Yesterday, I covered the 2nd panel that constituted the hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs on Examining Prospects for Democratic Reform and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe. The First panel of the session convened Earl Gast, Assistant Administrator at USAID and Donald Yamamoto, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs.
Yamamoto harped on the theme that Zimbabwe is at a crossroads, a comment that could just as easily have been made during the 200 or 2008 elections. He added that this was a sentiment expressed by Andrew Young on a recent visit to Zimbabwe when he met with President Mugabe to outline how the country can normalize its relations with the US.
While Yamamoto said that the US is ‘constantly looking at how we can beef up and strengthen’ sanctions, he sought to position any role of the US in Zimbabwe affairs as being deferential to the preferences of African regional organizations, such as SADC and the AU. He gave very measured testimony and there was not really much else that I took from his comments.
He did however, address the mismanagement of the Marange diamond mines, putting a possible figure on the extent of corruption in the extraction of the gems. He stated that industry estimates predict that the field should generate $600 million a year, however, the government records show revenues of just under $50 million a year.
I found it a bit odd that Earl Gast of USAID was called upon to deliver testimony, but his remarks were just as insightful (perhaps even more so) as his counterpart’s at State. He offered his straightforward opinion that free and credible elections may be possible if they were held by the end of August, which appears to be several weeks later than the maximum two week extension from the July 31 date that ZANU – PF is willing to assent to.
He added that USAID is engaged in a three-pronged process in Zimbabwe to support free and credible elections. This includes empowering participants, supporting election observers, and supporting election administration (although the first relates to work with civil society, I have to admit I’m a bit unclear as to how the last two fall within the USAID mandate). I was intrigued to hear Gast say that as part of USAID’s efforts to work with electoral participants, they have been reaching out to faith-based groups (I recall attending a revival in the Conference Center of Rainbow Towers, formerly the Sheraton, in Harare with an American evangelist several years ago). He stated that Zimbabwe has a new elections commissioner and that his first impressions have been favorable.
On a broader level, Gast stated that USAID priorities in Zimbabwe include food security, health, business, human rights, and conflict mitigation.
Finally, both spoke briefly about Chinese engagement in Zimbabwe. Gast stated that the Chinese presence in Zimbabwe ‘helps to further corrupt practices’. Yamamoto painted a more nuanced picture, but did say that the Chinese in general need to look more at how their activities in Africa can benefit ordinary Africans.
Of the five panelists I’ve covered in my two posts, I think that Todd Moss’ remarks are most accurate. The parties in Zimbabwe will not willingly hold free elections and it is too late for that scenario to be imposed from the outside.