ZIMBABWE will, for the first time in two decades, participate at the US-Africa Summit starting next Tuesday.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be represented by Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava.
Political observers this week said the absence of Mnangagwa at the summit to be held between December 13 and 15, will be a missed opportunity for the countries’ leaders to mend relations that turned soar since 2001.
The United States put Zimbabwe under sanction after the promulgation of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) in 2001, with the latter accusing the late President Robert Mugabe’s administration of gross human rights violations.
However, the Joe Biden administration invited the Zimbabwean government to participate at the summit while using the conference to chart a new path after almost two decades of sanctions against Mugabe and his successor.
Shava, according to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Livit Mugejo, will lead a team of government officials to the summit.
Mnangagwa is still under Washington-imposed sanctions, together with several other Zanu PF, military and security officials.
“Honourable minister Shava is leading the government delegation to the Summit. Zimbabwe is going to take the opportunity provided by the US-Africa Summit to engage with the US officials and try to normalise our relations,” he said.
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“Zimbabwe wishes to be a friend of all and an enemy of none. Zimbabwe will be represented by the Foreign Affairs minister who will be accompanied by senior government officials.
“We are going there to specifically engage the US officials with the aim of normalising relations,” Mugejo said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
In a marked departure from President Barack Obama’s original 2014 summit, the Biden team asked the government of Zimbabwe to join as the US pressured Mnangagwa to abandon the authoritarian ways of his predecessor.
Biden’s goal, according to a National Security Council spokesperson, was to host a “broadly inclusive summit”.
University of London Professor of Politics Stephen Chan said while Shava was probably the appropriate level for the discussions in the summit, it would be a missed opportunity for Mnangagwa to engage with senior figures outside the conference.
“The real business is always done outside of the formal sessions. But it appears to be the case that Mnangagwa isn't very good at informal liaison and engagement,” he said.
Political and social commentator Effie Ncube concurred with Chan saying the summit was a wasted opportunity.
“In a sense, sending Minister Shava constitutes a snub by the government of Zimbabwe. It is an ill-advised move which won't deliver much at a time when the country needs all friends,” Ncube said.
The US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on 11 Zimbabwean officials while adding deputy police commissioner for administration Stephen Mutamba.
Mutamba was sanctioned for his alleged role in “undermining Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions”.
Several African countries including the African Union (AU) have been lobbying for Zimbabwe to be invited to the summit, according to congressional sources.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also reportedly pressed Biden to lift sanctions when the two leaders met earlier this year.
The US and other Western powers have long been under pressure to amend their policy toward Harare.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has repeatedly called for the removal of sanctions on Zimbabwe, noting their negative impact on the country’s economy and that of the entire region.
The sanctions were first imposed under President George Bush after the Mugabe regime seized white-owned land and locked up opposition members.