Power Shift in US House, Feingold defeat could worsen Zanu PF-US relations

THE power shift from Democrats to Republicans in the US House of Representatives and the defeat of Senator Russ Feingold, now outgoing chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations could augur a more skeptical and penny-pinching approach to foreign aid including to Africa, analysts say.

Feingold’s long-held Wisconsin seat went to Republican newcomer Ron Johnson, the beneficiary of heavy conservative funding. Emira Woods, director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, said the Congress is losing a key champion for Africa who will not be easily replaced.

Feingold co-sponsored the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2010, an amendment of the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which gave the administration greater flexibility in working with international financial institutions to promote democratic change in Harare.

Analysts said there could be pressure for a tougher US line in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe continues to dominate the national unity government though sharing power with the Movement for Democratic Change.

Policy analyst Marian Tupy of the libertarian Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity told VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo that while there has been a bipartisan consensus on Zimbabwe so continuity is likely, there could be some pressure on foreign aid budgets at a time when the United States faces record deficits.

 

Feingold Statement Upon Introducing New Legislation on Zimbabwe

For the Congressional Record

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

 

Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act with Senator Isakson and Senator Kerry. This legislation aims to update U.S. policy and to provide the necessary direction and flexibility for the United States to proactively push for democracy and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. In September 2008, the parties in Zimbabwe signed the Global Political Agreement, the GPA, and committed to work together to chart a new political direction for the country. Unfortunately, that commitment has not yet been fulfilled and political and human rights abuses continue at a disturbing rate. Nonetheless, the GPA and the formation of the transitional government have created new political realities and realignment in Zimbabwe, and subsequently, new opportunities to push for a genuine transition to democracy and for economic recovery. The United States and other international stakeholders can seize those opportunities by supporting reformers, while renewing and ramping up pressure on those who obstruct implementation of the GPA. Our bill aims to promote such a dynamic approach.

We are all familiar with the tragic story of Zimbabwe’s descent. Zimbabwe was one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, a major food producer and home to the continent’s best education system. Its leader Robert Mugabe was considered one of the great liberation leaders of southern Africa. Yet over time, Mugabe and his regime moved to tighten their grip on power, using increasingly violent tactics to stop the political opposition, stifle independent media, and take over private property. The results, particularly in the last decade, have been disastrous. Mugabe has presided over the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and a dramatic decline in the living conditions of his people. At the end of 2008, Zimbabwe’s economy reached a low point with world-record inflation, millions of people at risk of starvation, and unemployment over 90%. Meanwhile, Mugabe and his party have had to resort to increasing violence to repress the will of the people. Most recently, following the March 2008 election, the Mugabe regime and its cronies launched a brutal campaign of violence against members and supporters of the opposition MDC after Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of voting.

Mr. President, I have closely followed the situation in Zimbabwe since 1999 when I traveled to Harare and witnessed then the early stages of this political crisis. During that trip, I also met some incredibly dynamic, committed and inspiring civil society leaders. Upon returning, I said on the Senate floor that we must not abandon these leaders; that the international community should move to arrest Zimbabwe’s descent before it became more complex. I teamed up then with Senator Bill Frist to author legislation on U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe. And in 2001, President Bush signed that legislation, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, into law. ZDERA, as that bill is known, placed restrictions on U.S. support for any new international loan, credit or debt reduction for Zimbabwe until the President certifies that a number of political conditions have been met, namely an end to abuses and the restoration of rule of law. The bill also called for targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for politically motivated violence.

At the same time, ZDERA also spelled out the United States’ commitment to the Zimbabwean people in their struggle to effect peaceful and democratic change. And it stated our commitment to be a strong partner in helping the Zimbabwean people to rebuild their country when that change was achieved. I have not given up on that commitment, despite the Mugabe regime’s relentless and violent efforts to hold onto power. In 2002, I tried to return to the country, but my visa was revoked and the government blocked my entry into the country. In 2003, I traveled to South Africa and Botswana, in part to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe and the regional consequences. Most recently, in 2008 and 2009, in my capacity as the Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee, I have held hearings specifically on Zimbabwe and U.S. policy options.

Mr. President, with the signing of the GPA, I was skeptical that Robert Mugabe and his allies had any real intention to share power and respect the agreement. I remain skeptical as at almost every turn, hardliners in the transitional government have resisted any moves that would undermine their historic patronage system and power structures. Mugabe has refused to implement several parts of the agreement, continuing to use Western sanctions as a scapegoat. Meanwhile, state security forces remain largely under the control of ZANU-PF and continue to harass civil society activists and participate in illegal, often violent, seizures of private land and property. In this sense, little has changed in Zimbabwe.

Yet at the same time, for many Zimbabweans, the establishment of a transitional government that includes former opposition leaders who were imprisoned and tortured as part of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggle has brought forth a sense of possibility that has not existed for years. It has brought their struggle for democracy into the halls of government. And over the last year, some progress has been made toward enacting reforms. Most notably, the Finance Ministry has managed to halt Zimbabwe’s economic decline and put an end to some of the disastrous fiscal activities of the previous regime. That said, progress has been slow and limited mostly to the economic sector. We cannot deceive ourselves into thinking that the return of food and other goods to stores is an indication that true democracy has taken root. Reformist elements in the government continue to lack the leverage as well as the qualified personnel and resources to overcome the resistance of hardliners and to break their hold on the security sector. They need greater support if they are going to win this struggle and achieve a genuine transition to democracy and economic recovery.

