'We are prepared to meet action for action'

HARARE - This week the Daily News Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki (GM), speaks to the United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton (BW), who is no stranger to Zimbabwe having served at the embassy in a different role at the Public Affairs section.

Below are the excerpts.

GM: The annual U.S. educational programme which takes excelling Zimbabweans to different colleges in the U.S. is oversubscribed here. What has been its impact?  

Are you able to give statistics and fields that graduates have gone to serve upon completion of studies?

BW: Education USA provides the only official source of accurate, comprehensive, and current information on American higher education opportunities in Zimbabwe.  

The U.S. Embassy operates four Education USA advising centres in Harare (Public Affairs Section, Eastgate), Bulawayo (Bulawayo Public Library), Gweru (Gweru Memorial Library) and Mutare (Turner Memorial Library).  

All four advisors have been trained in the United States and are available to work with all qualified Zimbabwean students on the application process to be admitted and funded to study in the U.S.

Our Education USA Advising Centres have assisted thousands of Zimbabweans to study in the US over the past decade and currently have over 1 200 Zimbabweans studying at colleges and universities in the US, many on full or nearly full academic, arts or sports scholarships.

The particular programme within Education USA that you are referring to is the United States Achievers Programme (Usap) which began in Zimbabwe in 1999.

Usap works with students in their final Upper-6 year (‘A’ level) who are economically-disadvantaged, highly academically talented, and who have demonstrated leadership potential and an ethos of giving back to their community.  

The Usap model from Zimbabwe has been replicated in over 12 countries on four continents since its inception.  

The programme assists cohorts of highly-talented academically gifted but disadvantaged students to negotiate the application and scholarship process to top U.S. colleges and universities.

Over 250 Zimbabwean disadvantaged students have received scholarships to study in the US since the programme was initiated in Zimbabwe.

Towards the end of January I hosted a reception where I met over 60 Zimbabweans and their families who had returned from the United States and are contributing immensely to the development of Zimbabwe in the spheres of business, medicine, civil society and the arts.

Those who have completed their studies and professional training are repatriating to Zimbabwe and to the wider southern African region.

They are working in varied fields ranging from public health to economic development to education to engineering to finance to starting their own businesses as entrepreneurs.

Some of the organisations they have joined include Comesa, Clinton Health Access Initiative, World Education, Rift Valley Holdings, University of Zimbabwe, Ernst and Young and AON.  

The story of Usap, in short, is still being told; its impact lies in the vast potential that can be unleashed when economically-disadvantaged, talented youth are given access to the opportunity to study at top universities and then return to apply their expertise.

GM: The U.S. government has been very visible in the health services sector where it has disbursed funds to bolster the sector. Are you satisfied with the performance of this sector and what can we expect from the U.S. in terms of future support?

BW:  We have a robust health programme whose flagship is the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (Pepfar) which continues to expand.

It is good to see concrete improvements in the fight against HIV and Aids.  

When I last worked in Zimbabwe from 1999 to 2003 in the embassy’s Public Affairs Section, the HIV prevalence rate was much higher than the figures we currently have.

This was during a time when much of the scientific evidence about interventions in prevention or treatment was yet to be discovered or accepted.

On my return to Zimbabwe, now as Ambassador, I am thrilled to see so much progress in the country’s national response to the virus and the strong partnership the U.S. has with the government of Zimbabwe.

No country in Sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed a steadier decline in HIV prevalence than Zimbabwe.  

This is a clear demonstration of sound leadership by the ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the National Aids Council.  

Our work together on HIV and Aids provides a model for cooperation that I will seek to replicate in other parts of our relationship.

GM: What are the critical areas that the U.S. has been targeting in its support in the health services sector?

BW: The U.S. Mission to Zimbabwe lists combating HIV/Aids as one of its top priorities and will provide over $95 million in 2013 to support critical prevention, care, and treatment interventions through Pepfar.  
This represents nearly a 74 percent increase in funding over 2011 levels.

The U.S. government, through various agencies including the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-Zimbabwe) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (Usaid), provides broad support for Zimbabwe to address HIV/Aids, TB, malaria, and other health challenges.

The United States is also the largest donor to the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which provides major support to the Zimbabwe national HIV/Aids programme.

The Pepfar team is finalising a strategy for 2011-2015 which complements Zimbabwe’s own National Plan.

This strategy will support capacity building in the Zimbabwean health sector to improve leadership and effectiveness in addressing HIV. It will encourage Zimbabweans at all levels of society to take ownership of both the epidemic and the response, using approaches that include;

1. Strengthening prevention, care, and treatment services;
2. Developing innovative, evidence-based programme models and tools to ensure the latest research and lessons learned are brought to Zimbabwe, tested, adapted, and adopted nationally; and
3. Building capacity of Zimbabwean organisations to scale-up and sustain these systems and programmes.

