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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

Zimbabwe: U.S. policy under review

Significant initiatives in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate intend to shift U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe to recognize the current political and economic realities in the country. On May 4, Senators Feingold (D-WI), Kerry (D-MA) and Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (S 3297) 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.” On July 30, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) introduced the Zimbabwe Renewal Act (HR 5971), which was cosponsored by 35 members of Congress and also would bring about a major shift in U.S. Zimbabwe policy.

According to Africa Action, the United States maintains two legal instruments that determine U.S. policy on Zimbabwe: The Zimbabwe Economic and Democracy Recovery Act of 2001 (ZEDERA) and an Executive Order declared by President Bush in 2003 and extended by President Obama until March 2010. ZEDERA effectively imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe by prohibiting all key international financial institutions from the “extension …of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe,” in addition to barring any “cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.” These laws were crafted in response to President Mugabe’s government at the height of political abuses and economic collapse in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act opened space for a serious debate about U.S. policy on Zimbabwe. Africa Action strongly supported its intent and urged the U.S. Congress to “take into full consideration a diverse range of opinions” and to promote an inclusive discussion about amendments needed to “fully align the bill with the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe.”

After broad consultation with respected political and civil society leaders in Zimbabwe, as well as with the Zimbabwean diaspora, Africa Action made the following recommendations for improving the legislation:

  • Include provision for supporting the reengagement of the Zimbabwean diaspora (about four million people) in reconstruction and democratization. Examples include tax breaks for Zimbabweans who invest in Zimbabwe and support for those who return to Zimbabwe to contribute their skills and training to the reconstruction process.
  • Establish an education trust fund to support salary incentives for Zimbabwean educators, particularly in the fields of medicine, engineering and agriculture.
  • Create a sustaining fund for Constitutional reform and national healing which would give support to the Organ for National Healing, the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee and the Ministry for Constitutional Affairs, as well as to civil society groups working in these areas.
  • Remove restrictions on Zimbabwe’s participation in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)
  • Remove multilateral financial institutions sanctions
  • Support a debt audit and cancellation of odious and illegitimate debts
  • Remove Zimbabwe from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Tier 3 classification which, among other things, prohibits USAID funding for technical assistance.
  • Support land reform, agricultural development and food security, including open, democratic, transparent, non-racial land reform and concessional farming inputs support for poor rural farmers.
  • Precisely tailor restrictions on U.S. assistance to the government of Zimbabwe
  • Expand and improve the delivery of humanitarian/humanitarian plus aid, working with communities to end dependency and build self-sufficiency and with the inclusive government based on its commitment to transparency and accountability.
  • Review and strengthen civil society support to further democracy and human rights, ensuring that support is allocated transparently and with the goal of reaching diverse recipients.

The Zimbabwe Renewal Act of 2010, which was introduced more recently, would establish a multi-donor human rights trust fund and support crucial sectors, like health care, education, agriculture, clean water and an emergency vocational work program for youth in Zimbabwe; instruct the Secretary of the Treasury to cancel Zimbabwe’s bilateral debt, and in consultation with the Secretary of State, gather information on the feasibility and advisability of restructuring, rescheduling, or eliminating such debt in the future; and maintain targeted sanctions against individuals who continue to undermine the democratic processes, while reviewing and updating existing sanctions to reflect changing conditions on the ground.

Africa Action believes that both bills are important catalysts to the process of reviewing and realigning U.S. policy with democratic and reconstruction aspirations. The United States needs to be proactive in supporting total illegitimate debt cancellation and in funding Constitutional reform and the national healing process.

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