25 March 2008

Zimbabwe: U.S Govt Recruiting NGOs, Individuals to Observe Polls

Harare — The US government, through its embassy in Harare, is clandestinely recruiting non-governmental organisations and individuals, including journalists, to observe next Saturday's elections on their behalf, The Herald has established.

According to sources who work in the US embassy public affairs section, the embassy had decided to rope in the services of a number of NGOs, institutions and individuals to provide updates on the elections across the country.

Those recruited have also been mandated to provide "data" that will be used in the embassy's final report on the elections and the briefing it will send back to Washington after the results have been announced for use in post-poll policy formulation. It is also understood that some of these NGOs and individuals volunteered their services when they heard that the US embassy was in the market for proxy observers.

Though the sources said "serious money was involved in the recruitment drive" they could not be drawn into divulging specific figures.

This comes in the wake of information to the effect that the US embassy last Monday funded a conference on the elections in South Africa that was attended by several organisations and individuals said to be part of the "proxy observer team".

"A number of NGOs and journalists have been approached over the past few weeks and several have agreed to act as proxy observers for the American government. Some of these actually came forward of their own accord and volunteered their services.

"Their brief is to compile technical reports on the election process, the polling itself and the results for use by the (US) government in its policy formulation after March 29. As you know, the American government, like other Westerners, were not invited to observe the polls and this is

their way of beating the system," the sources said. According to documents, the US Embassy on Monday flew representatives from NGOs and the private media to a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa as part of its clandestine preparations for the March 29 presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. The representatives were drawn from the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe, the Media Monitoring Project, the Zimbabwe Independent and journalists who write for foreign news organisations.

The logistics were being handled by Caroline Mtingondo from the US Embassy in Harare and the meeting was being hosted by the South African Institute of International Affairs while the key issue on the agenda was: "The state of the media in Zimbabwe and the upcoming elections".

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not extend an invitation to Western countries that had already pre-judged the electoral process and outcome though diplomatic missions accredited to the country were given the green light. A US Embassy spokesperson would neither deny nor confirm this information and instead said they were "watching the Zimbabwean elections closely as we do in any country".

He said: "Per normal diplomatic practice we talk to all sectors of Zimbabwean society, including Government, NGOs and civil society to gather information. Embassy staff will be observing the elections according to rules set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We look forward to receiving the assessments of Sadc, the AU and others. We will weigh all available information in reaching conclusions about the elections."

Efforts to get comment from Government were yesterday fruitless though an official from the Ministry of Information and Publicity said they were "fully aware of what was going on". In January this year, The Herald revealed that the Embassy was involved in the clandestine recruitment of political officers to be deployed to the country's 10 administrative provinces ahead of the elections.

They were tasked to compile periodic reports on the political and economic situation and to proffer advice on how best to proceed with the regime change agenda. The US, along with the EU - which was also not invited to observe the polls - has imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and has admitted to funding the activities of NGOs involved in the eight-year-long anti-Zimbabwe project.

Recently, it was discovered that the Law Society of Zimbabwe had solicited for and received funding from the UK to "increase the pressure on President Mugabe".

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