Last year we supported antiretroviral medication for an additional  60 000 men, women, and children, and this year we will again expand to a grand total of 160 000 individuals.  

Ongoing U.S. support for laboratory testing, training, and quality improvement also contribute substantially to the national treatment programme.

Pepfar has directly supported over 521 000 people in Zimbabwe with care and support programmes, including nearly 121 000 orphans and vulnerable children.

Pepfar’s efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns have allowed nearly 50 000 HIV-positive mothers to receive antiretroviral drugs, thus reducing the risk of HIV transmission to their babies.

All this work will continue in line with the ministry of Health’s national plan of action.

GM: The U.S. has been attacked for imposing sanctions which President Robert Mugabe say are a deliberate attempt by you to remove him from power. Why are you maintaining sanctions when, on the ground, there have been some improvements in the rule of law and respect for human rights?

BW: The United States imposed targeted sanctions on those individuals and firms involved in, enabling, or benefitting from the undermining of Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions and rule of law.
 
We imposed those restrictions based on actions on the ground in Zimbabwe and in response to the principles and values which guide U.S. foreign policy.

 While there have been modest improvements on the ground, the fundamental partisan bias in the application of the rule of law and administration of many State institutions remains largely unchanged.

Once dynamics on the ground demonstrate that State institutions are no longer run in a partisan manner, the rule of law is no longer biased in favour of one political orientation, and the rights of the people are respected, there will be no further grounds for maintaining those sanctions.

As Secretary Clinton said in Cape Town in August 2012, the United States is prepared to meet “action for action” in response to tangible progress made on the ground in Zimbabwe.

We have demonstrated fairness and evidence-based decisions in our handling of the Zimbabwe issue as Chair of the Kimberley Process last year, and we have shown tangibly in Burma that we are prepared to recognise and respond positively to real reforms.  

We hope that Zimbabwe’s coming referendum, the pursuit of the Sadc elections roadmap, and the conduct of the coming elections will provide the grounds to lead us to remove all restrictions on Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean leaders.

GM: Which areas, in terms of conditions set and agreed to by the three parties in the inclusive government; remain a source of worry to you that you cannot out rightly remove sanctions?

BW:   Some examples of commitments made by Zimbabweans which remain unaddressed and a source of concern include: the commitment allowing parties’ political activity throughout the country that is free of harassment and intimidation, parties’ agreement to adhere to the rule of law, the agreement that State organs and institutions should be impartial in the discharge of their duties, the commitment to the political neutrality of traditional leaders, the commitment that the government shall apply the law fully and impartially in holding perpetrators of political violence to account.
 
I think it is critical for Zimbabwe’s leaders to honour and fully implement their commitments made in the Global Political Agreement.  Over the next 12 months or so Zimbabwe has an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate how democratic processes can work, how open and transparent it is, and how peaceful it can be, — those are the sorts of steps that will lead to a more normal relationship.

GM: The KPCS has lifted sanctions off the Marange diamonds but the U.S. has maintained a grip on the companies mining the gems including the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources by adding them to the sanctions list. Why is it that so?

BW: The U.S. sanctions on diamond-related entities are completely separate from the Kimberley Process.

The KP looks at minimum technical standards for the credible production and export of rough diamonds.  

The sanctions, on the other hand, stem from our concerns over the use of proceeds from various entities to enable the undermining of state institutions, human rights abuses, and the biased application of the rule of law.  

So, while the operations at Marange may be of a worldclass standard technically, the opaqueness in the flow of revenues from diamond sales, the links between diamond entities and elements of the security sector, and the historical role of the security sector in undermining human rights and the rule of law all justify the retention of these sanctions.

GM: Finance minister, Tendai Biti, has even expressed his disappointment on the sanctions placed on these diamond companies arguing they deprive Zimbabwe the much-needed revenue.

How can you convince the generality of Zimbabweans that your actions are in their interest when they see an opportunity to benefit from the mining and sale of diamonds quashed by U.S. sanctions on the sale of Marange diamonds?

BW: See my previous response on the sanctions on diamond-related entities.

I understand and am sympathetic to minister Biti’s frustration that the treasury is not getting the revenues from diamond sales.

Those sales are happening. The fact that certain elements of the government of Zimbabwe are not remitting their revenues to the treasury highlights the problems of partisan abuse of state institutions that our sanctions are aimed at.

The lifting of those sanctions will not make the mines, ZMDC, or MMCZ decide overnight to honour their obligations of remitting funds to the treasury.

That requires a political commitment by those overseeing those entities.

Until they demonstrate that commitment, the sanctions will remain in place to limit the availability of funds for their off-budget, corrupt, or illicit activities.

GM: You were “abused” in Mutare by Zanu PF mobs during the tour of U.S. projects in Manicaland and a scheduled meeting with stakeholders. Did you see this coming?

BW: No. In fact, I was looking forward to a more positive and productive engagement with the people of Manicaland at the American Corner.

