President Emmerson Mnangagwa and US President Donald Trump
WASHINGTON, United States – United States President Donald Trump said his administration was “looking at Zimbabwe right now” in a brief response to a journalist who had asked him a detailed question on his Africa policy and sanctions imposed on the southern African country.
Trump was fielding questions from journalists outside the White House on July 19 when the reporter prefaced a question by saying African leaders were seeing an opportunity to engage more with the United States “but the President of Zimbabwe he said because of the sanctions that the US imposed on Zimbabwe they cannot… it would be hard to work with you guys.”
Trump, who had been nodding his head, responded: “We’re looking at Zimbabwe right now.” The US President quickly moved on to the next question.
Journalist Aaron Ruper, who posted the clip on Twitter, suggested Trump brushed the question aside because he probably knows little about Zimbabwe.
“This is classic. A foreign reporter asks Trump a detailed question about his Africa policy in general and Zimbabwe specifically. Trump’s response? ‘We’re looking at Zimbabwe right now.’ That’s it. He then moves on as quickly as possible. He’s absolutely incapable of discussing policy,” Ruper said.
“He has absolutely no idea what Zimbabwe is,” said a Twitter user in response to Ruper, perhaps unkindly but making a point of Trump’s reported lack of interest in Africa.
In Zimbabwe, Trump’s comment was seized upon by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s supporters to suggest that their attempts at re-engaging the United States with the help of expensive lobbyists was bearing fruits.
“We will engage and re-engage. It will work. Simple,” said government spokesman Ndavaningi Mangwana on Twitter.
The United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe starting in 2001 after accusing former President Robert Mugabe of human rights violations. The sanctions have been renewed every year since, including last year when Trump signed into law the revised Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act (Zidera) of 2018 (S 2779) which sets out conditions Zimbabwe has to meet before the sanctions are lifted.
The new sanctions law requires Zimbabwe to make credible progress towards holding free and fair elections, restore the rule of law and ensure military subordination to the civilian government, among other reforms.
The deployment of troops in August last year and in January this year to quell opposition protests, resulting in the deaths of over two dozen people, has however diminished chances that the sanctions will be lifted with US administration officials demanding that Zimbabwe presses criminal charges against everyone involved in the civilian deaths. Zimbabwe has appeared reluctant to bring the killer soldiers to justice.