USA Re-Engages Zimbabwe

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ZIMBABWE and the United States appear set for re-engagement after more than a decade of bitter conflict over human rights violations and policy clashes amid reports that the US’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs, Shannon Smith, will be visiting the country next week.

Senior government sources told the Zimbabwe Independent Smith would arrive next Tuesday to hold meetings with representatives of the country’s main political parties.

“Smith will arrive for meetings with the main parties on the 12th (Tuesday). She will meet with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zanu PF), Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) as well as Elton Mangoma of the MDC- Renewal Team. These are basically exploratory discussions which could form the basis for re-engagement between the USA and Zimbabwe who have been at loggerheads since the start of the land reform exercise in 2000,” said a source.

US Embassy spokesperson Karen Kelley said Smith would be accompanied by deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Steven Feldstein during the visit.

“The two officials will meet Embassy staff as well as representatives of government, business, and civil society organizations,” said Kelly on Thursday.

“The visit will enable the officials to hear first-hand from representatives of government, representatives of opposing political parties, and civil society organisations about issues including human rights, democracy and governance since the adoption of Zimbabwe’s constitution in May 2013.”

In the last two years, Smith has been critical of President Robert Mugabe’s government saying that it retained power in the 2013 elections whose credibility was compromised by allegations of vote rigging and a generally uneven playing field due to the failure to implement agreed media, electoral and security sector reforms.

While appearing before the US House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations in September 2013, Smith bemoaned the “seriously flawed presidential and parliamentary elections of July 31” and said they “were a missed opportunity for Zimbabwe.”

The US has maintained sanctions against Mugabe’s regime since 2002 after condemning human rights abuses that accompanied the chaotic land reform exercise in which more than 4000 white commercial farmers lost their land.