When I arrived in Zimbabwe, I was encouraged to travel broadly and talk to a wide variety of people to develop a strong understanding of how our countries can collaborate.
 
This event does not diminish my respect for the people of Zimbabwe, the vast majority of whom I know to be smart, thoughtful, and constructive.

Nor does it deter my determination to work respectfully with the people of Zimbabwe to resolve disagreements and build a mutually beneficial relationship between our two nations.

I welcome discussion with people who disagree with the position that the United States has taken.

Only by having those tough conversations are we really able to find common ground.

Regrettably, the protestors refused to have a conversation. I look forward to continuing to travel and to meet and learn from the people of Zimbabwe. And, I am especially eager to return soon to Mutare and Manicaland.

GM: How ironic was it that the mobs reminded you of the sanctions and that less than 40 kilometres were the diamond mining fields whose extracts cannot be sold successfully because of the U.S. sanctions?

BW: The U.S. is not blocking the sales of diamonds, we are only restricting U.S. companies and individuals from trading with listed enterprises and individuals.

The irony is that the protestors were plied with alcohol and coordinated by people who neither represent the majority of Zimbabweans nor have this country’s best interests at heart.

It is important to note that the right to peaceful protest is something that is valued in my country. It is a critical element of democracy.

It is regrettable that the protestors were not interested in a conversation when I have already had several very constructive and positive discussions with senior officials from the party the protestors claimed to represent.

It is critical that we continue to work together with progressive Zimbabweans to build a way forward but believes that this must begin with a respectful sharing of ideas.

GM: Zimbabwe will hold elections this year. What is your call on these elections given that in the past your concerns and those of pro-democracy groups have not been heeded as amplified by sham elections and disputed results?

Is the environment conducive to holding free and fair elections given that all the parties seem to have negotiated past the sticky constitutional draft issue which had put a constitutional referendum in doubt?

BW: The results of the elections are a matter for the people of Zimbabwe alone to determine.

As a friend of the Zimbabwean people, the U.S. will engage broadly to advocate that the conduct of those elections is transparent, non-violent, and the results are honoured.

The United States emphasises to all of Zimbabwe’s leaders the importance of honouring the rule of law — and the public will — by engaging in a fair and peaceful campaign.

The credibility of the results will be judged against the Sadc election guidelines and will include the conditions of the campaign, not just the conduct of election day.

We are concerned by the deployment of Zimbabwe Defence Forces troops throughout the country on nominal “Administrative Service” (AS) duty that may seek to influence how communities will vote.

We are also concerned about what appears to be a campaign to intimidate civil society and that the State-run media and various other State institutions show a consistent pattern of bias in favour of one party.

If these trends continue, it will be difficult to pronounce the declared winner “legitimate.”

There is still time before the referendum and elections are held for Zimbabwe’s leaders and political parties to correct these emergent trends to ensure that the elections are credible and the victor enjoys legitimacy.

GM: Have the rules of engagement changed with your appointment as ambassador to Zimbabwe?

BW: You know, what I have said several times in public is that U.S. policy is not static, and I think it’s time for us to take a fresh look at our approach to Zimbabwe.

My personal goal while in Zimbabwe is to work with the government of Zimbabwe, the people of Zimbabwe and my own colleagues back in Washington, to find a way forward so that we can move to a more normal relationship that is not encumbered by some of the things that have made it difficult in the last ten years.

GM: How do you describe your relations with both President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai given that the exposure of confidential meetings between the U.S. staff including previous ambassadors, with Zanu PF and MDC officials, were not well received when WikiLeaks cables were released?

BW: I have had cordial meetings with officials from government and representatives of all political parties since my accreditation in November last year.

The United States will continue to work to strengthen our partnership with the people of Zimbabwe and make progress on the issues that are important for our two countries.

As I said after my meeting with President Mugabe, I will begin my term here by listening and learning about the goals of the Zimbabwean people, and how the U.S. can be a good partner.

As I learn, I will begin to add my own ideas in support of what is clearly best for both our nations: a strong, prosperous, just and healthy Zimbabwe.

GM: Can anyone trust the U.S. administration in the aftermath of these cable disclosures?

BW: The government of the United States and the government of Zimbabwe share this desire for a better future for the people of this great nation.

When we differ on the best means of achieving those goals, I will seek to engage in a dialogue that is respectful and that seeks to uphold the universal values and rights that Zimbabweans fought so hard to gain 32 years ago.

GM: Has the U.S. felt the impact of these exposed cables?

BW: We will continue to engage fully with Zimbabwe to the best of our ability and across all points of view.

Zimbabwe needs to advance to the point where it can take care of its own needs.

This is essential for the country as well as the region, and the U.S. and international community stand ready to assist.   

However, the U.S. cannot build Zimbabwe, only Zimbabweans can do that. U.S. support will be available when Zimbabwean leaders request it.

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