In Monday’s edition of The Herald we carried recent remarks by United States senator Chris Coons on the extent of political reforms in Zimbabwe since the transition last November from president Robert Mugabe to President Mnangagwa, ahead of the July 30 harmonised elections.
In his comments on CGNTV News, Senator Coons, who together with Senator Jeff Flake visited Zimbabwe earlier this year, suggested President Mnangagwa had not lived up to his word to carry out major political and economic reforms.
Senator Coons said President Mnangagwa had promised free and fair elections, respect for human rights and an “open economy”.
“. . . [I]t has been wonderful to hear his (President Mnangagwa’s) encouraging private and public comments about welcoming international observers, about publishing the list of those who are enrolled for the vote, of identifying the list of places where polling will take place, providing access to State media for opposition candidates . . .”
He drew this dire conclusion: “But frankly, after what was a very encouraging initial meeting several weeks ago, we have seen no concrete steps in response, the amount of time left before the elections is shrinking, so the importance of taking prompt concrete steps, as to demonstrate the President’s commitment to democracy, is becoming more and more important.”
We find Mr Coons’ remarks most unfortunate in that, perhaps because of the distance between America and Zimbabwe, he is poorly informed about developments in the country. We are not sure what he defines as “concrete steps” which he wants the President to take to satisfy what the American understands by democracy and an open economy. We don’t want to assert that he is being economical with the truth.
For a start, President Mnangagwa has declared Zimbabwe open for business from day one. The first concrete step he took in that direction was to review the indigenisation law. This is despite the prejudice this inflicts on the indigenous people. We are fully aware that American President Donald Trump is unilaterally cancelling trade agreements signed by his predecessors between the US and Canada and Mexico, and imposing trade tariffs against China, the European Union and more other regions, because he finds them prejudicial to the American people.
Zimbabwe is a far smaller economy, but Mr Coons insists its economy should be more liberalised than that of the biggest economy in the world. What kind of hypocrisy is this? Not to mention that President Mnangagwa is working to undo the havoc inflicted by American sanctions over Zimbabwe’s noble land reform.
President Mnangagwa has extended invitations to dozens of countries and organisations keen to come and observe Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections on July 30, including America. Those who have sent delegations are impressed by the peaceful environment. What concrete steps does Mr Coons expect: for the President to make personal visits to each invited organisation and nation?
Zimbabwe, under the new Constitution, has independent bodies to oversee various tasks from human rights, national healing to the running of elections. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has the mandate to run elections. Its chair is a competent judge who knows its obligations. ZEC has just concluded registering potential voters and has not finished the verification exercise.
But already Mr Coons claims the opposition is being denied access to the voters’ roll and the location of polling stations. But ZEC has said those interested can view the provisional voters’ roll on its website. Isn’t it a case of Mr Coons jumping the gun?
The main opposition formation in Zimbabwe, the MDC Alliance, is freely conducting campaign rallies across the country uninterrupted. Mr Coons appears blind to all this. Just yesterday, the alliance held a major demonstration in the capital Harare. There was no interference by anyone. Police only made sure people’s rights were protected.
We hope the new American Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Brian Nichols, will update Mr Coons that his views are outdated.
We also find it unhelpful that Mr Coons’ misinformed comments are taken word for word from a script drafted by the opposition to justify its imminent defeat and is desperate to save face by making outrageous demands for electoral reforms, some of which are illegal. Mr Coons would do well to balance his views by phoning President Mnangagwa to get the official side of the story. Mr Coons will not be told to go hang. That’s just how far Zimbabwe has transitioned from Mugabe to a new era.