Out-going US Ambassador hits back

INTERVIEW – US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee slams Zanu-PF for their continued mismanagement during the move to a unity government

US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee slams Zanu-PF for their continued mismanagement during the move to a unity government

What must happen before you can extend development aid to Zimbabwe?
We want to see a government that can take care of its own people. Zimbabwe is a very rich country, with abundant natural resources and excellent human resources. They’ve all been squandered and they continue to be.

We want to see all the Government of National Unity partners observing the letter of the agreement. That means improvements in the rule of law, which is not happening. Farm invasions are continuing; in fact, two farm workers were shot by police two days ago — two black farm workers trying to make a living. Now what kind of rule of law is that? You’re told by one group of authorities you can return to the farm and you’re shot by another set of authorities.

We’re pleased by a return to a market economy. [Finance Minister Tendai] Biti is doing a great job trying to figure out where the revenue streams are, cutting back the quasi-fiscal activities assumed by the Central Bank and trying to pay civil servants an allowance. These are positive things, but we need to see more.

Do you think the MDC has enough clout in government to push for more reforms?
Zanu-PF controls the Central Bank and the security apparatus, and that’s very important. The MDC controls Parliament, finance and local governments. Zanu-PF still has the ability to say "we will do what we want", and there’s nothing the MDC can do about it. This is where I talk about the lack of political will. And what can the MDC do about it? Their options are limited.

There have been various reports, the most recent by the International Crisis Group, that Zimbabwe could slide into anarchy without international support. Shouldn’t you support this government?
We’ve put $1.5-billion into Zimbabwe since 2000 and donor countries combined have brought in a total of $5-billion. In the last year alone the US gave $250-million to Zimbabwe and we want to increase that funding this year. So it’s not fair to say the US is not doing enough to assist Zimbabwe. We are doing a hell of a lot. At some point Zimbabweans are going to have to say, "This is our country, we’re going to do what’s right for it." It’s not the US taxpayer’s responsibility to take care of Zimbabwe. We’re more than happy to assist, but Zimbabweans are going to have to take care of themselves.

The government wants the US to lift sanctions, especially the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which prevents Zimbabwe from accessing aid from international financiers.
Even if we voted for Zimbabwe in the major international finance agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the African Development Bank, Zimbabwe still cannot access any assistance from these institutions until it pays back its arrears. What the government of Zimbabwe doesn’t want you to know is they owe these institutions $1.5-billion. Why would these institutions extend money to a debtor that won’t repay its debt?

Do you have confidence in the reserve bank?
Just yesterday, [bank governor] Gideon Gono said it himself: "I stole, I didn’t take, I stole money from NGOs, I stole money from private accounts that I used to keep this government going." We don’t know what that means, "to keep this government going", do we? But what we do know is he stole money that wasn’t his. So, if you have that kind of operation, how can you trust this government?

We will never put money where it can be taken by the Central Bank. As the steward of American funds coming into Zimbabwe, I would be a fool to allow this administration to lay its hands on it.

How much contact do you have with Zanu-PF?
A lot has been said about Jim McGee playing golf with Morgan Tsvangirai. But I have relationships with senior Zanu-PF officials. Just this last week I was playing golf with two senior Zanu-PF figures. And if you keep your eyes open in early May you might see two Zanu-PF ministers, Morgan and Jim McGee, playing golf together in a charity tournament.

Everybody wants to talk about lifting sanctions and I keep asking why we should lift individual sanctions? They say "we need to go to the US to lobby". To lobby for what? If you have something to say, that’s my job. I am the president’s representative here.

The US has lifted travel warnings on Zimbabwe and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has congratulated Zimbabwe on steps taken so far. Is US policy shifting?
I saw a story saying Obama is taking a different direction and that’s why I’m leaving. That’s not true. The president re-signed the laws that said we will maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe. Is that a different line?Lifting travel warnings does not represent any real change in US position on Zimbabwe.

Where is your next posting after Zimbabwe?
I’m going back to the US military, and my speciality will be Zimbabwe.

What do you mean?
You’ll find out.