14 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Obama Re-Election Means Little for Zim

UNITED States of America President Barack Obama's re-election last week for a final four-year term is unlikely to see a major shift in Washington's policy towards Zimbabwe, with the super-power likely to maintain restrictive measures on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle, analysts have said.

Obama, who is under pressure to revive the US economy as China makes major in-roads into Africa, could however, still push for America's resurgence on the continent.

The US slapped President Mugabe and members of his inner circle with targeted sanctions in 2001 for alleged electoral fraud and human rights abuses.

Since then, successive US governments have renewed the measures, which ZANU-PF views as directly responsible for Zimbabwe's political and economic problems.

ZANU-PF accuses the US and the entire West of introducing the restrictive measures in retaliation to its seizure of land from white farmers for the resettlement of landless black Zimbabweans.

While critics say there is very little interest for the US in Zimbabwe, Obama is seen maintaining the targeted measures unless President Mugabe loses to Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai in polls set for next year.

PM Tsvangirai, who was invited by Obama to the Democrats Convention in September, is perceived to be a friend of the US.

After he narrowly beat Republican candidate, Mitt Romney last week, ZANU-PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations sent congratulatory messages to Obama over his re-election.

In spite of this, Obama is most likely to maintain his country's present policy on Zimbabwe regardless of the existence of a coalition government.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a director of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute, said it would be difficult for Washington to lift the sanctions because ZANU-PF appeared unwilling to have substantive democratic reforms leading to free and fair elections.

"This victory could mean nothing in terms of empirically influencing the political dynamics in Zimbabwe, but sanctions will not be removed unless Zimbabwe transit to a democratic society," he said.

Trevor Maisiri, a senior political analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said Obama was likely to pursue a more robust foreign policy during his last term.

He said the re-election will give him courage to pursue a more robust foreign policy after his appeasement foreign policy took a battering during the campaigns.

Maisiri said Obama was under pressure to push for America's resurgence on the global political arena, adding that the hallmark of that would be increased attention on pending elections in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Madagascar.

Kenya and Madagascar are due to hold their elections later this year while Zimbabweans will go to the plebiscite in 2013.

"But we must also not forget that Obama's foreign policy will also be shaped by American economic interests. He will try and out compete the presence of Chinese in Africa, which I am sure he will find challenging given the American historical investment model and the Chinese's close ties with some African governments. The economic pressures faced by the US will likely drive Obama to an extent where we may likely see him try to re-engage with Africa. The success of that is, however, still unclear," said Maisiri.

Obama would also likely focus on the rebel activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the alleged involvement of some central African countries like Rwanda and Uganda in the conflict.

He is also likely to establish a stronger position on transitions in Libya and Egypt as well as deal with tensions caused by the military in Mali and Guinea.

The US is accused of being complicity in the toppling of the previous rulers of Libya and Egypt in what became known as the Arab Springs revolution. Washington is also under pressure to ensure that peace prevails in North Africa.

Lawton Hikwa, a political analyst, noted that it was universally accepted that no matter who rules America the country's policy would not change.

Hikwa however, said a lot has changed in Zimbabwe's political and economic landscape since the advent of the inclusive government which warrants a consequent shift in political and economic relations between the country and the US.

He said perhaps Obama's re-election could provide a new window of opportunity to decisively deal with the stand-off between Harare and Washington.

Another analyst, Psychology Maziwisa, said Obama's re-election could mean very little to Zimbabwe if it is not used to repeal the Zimbabwe Democracy and Reconstruction Act and to encourage economic growth in the country.

"It will be of very little worth to us if Obama fails, yet again, to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe and to open up trading space that is not hindered and that will see, for example, our diamonds being traded freely on the international market. Anything short of this would render his victory not just hollow but also a huge disappointment to our economic prospects," he said.

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