Mr. President, I respect those who are cautious about changing the international posture toward Zimbabwe until there is greater progress and a clear transition underway. I too am cautious, as there is good reason to be so.   But at the same time, I also believe we must support the Zimbabwean people in their ongoing struggle for peaceful, democratic change and we can best do that by reconsidering some of the strict polices of years prior. We must realize that the dynamics of that struggle have changed – not as much as we would like them to go, not even close – but there has been change. Adhering to a strict wait-and-see approach allows Mugabe and his allies to continue to marginalize reformers in the transitional government and manipulate the political environment, while relying on their usual anti-Western propaganda to win local and regional support. Alternatively, through proactive and targeted engagement, there may be ways that we can better support reformers in government, create incentives for others in the government to embrace such reform, and isolate the hardliners. Mr. President, if we are to see institutional change in Zimbabwe, it is in our interest to pursue those possibilities.

The United States has a key role to play in this regard. We continue to be very active in Zimbabwe, providing humanitarian assistance and support for civil society. In Fiscal Year 2009, the United States provided nearly $300 million to Zimbabwe, over half of which was food assistance. Over the last year, some within the administration have begun to explore ways we can better target our assistance to help reformers in order to consolidate democratic reforms and lay the groundwork for economic recovery. We have already provided some technical assistance to help certain ministries in the government. This is the right approach and we should continue to look for ways to proceed, both symbolically and substantively. At the same time, we should continue to update and increase targeted pressure on those individuals and institutions that are actively obstructing reform. We should also look for innovative ways to address illegal activities that are in violation of the GPA.

The Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2010 seeks to encourage and provide the authority and flexibility for the Obama administration to pursue such a dynamic approach toward Zimbabwe. Our bill authorizes continued and expanded technical assistance to reformist ministries of the transitional government as well as to the Parliament as it seeks to repeal or amend repressive laws. It also amends the funding restrictions on Zimbabwe in the Fiscal Year 2010 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill to allow for greater engagement in the areas of health and education. Furthermore, it encourages the United States to promote agricultural development as much as possible within our food assistance efforts, while we actively press the government to reestablish security of tenure for all landowners.

In addition, our bill would amend ZDERA to allow the United States greater flexibility and leverage when engaging with the International Financial Institutions on Zimbabwe. The law from 2001 restricts U.S. support for any international loan, credit or debt reduction to Zimbabwe until the President certifies that certain political conditions have been achieved in the country. This restriction currently has no discernible impact as Zimbabwe can only be eligible for such international support when it deals with its arrears, which now total billions of dollars. Nonetheless, this restriction has become a powerful symbol and it functionally ties the hands of the State and Treasury Departments to actively engage with the IMF, African Development Bank and other institutions to develop plans for supporting Zimbabwe’s longer-term recovery when there is a genuine transition. Our bill would amend ZDERA to allow for such engagement, making U.S. support conditional on the proposed assistance itself, specifically whether there are sufficient controls for transparency and oversight, and whether funds will be administered by ministries that have demonstrated a commitment to reform.

Mr. President, amending ZDERA will help to provide flexibility and leverage for the U.S. government, but also to undercut Mugabe’s propaganda. Over the years, Mugabe and his allies have conveniently portrayed ZDERA as a symbol of Western hostility and blanket sanctions on Zimbabwe. While those allegations are clearly false, the changes made by our bill will go a long way towards ensuring they have much harder time spinning this lie and deflecting responsibility from their own disastrous policies.

ZDERA, of course, is not to be conflated with our targeted sanctions against specific individuals and financial institutions that are directly involved in the breakdown of the rule of law and abuses of power. Our bill calls for the continuation of that program as I see no reason to terminate this sanctions program until we see an end to widespread abuses. Instead, our bill calls for the continued review and updating of those sanctions. It also encourages new action to address illegal activities involving diamonds in Zimbabwe that are reportedly fueling abuses and undermining democratic progress. Specifically, it urges the Obama administration to consider new sanctions on individuals overseeing these activities and to press for Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Kimberley Process. Zimbabwe’s continued participation in the Kimberley Process undermines the integrity and important work of that process.

Finally, whenever it happens, Zimbabwe’s next election will be a critical step toward any genuine transition to democratic rule and a sustainable economic recovery. The past elections have been flashpoints for increased violence and the breakdown of the rule of law. This cannot be the case this next time around if Zimbabwe is to move forward. The international community needs to prepare a coordinated strategy to help reduce the risk of violence and other abuses around such elections. Our bill directs the Obama administration to begin engaging with international partners now toward developing such a strategy.

Mr. President, international actions alone will not determine whether real and lasting democratic change is achieved in Zimbabwe; that will ultimately be determined by the Zimbabwean people themselves. But I do believe that we can help Zimbabweans pursue a genuine transition toward democracy and economic recovery. To do this, we need an approach that is flexible and responsive to evolving conditions and challenges on the ground. I believe this bill helps move us toward such an approach.

Nearly a decade ago, in passing ZDERA, the U.S. Congress committed to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve economic growth and restore the rule of law. Today, we can reaffirm that commitment by passing the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. I hope my colleagues will join us in doing so.