PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration should not expect a policy shift from United States president-elect Joe Biden’s administration after he defeated incumbent Donald Trump – who is still refusing to
concede – without a paradigm change and reforms, analysts say.
The US constitution gives foreign power relations to both the executive and legislature. It grants some powers, like command of the military, exclusively to the president and others, like the regulation of foreign commerce, to congress, while it divides others among the two or simply does not assign.
The periodic tug-of-war between the US president and congress over foreign policy issues is not a by-product of the constitution, but rather, one of its core aims, analysts point out.
However, the president sets the tone for all foreign policy as commander-in-chief and as such has broad authority over the armed forces. Both the secretary of state and ambassadors are appointed by the president, with the advice
and consent of the senate. The US, like any other country in the world, is guided by its own national interest.
The four main objectives of US foreign policy are usually the protection of the country, citizens and allies, assurance of continued access to international resources and markets, preservation of a balance of power in the world, and protection of human rights and democracy.
Harare clearly has an expectation from the Biden administration. Mnangagwa was one of the first African presidents to congratulate Biden on his historic win over Trump, expressing his desire to open lines of dialogue
with Washington DC.
“I look forward to working with you to increase cooperation between our two nations,” Mnangagwa tweeted. Biden’s win has largely been met with optimism within Zimbabwe’s polity, but relations between the two countries are likely to remain strained if the government does not address US demands articulated in the Zimbabwe Democracy Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) of 2001.
In 2018, the US senate foreign relations committee approved bipartisan legislation introduced by US senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, both members of the committee, to lay the framework for America’s relations with
Flake and Coons had led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Harare before that. The US says Zimbabwe must
address a series of issues in Zidera, including political, economic and electoral reforms, rule of law, property rights, human rights abuses, governance, accountability and corruption, before sanctions could be removed.
Although Mnangagwa initially said his government would not dwell on blaming sanctions for economic failure, his regime has now gone back to hostile rhetoric and actions similar to those of his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who
blamed the restrictive measures for the country’s disastrous failures.
The Zimbabwean government has even lobbied the region to stage ant-sanctions activities every October to pressure the US to lift the measures. The effect of the protests has been minimal.
The US insists that sanctions are not Zimbabwe’s real problem, but leadership, governance and policy failures are.
It also says corruption is one of the biggest problems, which have failed Zimbabwe.
The US has renewed Zidera annually since 2001, regardless of the government of the day. With countries like Sudan now off US sanctions, Zimbabwe will be looking forward to engage the Biden administration on restrictions.
However, analysts say Zimbabwe should not expect change in US foreign policy. Steven Chan, professor of world politics at the University of London, said: “It is unlikely there will be much change in US policy towards Zimbabwe.”
Chan said this at a time when there is still speculation on Biden’s cabinet. Coons, who is close to Biden, might end up at the state department. Given Coons’ position on sanctions – which Biden supported as senator– it would be difficult to change the relations unless Zimbabwe addresses US demands.
“Right now, there is much speculation this position will be given to Michelle Gavin, a 47-year-old career diplomat, who was US ambassador to Botswana.
She is regarded as a Southern African and Sadc specialist — but her op-eds and her contributions to the council on foreign relations, where she is a senior fellow, are highly critical of the Mnangagwa regime,” Chan said.
While Mnangagwa took advantage of Trump’s transactional foreign policy to engage, his chief foreign policy agent Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo pushed for re-engagement, but did not gain momentum largely due to the worsening internal situation in Zimbabwe.
Over the past three years, Moyo did not engage with his counterpart Mike Pompeo, while Mnangagwa also could not meet Trump. He only met US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy on the sidelines of the US-Africa Summit in Mozambique last year.
Although Mnangagwa attended the summit, Zimbabwe did not benefit from multi-million dollar investment deals that neighbouring Mozambique got. Instead, Mnangagwa received flak for human rights abuses and lack of reform.
Chan said Biden was facing bigger foreign policy issues like ensuring the US returns to the Paris Agreement on climate change after Trump pulled out. Zimbabwe, he said, will be the least of his worries.
“The US stands to gain nothing by lifting sanctions or changing any policy on Zimbabwe. This is especially so given that the big issues Biden seeks to address on foreign policy concerns, China and Iran. Africa features only a
little, and Zimbabwe not at all,” he said.
“Zimbabwean embassy representation in Washington DC has been very lacklustre indeed. Professional US lobbyists hired by the Zimbabwean government are both poorly chosen and, in any case, have been unable to do
anything for Zimbabwe.” International relations analyst at Bindura University Ronald Chipaike said nothing will change any time soon.
“To be frank, nothing will change as far as US foreign policy is concerned. Biden was involved in the crafting of Zidera and from the time he was vice-president. America has maintained the same stance,” he said.
Analysts say Zimbabwe’s position is currently complicated by current crackdown on opposition and civic activists, journalists, lawyers and church leaders as part of the wider repression across society. Detained filmmaking journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has now become a symbol for media repression, which has had a chilling effect on independent, free and critical reporting.
Former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo said a Biden administration would not consider re-engagement with Zimbabwe without seeing evidence that human rights violations and corruption were being seriously tackled by Harare.
Moyo, a politics professor, said Biden’s government will largely be multilateral in approach and would demand accountability from regimes like that Mnangagwa.
“The Biden-Harris administration is going to be of multilateral in orientation. Therefore, it will work with its partners in Europe and around the world to address common problems with a common approach and human rights, good governance, anti-corruption will be the underlying parameters
of their engagement with a government like Zimbabwe,” he said.
So, if this guy is thinking re-engagement is just to sit and wine and dine with foreign governments, especially with
bureaucrats in Washington, they can kiss that goodbye, because there’s going to be a new ballgame in town.”
The Democrats’ multilateral approach will also continue to make it difficult for Zimbabwe to re-engage with multilateral financial institutions due to US influence there and Harare’s incapacity to pay its debts and arrears.
The US holds sway at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Without a policy shift in Washington and reforms in Harare, Zimbabwe’s hope of a thaw in relations with the US will remain a pipedream.