Washington – The United States is “cautiously considering re-engaging Zimbabwe, following the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe” in November.
The US remained sceptical of how relations would improve, given that the southern African country’s new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa was a close ally of Mugabe.
This came as several members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations met at a hearing titled “The Future of Zimbabwe”, in Washington on Tuesday.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, described Zimbabwe as a “nightmare”, as he questioned how much change could be expected under Mnangagwa.
Reports indicated that Mnangagwa’s past allegedly included two of the most infamous episodes of state-sponsored violence during Mugabe’s reign – both of which he was accused of overseeing.
After independence in 1980, Mnangagwa, then the state security minister, directed the “Gukurahundi” massacres of supposed dissidents in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.
The government, which drew most of its support from the ethnic Shona majority, unleashed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on the Ndebele people leaving an estimated 20 000 people dead and deep scars on the national psyche.
In the 2008 election, Mnangagwa was also seen as the architect of the wave of deadly violence and intimidation that forced the opposition to pull out of a run-off vote which Mugabe risked losing.
US Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Stephanie Sullivan said that Mnangagwa’s government had a “window of opportunity to demonstrate commitment to a democratic, just, healthy and prosperous Zimbabwe”.
Sullivan said that the US engagement with Mnangagwa and his administration would be based on “demonstrated behaviour and not rhetorical intentions”.
“Our policy of re-engagement will focus on constitutional democracy, free and fair elections, respect of human rights and the rule of law, and an improved trade and investment climate, among other issues.”