Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young meets with President Robert Mugabe of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Young says he wants Washington to normalize relations with Harare., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
US prepared to work with Zanu-PF: Wharton
Saturday, 27 April 2013 00:00
Tendai Manzvanzvike The Interview
THERE is much talk of re-engagement between Zimbabwe and the West. What does this mean? Why now? The first African-American to be appointed United States ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young was in Zimbabwe last week. What was the essence of his visit? Our Group Foreign Editor Tendai Manzvanzvike (TM) on April 19 spoke with the United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Bruce Wharton (BW) about these and other bilateral issues.
TM: Thank you very much for this opportunity to continue to talk. Let’s start with Zimbabwe’s independence on Thursday (April 18). Did you attend the ceremony at the National Sports Stadium? What was the mood and feeling like?
BW: Yes. I thought it was a very festive and joyous celebration. I was especially pleased to hear how emphatically President Mugabe spoke about the importance of peace. His calls in both English and Shona for everyone to respect the right of people to vote for whoever they want to vote for, I thought that this was really a positive message.
TM: And, if I’ll take you back to the time when you were in Zimbabwe up to 2003.
Was it very different ?
BW: In fact, I was never invited for the Independence Day celebrations. That’s usually for ambassadors and deputy ambassadors. So, that was my first time.
TM: For Zimbabweans, April 18 is a day that evokes memories of a hard won independence. It is a day of victory, a day that defines them, a day they cherish and also use as a rallying point, just like you have done with many historical moments in the US. But, the past decade has been different, and Zimbabweans wonder why they cannot reap the fruits of their independence without outside interference. What’s your take on that?
BW: How would you define the fruits of independence?
TM: Fruits of independence is when people are able to empower themselves.
BW: Economic, political and social empowerment?
TM: Across the board. The spaces they fought to occupy, so that they can now freely do so.
BW: I don’t see limits on Zimbabweans’ ability to reap those fruits of independence. It seems to me that Zimbabweans have full sovereignty, full independence (and) the right to make whatever decisions they want to as a nation.
TM: Correct me if I’m wrong. Next month marks 6 months since you presented your credentials to the President.
BW: That’ right.
TM: You promised to move with speed to mend broken relations between Harare and Washington. Since last November, how many high-level delegations have you facilitated to come to Zimbabwe and what impact have they made in Zim-US relations? Similarly, have there been Zimbabwean delegations going to the US to do the same thing?
BW: Since November, one of the things that I thought was important was to bring high-level American policy makers and leaders to Zimbabwe to meet with people here to develop an understanding of the complexities of the Zimbabwe situation.
Since I presented my credentials, I’ve had visitors from the White House. I’ve had two Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State, one of whom came three times in a course of six weeks. And of course, most recently we have had Ambassador Andrew Young, who was here at the invitation of the Government of the United States, but (also) here in his capacity as a human rights leader and a private citizen. We are making the sort of progress we were hoping to make.
It’s never as fast as one would wish. But I feel there is again an understanding of the complexities of Zimbabwe, its history and Zimbabwe’s current status in Washington. Of course there have been delegations of Zimbabweans travelling from Zimbabwe to Washington. The communication between our two governments has been strong in the last six months.
TM: So you can say that it is improving for the better?
BW: I think so. President Mugabe spoke about it yesterday (April 18) in his independence address. He spoke about the new interest on a number of nations including the Unites Stated to improve relations. So I think when it rises to the level of the President and he mentions it in his independence speech, I think we are seeing some progress.
TM: Let’s get back to the visit by Ambassador Young to Zimbabwe on the eve of Zimbabwe’s 33rd Independence anniversary. Was it a game changer?
BW: We were willing to bring Ambassador Young to Zimbabwe whenever it was possible for him and convenient for President Mugabe. It just so happened the mutually possible dates were April 15 and 16.
TM: Ambassador Young gave his side of the story. He also presented a public lecture but as the man on the ground, enlighten us on the purpose of his visit. Who is Ambassador Young and why was he particularly asked by the Obama administration to perform this mission and who are the people he met apart from President Mugabe?
BW: Ambassador Young is one of the icons of the American civil rights movement. He is an ordained minister who initially wanted to serve his faith in Africa. He was on his way to Angola but for some reason that didn’t work out. He decided to dedicate his work to the civil rights movement, and he ended up working with Dr Martin Luther King. In fact, he was with Dr King when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In some way, after Dr King’s death, he took over the mantle of America’s civil rights movement. He was then asked later in 1976 by President Jimmy Carter to be American Ambassador to the United Nations. And in that capacity, President Carter asked him to take a close look at what was going on in Africa and specifically to meet with Robert Mugabe.
That was in 1977. So, Ambassador Young and President Mugabe met in Tanzania in 1977, and I think very quickly developed a friendship . . ..
TM: There was a rapport that developed?
BW: I think there was. Ambassador Young tells a lovely story of how he met President Mugabe. He went to a big reception. There were a bunch of men smoking cigars, and there was a beautiful woman standing by herself, and Ambassador Young went and introduced himself to this woman, who turned out to be Sally Mugabe. There they were talking and there was a tap on Ambassador Young’s shoulder.
When he turned around there was Robert Mugabe who said, “Young man, in Africa you should not be flirting with the wife before you’re introduced to the husband.” So, the friendship was strong and solid — based on a combination of personality and shared commitment to the rights of people. So that friendship started in 1977, continued ever since.
