Zimbabwe’s government “sometimes finds it difficult” to listen to the people, the United States Ambassador Charles Ray said on Tuesday as he denied that US sanctions imposed on the country were hurting the economy.
Ambassador Ray said Zimbabwe government claims that the sanctions had destroyed the economy were an “official fairy tale”.
“When leaders named on the U.S. sanctions list tell you that these limited and largely symbolic measures destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy, what they are really doing is pretending they are not responsible for a disastrous decade. They are saying, ‘I am not the one. I am not responsible!’,” he said during a public lecture at Chinhoyi University of Technology.
“The truth, of course, is that the United States blocks business transactions and visas for a little over 100 Zimbabwean leaders who have supported or participated in political violence against their fellow citizens.”
America’s defence of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in 2001, and renewed every year after that, is struggling to gain currency in Zimbabwe and the region.
Although divided on the real impact of the sanctions, both President Robert Mugabe and his ruling coalition partners Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara want to see them lifted.
The US has defended the sanctions as a measure to punish Mugabe and his associates for human rights abuses, but the veteran leader appears to have convinced African leaders that the sanctions were a diplomatic tool for “regime change” in Zimbabwe and have suffocated the country’s economy.
Ambassador Ray’s speech focused on United States mid-term elections held on Tuesday. But he noted that in Harare, “it seems everyone is talking about [Zimbabwean] elections”.
He added: “I cannot say when Zimbabwe will have its next election—some say next year, some say the year after.
“Whenever it is held, I hope there will be institutions and an environment that will make the election credible and truly reflective of the will of the people.”
He equated American democracy to the staple sadza/isitshwala, saying it was best enjoyed at home, not far away.
He added: “Even though I don’t think American democracy is likely to work outside America, I do think democracy can work in any country. That includes Zimbabwe, and I think almost all Zimbabweans would agree.”
Delving into domestic politics, which has previously invited attacks on him by Mugabe’s supporters, Ambassador Ray said “countless Zimbabweans take risks everyday to restore democracy in the country”.
He added: “I would even say that those who have undermined Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions understand as well as anyone the power of democracy and the irresistible force of popular will.
“Why else would they devote so much effort to suppressing criticism, controlling the airwaves, and threatening their political opponents?
“ … Zimbabwe’s government seems to have lost the habit of listening to Zimbabwe’s people—all of Zimbabwe’s people. One year in your country does not make me an expert. But … I have seen enough to know that the government sometimes finds it difficult to listen to the people.”