HARARE, Zimbabwe (NNPA) – The United States has signaled that it is moving toward normalizing relations with Zimbabwe, the former White minority-rule nation once known as Rhodesia.
In March, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young was dispatched by the Obama administration to meet with President Robert Mugabe. After the meeting, Young told reporters that the State Department had sent him to Zimbabwe to let Mugabe know the U.S. is interested in repairing its strained relations with the mineral-rich country of 13.1 million people.
Last month, Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., also held a meeting with Mugabe, 89, the oldest sitting president in Africa, calling for open and free elections. Jackson pledged to work for the removal of U.S. sanctions.
“When there’s growth and investment, everybody wins,” Jackson told Mugabe.
After controversial land reform and what the U.S. called flawed elections, the United States applied limited sanctions in 2003 against about 120 key individuals and 70 industries. Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it was lifting sanctions against the Agricultural Development Bank of Zimbabwe (Agribank) and the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe, provided no transactions are conducted with any person who remains on the sanctions list.
The western media trumpeted stories about how unfair the White farmers were being treated under the new Black government. However, Joseph M. Made, the former minister of lands, said the Black farmers were the ones aggrieved. He said 6,000 White commercial farmers locked Blacks out of the prime agricultural areas until they gained the right to control their land.
David Bruce Wharton, U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, called the land reform effort a failure.
“They have a sovereign right to do that, but there are consequences,” he said. “If you do it in a way that looks to the outside world like it’s chaotic, like the rule of law has been suspended, like there’s no real plan about making sure poor people get land as well as the wealthy people, there are consequences. Investors will walk away, tourists will stay away and that’s sort of the reality.”
Made, who is now Minister of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development, said critics are ignoring Zimbabwe’s reality.
“We were a conquered people and our land was taken,” he stated. “Naturally, we had to fight and we won an armed struggle to the right to reoccupy our land.”
Initially, Britain and the U.S. had agreed to compensate displaced White farmers as part of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that brought independence to what would later become Zimbabwe. Once the farmers were not paid, the blame was shifted to the Mugabe government, not the countries that reneged on their pledges.
“We will not compensate for land that was never paid for,” Made said. “That land was taken by virtue of conquest. Our forefathers were not given money. That [compensation] is the responsibility of the British.”
Made said most of the world minimizes the suffering Blacks experienced under White minority rule.
“There’s all the talk about democracy, but we are the people who were denied the right to vote. We are the people who were told, ‘You don’t come through the front door, you go through that rear door.’ That was the system that operated here,” he said. “…It was in this city where you could not walk on the pavement, you had to walk where the cars were driving, as a Black person. We fought and on the day of independence, the Black people walked on the pavement en masse. That’s how the law was repealed.”
Skyscrapers that dot downtown Harare are rusty reminders of a gleaming city of a bygone era. An automobile trip from the airport to center city is a bumpy one because of deep potholes. Even the sidewalks, now that Blacks can walk on them, are in desperate need of repair.
President Mugabe said international sanctions have taken a toll. But Ambassador Wharton said some of the wounds were self-inflicted.
“One of the things I hear Zimbabweans say is ‘Zimbabwe never did anything wrong,’” he recounted. “In fact, I think there were some mistakes.”
He listed the decision, in 1997, to make large payments to veterans of the liberation struggle, and in 1999 to walk away from their debts to the International Monetary Fund.
“That cut them off from new credit and debt relief,” he said.
Some businessmen, such as Elzie L. Higginbottom, president and CEO of Eastlake Management Group, Inc. in Chicago, see enormous investment opportunities in the country. He pointed to benefits such as Zimbabwe being English speaking, having a literacy rate upwards of 93 percent, using the U.S. dollar as its predominant currency, being mineral rich and peaceful.
“When Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia, it was the breadbasket of southern Africa,” he said.