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Harris visit casts spotlight on Zim-US frosty relations



A PLANNED visit to Zambia by United States Vice-President Kamala Harris (pictured) has cast Zimbabwe’s frosty relations with Washington in the spotlight, just over two decades after Harare was slapped with sanctions which resulted in international isolation.


While senior US officials have been jet-setting the continent reinforcing the superpowers’ foreign policy, Russia and China have also been growing their influence in the region.

According to a statement by the White House, Vice-President Harris and second gentleman Douglas Ermhoff will be travelling to Lusaka, Accra and Dar es Salaam, in a trip that is set to strengthen US partnerships throughout Africa and advance “shared interests in security and economic prosperity”.

The trip is also expected to build on the US-Africa Leaders Summit hosted in December last year aimed at strengthening economic ties between the United States and Africa.

While Zimbabwe was invited to the summit held in Washington, the country has not implemented reforms as has been suggested by human rights defenders and other political analysts.

The country’s invitation was largely seen as a critical step towards re-engagement with the West and the United States. However, even after the summit, the Harare’s track record has been worsening.

United Kingdom-based professor of international politics Stephen Chan said: “Although Zimbabwe is invited to be represented, President Mnangagwa is not. He is still under US sanctions. So, if there were any signals that the US is lightening its position on sanctions it would have been by way of a personal invitation to the President. As it is, the Washington foreign affairs establishment remains committed to sanctions.”

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Professor Eldred Masungure told The NewsHawks that Zimbabwe’s invitation to the US-Africa Summit is a “small step” in the right direction which can only be made big through the implementation of reforms.

“I hear that it will just be the Foreign Affairs minister going there and not the President of the country because he is on sanctions. However, it is a small step in the right direction. What is key is to implement the necessary reforms so that Zimbabwe’s ties with the US are salvaged.”

“The reforms that Zimbabwe needs to implement are there in the papers that speak about US sanctions on Zimbabwe. They are also in our own constitution. So it must be easy for Zimbabwe to implement them,” he said.

Zimbabwe has done little to implement reforms, with the government further shrinking the civic space ahead of the 2023 general elections.

  This has seen the country unlikely to benefit from the US$55 billion facility that is be injected in Africa over the next three years, due to restrictive measures placed on the country.

Over the years, the US has not been directly lending money to Zimbabwe, with the country mainly benefitting from humanitarian proceeds.

Since 1980, the United States Agency for International Aid (Usaid) has extended an estimated US$3.2 billion to Zimbabwe in aid, making it one of the biggest providers of humanitarian assistance in the country.

The US has also been seemingly handpicking countries that are showing signs of reform for visits by high-profile delegates since the beginning of the year.  

Last year, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken also visited South Africa.

Five months later, in January, the winds of a renewed Cold War between the United States and Russia swept across the southern African region this week as Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visited South Africa to meet his counterpart Naledi Pandor, five months after his American opposite number Anthony Blinken was in Pretoria.

While Lavrov was in South Africa asserting Russia’s influence in Africa, US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield travelled to Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya this week to advance mutual priorities following December’s US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC.

The moves heightened the ongoing geopolitical rivalry and turf wars between Washington and Moscow in southern Africa and across the continent.

Harare has taken sides in supporting Moscow in the ongoing geopolitical battle between the US and Russia, to gain a foothold in Africa.

Zimbabwe’s support for Russia was shown last year when the country abstained from voting against Russia in the United Nations motions on Russia and Ukraine.

In March last year Zimbabwe abstained, then voted with Russia and later abstained again on UN motions on Russia over Ukraine, effectively putting itself behind Moscow in the scheme of things.

In the last vote in October last year after Russia’s controversial referenda in Russian-speaking Ukrainian territories — following Moscow’s veto of a similar move in the Security Council in late September — 26 African countries voted in favour of the resolution rejecting the referenda in four Ukrainian regions. 19 others abstained.

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