United States has 'no reason' to lift sanctions – McGee

INTERVIEW – THERE is "no reason and no way" the United States is going to lift sanctions anytime soon against Zimbabwe without some "very, very clear indication that the country's new unity government is moving in the right direction," says U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee.

In a March 23 interview with America.gov, McGee said Zimbabwe’s new unity government must move to embrace established, internationally recognised human rights principles.

Until that takes place, he said, the United States is "just not going to lift these sanctions. We have individual sanctions and we have sanctions against parastatals." Both types of sanctions, he said, "are there for a reason" because certain people and entities have been using the country for their own enrichment.

"The people of Zimbabwe – their needs are not being met. … We have looked at it very carefully. The situation … remains the same. So until we do see some change, the sanctions are going to stay in place," he said.

McGee said now is a time of opportunity with regard to Zimbabwe.

"We in the Western donor community need to step up and look at ways to assist the people of Zimbabwe in their time of need. But I think the key players will be the Southern African Development Community [SADC] and the African Union [AU]. As the guarantor of this government of national unity, SADC needs to step up to the plate and ensure that both sides [of the unity government] are living up to the intent and letter of this unity government."

McGee described Zimbabwe’s current unity government as a "very imperfect union. We have two political parties occupying or attempting to occupy one government and there are fits [periods of inactivity] and there are starts [periods of activity]. I think maybe there are more fits than there are starts in this particular arrangement."

"Each political party has a number of ministries that they control, a prime minister [Morgan Tsvangirai] who is trying to exert his power, and then you have the president, Robert Mugabe, still trying to exert all of his power. So it is a very imperfect union right now.

"Things are not working as well as they could," McGee said. "As we sit here today, there are still farm invasions that are taking place in Zimbabwe, there are still political activists in prison. We have at least 13 people we have no idea where they are – they have been missing for months. And we have been hoping that these folks are safe somewhere, but there has been no indication of where these people are. … So it is still business as usual that is exactly what is happening, and we need to see some change."

What the United States is looking for, he said, is a new constitution in Zimbabwe within 18 months and a new election within 24 months. "That is key – free and fair elections in Zimbabwe within 24 months would be an absolute key to anything that does happen positively in this country."

McGee said that "for the first time in the political history of modern Zimbabwe … there is hope. The elections last year, as imperfect as they were, we saw 57 [percent] to 60 percent of the Zimbabwean people voting against the Mugabe government. What they were voting against were the failed policies and programs of Zanu PF and the Robert Mugabe government.

"If we go back just recently in Zimbabwean history, you will see that in 1995, Zimbabwe had a higher literacy rate than the United States … and as recently as 2002, Zimbabwe was a net food exporter … to other countries that were experiencing food shortages. Today it is the exact opposite."

On the health front, McGee said the cholera epidemic that has been plaguing Zimbabwe for the past several months is "somewhat under control." He added, however, that 80,000 people have been affected and more than 4,000 people have died. This he attributed to a "total collapse and failure of the health care system in Zimbabwe" under Mugabe’s leadership.

The United States government has provided more than $6.8 million to help the people of Zimbabwe battle the cholera epidemic and more than $264 million in humanitarian assistance since October 2007 to help Zimbabweans in their ongoing health and food crisis, he said.

McGee praised Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his team for saying: "’No matter what may happen, we are in this for the duration. We are going to stay the course and make this work no matter what.’

"If there is one thing I have learned about Morgan Tsvangirai," McGee said, "it is that he is a tough man. He is a man who is willing to give up his personal freedom, his personal safety to ensure that things get done in his country. His vision is for a Zimbabwe that is productive, a Zimbabwe that takes care of the needs of his citizens."

McGee concluded with a message to Zimbabweans around the world: "Go home. We need you."