Zimbabwe and the United States have found themselves in a diplomatic row that could have been avoided if officials from both sides had shown restraint.
Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo on Monday summoned ambassador Brian Nichols to explain remarks by the US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien that Zimbabwe is in the bracket of “adversaries working against its interests”.
The US is engulfed in violent protests since George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.
According to reports, US President Donald Trump fled to the secure White House bunker, which is reserved for times of war or terrorist attacks as protests over the killing of Floyd raged outside the complex’s perimeter.
“I’ve seen a number of tweets from the Chinese today that are taking pleasure and solace in what they are seeing here. I want to tell our foreign adversaries, whether it’s a Zimbabwe or a China, that the difference between us and you is that that officer who killed George Floyd, he’ll be investigated, prosecuted, and he’ll receive a fair trial,” O’Brien said in an interview with ABC.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba at the weekend waded into the chaos, taunting the Americans that Zimbabwe should summon Nichols over the killing. Defence deputy minister Victor Matemadanda went so far as to suggest that the US was killing black people “willy-nilly”. So, in a blink the two countries are caught up in a row that they do not need.
Relations between the two countries have been frosty since Washington slapped Harare with sanctions in 2001 over alleged human rights abuses, measures which are still in effect today under its Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act.
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But over the same period, the US has remained the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe of $3 billion.
The southern African country is going through a testing phase in its fight against the novel coronavirus, with 203 confirmed cases now. Resources are scarce and the US has provided assistance of over US$8 million. So, Zimbabwe needs the US, but America needs to provide leadership in human rights, racial equality and in how it handles divergent opinions, something it has struggled to do under the current administration. After all, it is the land of the free.
Zimbabwe’s human rights record in the last two decades is appalling, and is getting worse under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
The abduction of MDC Alliance MP Joanah Mamombe and activists Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri last month is the latest in a long line of abuses that have destroyed trust between the rulers and the public.
To quote Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana, Zimbabwe needs friends and allies, not adversaries and officials in responsible position need to understand that, not to seek cheap political points just as former Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi, who must be counting the cost of putting his foot in his mouth when talking about a foreign leader.