US - Zimbabwe relations are about disagreements, sanctions, elections

US - Zimbabwe relations are about disagreements, sanctions, elections
Published: 20 January 2012 (1047 Views)
The year 2011 was a vibrant and dynamic year for US- Zimbabwe relations and I hope to keep up our positive momentum for the remainder of my time in Harare. For a long time people perceived US-Zimbabwe relations as being about our disagreements - challenging elections, political violence, sanctions, and human rights concerns. Over 2011, my Embassy team and I sought to focus intensively on shifting our - and the public's - emphasis from those issues that divide us to instead highlight our common interests. While we've done a lot and tried hard, our success in shifting the public's perception would have been impossible without the support of the media. So thank you!

In 2011, my team and I tried to highlight those common objectives that the US and Zimbabwe share. through making progress to advance those goals and through better communication with your government and the Zimbabwean people, we have sought to set bilateral relations on a more nuanced and balanced track. Both in America and here, all agree that we need to create more jobs. Jobs give people more opportunities. The money they spend in pursuing their dreams helps drive economic growth and create even more jobs.

As both of our economies struggle to come out of slumps, we have a great opportunity to help one another. Our renewed economic growth is a wonderful opportunity to establish and expand trade and investment relations, and my team has focused intensively on building these linkages over the past year, to very good effect. Not only can trade serve as an engine of growth and employment creation, but it creates much more opportunity for our people to interact with one another and establish our own, new perceptions of each other rather than rely on tired old views that may no longer be valid.

In 2011, my team and I have leveraged this focus on our common interests to help rebuild confidence between our two governments. Over the years, we let our relationship erode and began talking more to ourselves than each other. That really hasn't gotten us very far, instead it led us to replace the sharing of information with assumptions that were not necessarily true.

Our outreach over the past year has been one of the highlights of my time here. I have over 5 000 Facebook friends who I maintain on-going conversations with everyday. Don't get me wrong, they do not all agree with me, but as long as the disagreements are mutually respectful, they can be some of the most fruitful exchanges because they force me to re-assess my own views and add a new frame of reference that makes my perspective more diverse and rich.

Having electronic chats with e-friends is relatively easy. Establishing new, in-person relationships with people you haven't talked to before is often harder. I understand that over the past decade there has developed a fair bit of stigma about the US and perceptions about our intentions in Zimbabwe.

Because of that very stigma, I applaud those here who have taken the risk of engaging the big, bad US ambassador or American officials. I understand that some see talking to the US as being disloyal to Zimbabwe. And, trust me, there are still some in Washington who are also cynical about talking to Zimbabwean officials.

At the end of the day, though, I am here to do a job, and I like to get things done. I am here to advance US interests, and I strongly believe that US interests and Zimbabwean interests largely overlap. To advance those common interests, we need to talk. We need to brainstorm. We need to share ideas, explain what elements of them can work and what cannot. We need to be willing to take the risk of being honest with ourselves and each other if we are going to do something together jointly to benefit both of our people.

And we have had achievements. Together, we are expanding educational opportunities to kids, bolstering the food security of rural communities, combating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, bolstering agricultural production and market linkages, expanding trade ties, the list goes on. In 2012, I want to keep up that work, and use it to build greater confidence between our two governments.

I hope to leverage the coming year to make further advances in even more areas where we share common interests - countering human trafficking, demining the minefields along the Mozambican border, improve protection of intellectual property rights, support progress along the so called "Sadc roadmap," counter transhipment of narcotics, the list can go on and on.

2012 will also be a notable year for other reasons. I know that there is a fair bit of angst in Zimbabwe that the US just assumed the chair of the Kimberley Process. In that capacity, we intend to play a strong role of facilitation and have no intention or desire to impose decisions on anyone. The KP has an effective arrangement in place regarding Marange and it is clear to us that there is a strong commitment from Zimbabwe, the monitoring team, the US and other KP members to allow that process to continue.

Working together with South Africa - the vice chair - we will aim to elicit the input of the membership to reform the KP as appropriate to ensure that the KP addresses the new and emergent dynamics in the global diamond trade. 2012 will see elections in the United States and a referendum in Zimbabwe.

Both of these events will require the same fundamental dynamics: strong national institutions, transparency, dynamic and broad-based media coverage to inform the electorate, a non-partisan police and security sector, and the commitment of all to respect the will of the people and do their best to make our countries better, stronger, more peaceful, and more prosperous.

With that, let me close and shift from my talking to us having a conversation. I want to hear your thoughts. At the end of the day, though, I am here to do a job, and I like to get things done. I am here to advance US interests, and I strongly believe that US interests and Zimbabwean interests largely overlap. To advance those common interests, we need to talk. We need to brainstorm. We need to share ideas, explain what elements of them can work and what cannot. We need to be willing to take the risk of being honest with ourselves and each other if we are going to do something together jointly to benefit both of our people.

---------------
Charles Ray is US ambassador to Zimbabwe. This was his address at the dialogue he had with the Editors Forum at the Media Centre in Harare.


- Ambassador Charles Ray

Tags: US, Sanctions,
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