We met with the Foreign Minister on Monday (April 15) before we met with President Mugabe and the Foreign Minister said several times he knew that Ambassador Young had been involved in supporting the Lancaster House talks and when the talks were breaking down, Ambassador Young was able to step in to help keep the talks going. I believe that Ambassador Young and a number of Zimbabweans believe that he has had a positive role in Zimbabwe’s independence movement and in Zimbabwe.
He has a track record and is known as a credible man with a lot of experience in Zimbabwe and someone we thought would have a good conversation with President Mugabe about the fundamental importance of a peaceful, credible electoral process; about the role of leadership in ensuring peace and credible elections. And so bringing these two statesmen together and having this conversation, we thought, would be a positive thing. But, the main purpose in getting Andy Young to come to Zimbabwe was to give a very clear signal about the sincerity of the American government’s desire to improve relations.
Andrew Young is 81. He won’t just travel anywhere, for anybody. He will only do something if it’s important and for a good cause.
TM: Some people argue that Ambassador Young could not travel thousands of kilometres to say that “the State Department has asked me to come to visit and just tell Zimbabweans that it is still in the US’s heart and that they would want to see relations with Zimbabwe resume as they were pre the problems.” Unpack this statement for us.
BW: I can’t speak on behalf of the ambassador. It’s his words. I can tell you what I think, but I can’t speak for Ambassador Young.
TM: Why did the Obama administration wait for his second term to seek engagement with Zanu-PF, especially? What has changed and why should Zimbabweans accept this new initiative?
BW: I think our engagement is a walk together. It’s a hand-in-hand process. And, I think there have been significant and positive developments in Zimbabwe during this period of the Government of National Unity. Clearly, the economy has improved, I think there are more newspapers on the streets, more space for public conversation. President Mugabe firmly called for peaceful elections rather than the sort of statements he’d make 10 to 12 years ago.
So, I think that our ability and our willingness to engage with Zimbabwe is driven by anything else but Zimbabwe’s own internal process.
We want to support that and one way we can do that is the sort of work we are doing right now — looking into the future. Ambassador Young spoke a great deal about the relationship between democratic process and economic development.
My team and I are looking beyond elections to see what we can do to create jobs and assist in economic growth in Zimbabwe. And I do think that having Andrew Young, Reuben Brigety, Karen Hanrahan and Tyler Beckelman, an Africa policy advisor at the White House — and there are more coming, influential and powerful Americans, some in government, some outside government — if they come here and see the progress and the hope, and hear President Mugabe talk about peace, and tell the police (that) you must arrest anyone who conducts political violence; you can wear any T-shirt; no one can force you to vote for deputy Prime Minister Mutambara or for me. He said all this. . .
TM: Yeah, that was powerful.
BW: He took it another step because he has been saying peace begins with me, you, us for a while now, but yesterday (April 18), he took it to another step.
And so, we need to find ways to respond to that. That’s my job — to bring this to my government and my compatriots — this understanding that we’re walking hand-in-hand; that if Zimbabwe takes a step, we need to take a step as well.
TM: Some say the re-engagement talks initiated by both the US and the so-called Friends of Zimbabwe are an instrument for the West to leverage itself. If Zanu-PF wins the forthcoming elections, they would have repositioned themselves to once again work with a Zanu-PF government. If MDC-T wins, again it’s fine. People want the US to show tangible evidence that they mean what they say. It’s time the US walked the talk, and removing the sanctions is one such practical move.
BW: Well, in Washington, we have said it, we have said it here and we’ve said it in other fora: We will respect the results of a credible, peaceful election.
“We’re absolutely prepared to work with Zanu-PF if the people of Zimbabwe elect Zanu-PF in a peaceful, credible process. We can say that over and over again, but ultimately, what we need is a peaceful, credible election so that we can prove that we’re absolutely sincere.
TM: Western countries have also determined benchmarks regarding free, fair and credible elections. One such benchmark is that they observe the forthcoming polls. That’s understandable, but this is an outcome that is a result of a level playing field. Why should we not equate violence, intimidation and human rights abuses with the illegal sanctions regime since they produce the same results?
BW: I disagree. I think that political violence and visa restrictions are very different.
TM: But the argument I will make is that at the end of the day we have two evils; if we rid ourselves of this evil, the West should do the same. President Mugabe, as you have said so many times, is talking about peaceful elections, so why not also match that by doing something credible to say, “We see how you’re doing. We’re working together and we have seen the results of how you can actually resolve your issues, and this is what we’re doing. If we thought that there were some misnomers, we remove the sanctions (unconditionally)”.
BW: I’ve said many times (that) it is my ambition to move beyond sanctions and normalise relationships; to have sanctions be no more a part of the relations.
“We regularly review our sanctions list; we adjust it in that direction. I’m working as hard as I can even as people in Zimbabwe are working to ensure peaceful and credible elections. I think again, we are walking hand-in-hand. So, that’s my response!
TM: Matching action or action?
BW: If that’s the term you want to use.
TM: Finally, how do you react to remarks that the US and its allies by reaching out to Zanu-PF are dumping PM Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC-T? I have seen the stories on the Internet.
BW: I’ve seen that as well. I think the important point here is that we don’t have a political party in Zimbabwe. It’s not our business to have a political party. We care about the process because we think that a clear, credible and transparent process will make Zimbabwe stronger; will permit the environment for strong, sustainable growth; will increase agricultural development; will increase the ability of Zimbabwe to be a strong member of the community of nations.
But, that’s for the people of Zimbabwe to decide who they want to lead them, which party or which candidate. So, the idea that the MDC-T or Morgan Tsvangirai was our candidate is a false premise to start with. We don’t have a candidate.
We have no right to have a candidate in Zimbabwe. So, we can’t dump a candidate that was never ours.