HARARE - Ambassador-designate of the United States to Zimbabwe Harry K. Thomas Jnr yesterday presented his credentials to President Robert Mugabe, who reaffirmed his country’s resolve to build strong and respectful relations with Washington.
Thomas Jnr replaces Bruce Wharton, who ended his tour of duty recently and is returning to Washington to become the principal deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs at the US State Department.
Thomas Jnr, who arrived here recently to take up new position, had a brief meeting with Mugabe at State House and exchanged views on different issues of bilateral importance.
His meeting with Mugabe follows closely on the meeting that Thomas Jnr had a week ago with a delegation of members from the US Congress, led by Senator Jeff Flake.
The US envoy said both meetings underscore an important fact: the enduring interest and commitment of the United States to the people of Zimbabwe have not changed.
The new US envoy said he had “a good meeting” with Mugabe, and delivered greetings from President Barack Obama.
This comes after Mugabe delivered an hour-long speech as he handed over the chairmanship of the African Union to Chadian leader Idriss Debby last month, hitting out at Obama “for failing to help black people”.
“We stand by the commitments that we made to the people of Zimbabwe at independence in 1980; to work together to promote democratic institutions, equitable economic growth, public health, and food security,” Thomas Jnr said.
“The United States shares the desires of the people of Zimbabwe, who want to see a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Zimbabwe that provides for its people and contributes to regional stability. To realise these goals, we strongly believe that it is important to engage with government and non-governmental entities alike to promote our shared values and to work together in areas of common concern. We view this ongoing dialogue as part of building the bilateral relationship.”
Since 2000, America has engaged Zimbabwe in a bitter diplomatic row, characterised by threats, sanctions and verbal exchanges over a deteriorating human rights situation and rising repression.
Despite its hostility, threats and sanctions, American policy makers still recognise the importance of Zimbabwe in contemporary Southern African geo-politics, a vital area of western economic investment and vital resources.
The US’s “narrowly targeted sanctions,” were imposed on specific high level individuals and their families in Zimbabwe, accused of undermining democracy and crushing the Zimbabwean people’s civil liberties.
Thomas Jnr said he pledged to Mugabe the US government’s continued support to the people of Zimbabwe and to their efforts to build a more just, prosperous and healthy society.
He said in addition to his government’s primary policy interests of supporting strong democratic institutions, sustainable economic growth, regional security, and expanding opportunities for people and communities, “we are mindful of the immediate challenges before us: responding to the 2015–2016 El Niño event, which experts say is one of the strongest on record.”
Thomas Jnr said his embassy will continue to work to promote business linkages, encourage American investors to look closely at Zimbabwe’s educated labour force and long-term growth potential.
The new US embassy campus was another tangible expression of the United States’ commitment to its relationship with Zimbabwe, he said.
“The work that has begun on the construction of our new embassy campus is projected to create more than 850 job opportunities for local Zimbabwean workers and inject more than $30 million dollars into the local economy,” he said.
“We plan to continue our commitment to support the country’s health systems and, in particular, to support Zimbabwe’s well documented success in mitigating the impact of HIV and Aids.”
Thomas Jnr’s predecessor Wharton described Mugabe as “a lion of Africa” who has dedicated his whole life to liberating the continent, and said he was leaving at a time when relations between the US and Zimbabwe were improving.
Wharton said there were still areas of concern that needed to be addressed before his country removes targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe, but commended the country for holding peaceful elections that were convincingly won by Zanu PF in 2013.
The US’s “narrowly targeted sanctions,” were imposed on specific high level individuals and their families in Zimbabwe, accused of undermining democracy and crushing the Zimbabwean people’s civil liberties. This list of over 200 individuals including Mugabe have their assets frozen in America.
“Robert Mugabe is a lion of Africa,” Wharton said in his controversial exit interview with journalists.
“He has dedicated his life to creating a free and independent … a lion of Africa … he is one of the leaders, not only of Zimbabwe’s liberation but of the Frontline States.
“We do recognise the improvement in the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Thank God, the election of 2013 was peaceful. It’s a huge step forward.”
In the face of a torrent of rhetoric from Washington, Mugabe has remained unbending.
He has shown stubborn defiance to western threats and American-led sanctions. He has missed no opportunity to cry out loud as a victim of western vilification, double standards and what he has repeatedly called “rank hypocrisy.”