by the human rights treatment of Zimbabweans by the Zimbabwean government,” Masunungure says. “The human rights situation in Zimbabwe will influence, if not determine, the U.S. approach to the Zimbabwean government.”

NGO FUNDING

Talent Jumo, executive director of Katswe Sistahood, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights, says Republicans won’t support her cause if Trump triumphs.

Katswe Sistahood does not receive aid from the U.S.

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“The Republicans in the U.S. are mainly a pro-life movement, and they believe that women’s bodies need to be policed in a way that they cannot make decisions around when they can have children,” Jumo says.

The Trump administration has revived and expanded a policy that bans the U.S. government from funding NGOs that advocate for, or provide, abortion-related services. Since President Ronald Reagan enacted the policy in 1984, Democratic presidents have repeatedly reversed it, and Republican heads of state have repeatedly restored it.

If Biden wins, Jumo says, “Women who have limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services due to resource constraints will now be able to access those.”

Other activists agree.

“We do recognize that the outcomes of elections in the U.S. will have a geopolitical impact on [sexual and reproductive health and rights] and women and girls’ rights generally, and as a result, impact funding investments thereof,” says Rouzeh Eghtessadi, executive director of SAfAIDS, another Zimbabwe-based NGO.

IMMIGRATION

If Republicans win, acquiring a U.S. visa or citizenship will likely grow tougher, says David Nyathi, a consultant with the Minana Sky Immigration Consultancy, a Canadian firm with offices in Harare.

Trump has said that undocumented immigrants strain already-tight public resources, and he has pushed a “Buy American, Hire American” policy. He suspended visas for temporary workers in June and extended a ban on “green cards” – permanent residence status for immigrants.

Biden has pledged to “take urgent action to undo Trump’s damage,” and “reassert America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees.”

But Nyathi doubts a Biden victory would change much.

“If the Democrats win, they are more inclined to be supportive to immigrants,” Nyathi says. “However, these are politicians and they will do and say anything to get into power. Regardless of their wishes, the strain on the government is a legitimate concern, which still needs to be addressed.”

HIV/AIDS FUNDING

As of 2018, 1.3 million Zimbabweans were HIV-positive. About 12.7% of people ages 15-49 live with HIV.

Zimbabwe currently receives about $230 million in support and funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, created in 2003 under former Republican President George W. Bush.

Chamunorwa Mashoko, co-chair and program leader for Advocacy Core Team Zimbabwe, an alliance of NGOs, says every election has an impact. This one, he adds, may hold more weight because it comes during a pandemic.

He says the coronavirus crisis may lead to increased U.S. aid for health generally but compel the White House and Congress to slash the AIDS relief program specifically.

“If that happens,” he says, “it will not be a political decision but due to a pressing need in the U.S.”

Mashoko says Zimbabwe has long depended on U.S. funding and other international aid for HIV/AIDS programs.

Zimbabwean organizations need more assistance from their own government, he says.

The African Union has urged member countries to allocate 15% of their budgets to health, but this year Zimbabwe earmarked 10%.

“It makes it difficult to fund organizations like ours,” says Mashoko, who adds that his group receives no national government funding. “We can contribute by holding authorities accountable and making sure resources are allocated where the need is.”

Others wonder whether U.S. party affiliation even matters.

“There is little difference between the Democrats and Republicans in terms of foreign policy, particularly regarding Zimbabwe,” says Sifiso Ndlovu, CEO of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, the nation’s largest teacher trade union. “We should remember that under Barack Obama we did not benefit much, yet he was a Democrat.”