Landscape: What is it with the Americans?

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“The United States doesn’t have permanent enemies, we are too great a country for that,” former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on December 21 2007.
She was addressing a State Department Press conference in Washington on the prospects of improved relations with two members of former President George Bush’s “axis of evil”, Iran and North Korea.

Rice’s statement crossed my mind last week when an animated Ray Charles, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, emerged from an hour-long meeting with President Robert Mugabe at Munhumutapa Building in Harare.

The US top diplomat in Harare declared he had found the 87-year-old former guerilla leader to be “alert and mentally engaging” throughout their meeting.

“The man has an encyclopedia of a brain,” an enthused Ray told journalists.

Moments later, Ray, still excited, posted on his Facebook page: “Just finished a pleasant one-hour chat with President Mugabe (and) wished him a good trip to New York, and briefed him on embassy programmes. He was mentally alert and engaging. It was a pleasant chat. No WikiLeaks, No rants.”

Last month, while speaking at a public lecture on the future of US-Zimbabwe relations in Bulawayo, Ray said Washington was actively involved in promoting Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.

Juxtapose this with the tension that characterised diplomatic relationship between the Zimbabwean leader and US diplomats posted to Harare a few years back.

In March 2007 former US ambassador to Harare, Christopher Dell, walked out of a tension-filled meeting with Foreign Affairs minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, in Harare.

This was followed by a barrage of insults and counter-insults between Harare and Washington which culminated in the US pushing for a UN Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe which President Mugabe said was tailor-made for removing him from power.

The US had, in the meantime, slapped President Mugabe and his lieutenants with an assortment of punitive restrictions.

The UN Security Council resolution was blocked by Russia and China. So intense was the tension between Harare and Washington that at one time President Mugabe and Zanu PF accused the US administration of helping to train and arm “bandits” in neighbouring Botswana to invade Zimbabwe.

“The Mugabe regime is a disgrace to the people of Zimbabwe and a disgrace to southern Africa and to the continent of Africa as whole,” Rice declared then.

But the US’s stance on President Mugabe and Zanu PF appears to be softening. What is happening behind the scenes?

“You must remember that America has permanent interests and not permanent friends,” political commentator Charles Mangongera agrees with Condoleezza Rice, adding: “They (the US) realise that Zanu PF is indispensable in the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis.

“They have also realised that there is emerging national consensus that perhaps going forward, there will be need to reach out to Zanu PF reformists. The WikiLeaks cables confirm that there is a strong coalition that wants (President) Mugabe to go within Zanu PF and America sees that as an opportunity for a breakthrough. Their foreign policy on Zimbabwe has always been premised on a post-Mugabe political dispensation.”

Human rights campaigner Dewa Mavhinga weighed in: “The Americans, like everyone else, realise it’s the endgame now, and that, with (President) Mugabe strongly backed by the military, the game changers are those around him and his own plans for stepping aside.”

Both Mangongera and Mavhinga are right.
The Americans are now focusing and preparing for a post–Mugabe Zimbabwe.

Clandestine discussions US diplomats held with individuals in President Mugabe’s inner cabal in both Zanu PF and government since 2000 have convinced them beyond doubt that the veteran leader’s time is now up.

They want a smooth transition in which moderate politicians amenable to the new world order will succeed a diehard revolutionary.

And those that volunteered information in the cover of darkness fit well in this equation.

But the Americans are mindful that such a process can only glide through with the express approval of President Mugabe and hardliners that surround him.

Others believe the US international diplomacy is going through a major shift, mainly influenced by the global economic conditions and Zimbabwe, with its relatively vast resources, is strategic to Washington’s economic interests.

Zimbabwe has rich mineral resources ranging from diamonds, uranium, gold, cobalt to platinum which are crucial to the US economy.

The White House’s point man in Harare told President Mugabe he had been receiving increasing amounts of enquiries from Americans who want to do business with and in Zimbabwe.

“So this engagement is purely based on the economics of the relationship that Zimbabwe and the US can ride on,” Trevor Maisiri of the African Reform Institute told the Standard newspaper at the weekend.

The US also wants a share of the Chiadzwa diamonds. After all, other world powers, China and Russia, are already partaking of what is believed to be the world’s biggest diamond haul in modern history.

Iran, Washington’s adversary and an emerging economic powerhouse, appears poised to gain from Zimbabwe’s uranium resources in its controversial enrichment programme, seen by the US as a threat to world peace.

Indicators are clear. The US is motivated more than anything else by global economic trends and the desire to influence political processes in Zimbabwe after President Mugabe finally cedes power.

kjakachira@newsday.co.zw