United States Senate (Washington, DC)

18 June 2013

Zimbabwe: Opening Statement of Senator Chris Coons on U.S. Involvement in Zimbabwe

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Washington, DC — Good morning. Today, the African Affairs Subcommittee will focus its attention on Zimbabwe, a country with abundant natural resources, fertile land, and a capable, enterprising population. Zimbabwe should be driving growth and prosperity in southern Africa.Instead, in the 33 years since its independence, Zimbabweans' prospects have become increasing bleak, reaching a low point in 2008 when the annual inflation rate spiraled to 489 billion percent and the economy had shrunk in half.

That's not an error -- the inflation rate actually was 489 billion percent.

It is no coincidence that the economic collapse came in lockstep with decreasing respect for democratic principles and harsh crackdowns on free expression, civil society, and the news media. Zimbabweans will go to the polls later this year for the first elections under their new constitution, and the preparation and conduct of those elections will be an important indicator of whether Zimbabwe can and will realize its great economic promise and democratic potential.

I would like to welcome my partner on the subcommittee, Ranking Member Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Senator Flake brings with him considerable personal expertise on Zimbabwe from his time in the country during the eighties, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to advance our shared interests in good governance, economic growth, and security throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

I would also like to welcome other members of the Committee, as well as our distinguished witnesses: Don Yamamoto, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Africa; Earl Gast, the Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID; Dewa Mahvinga, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch; Mark Schneider, the Senior Vice President at the International Crisis Group; and Todd Moss, theVice President for Programs and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. I look forward to hearing your insights and thank you all for being here.

Relations between the U.S. and Zimbabwe are guided by our shared aspiration for democratic and humanitarian values. The United States has been forced to place targeted travel and financial sanctions against individuals and businesses in Zimbabwe who are undermining democratic institutions, but we have remained a steadfast and committed partner to the people of Zimbabwe. We have provided some $1.5 billion in support since 2001, most of which has addressed the health and humanitarian needs of millions of regular Zimbabweans who have faced dire circumstances through no fault of their own. Although providing this aid has been the right thing to do, better governance and more respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe would open the door to a stronger and different kind of partnership -- a partnership that leverages our resources and expertise more strategically to expand trade and investment, and to cooperatively approach regional challenges.

Zimbabweans need not be destined for prolonged dependence on foreign aid.

The upcoming elections offer Zimbabwe a critical chance to show commitment to its new constitution -- which limits executive power and protects civil rights -- and to build on the stabilization of the economy ushered in under the coalition government. SADC members have a critical and challenging role to play in supporting the elections and holding Zimbabwe accountable to the standards it set for itself in the constitution.

I am concerned by recent reports that the Zimbabwean government is not working in good faith with SADC and other international partners to ensure these elections will be free and fair, especially considering the lengths to which President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF loyalists went to preserve power in 2008.

I am also alarmed by the uptick in targeted harassment and intimidation of the civil society leaders and human rights defenders who are seeking to ensure a just contest. Activists such as human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa have been harassed and arrested. Leaders of the security forces are openly partisan and using their positions to suppress democratic expression, and there are reports that diamond revenues are being diverted to the security forces forpolitical purposes.

Today's hearing will look at the tools the United States could effectively deploy to support the upcoming elections as well as post-electoral reforms, increased respect for human rights and the rule of law, and mutually beneficial relations between our two countries.

I look forward to continuing my own engagement with SADC members and the Administration to promote democratic reforms in Zimbabwe, and will makerecommendations based on the advice we hear today.

With that, I turn it over to Senator Flake for his opening statement.

Thank you very much.

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