13 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Sanctions Don't Create Potholes, U.S. Envoy

ZIMBABWE'S economic and political problems are self-made and a shift in policy could assist in developing a new trajectory for the country, US ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton said Thursday.

"My fundamental point in all of this is that Zimbabwe has the right and the power to make policy decisions.

"Some of these have had significant demonstrable effects on the economy, effects far greater than the targeted sanctions," Wharton told a Southern African Political Economy Series (SAPES) meeting in Harare.

President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party insist sanctions imposed by the US and European countries are responsible for Zimbabwe's economic problems.

The sanctions were imposed over allegations of rights abuses and electoral fraud which the Zanu PF strongman denies.

But President Barack Obama's top man in Harare said blaming sanctions for Zimbabwe's problems was a diversionary tactic by Mugabe's administration.

"The US takes great care to minimise any unintended consequences from targeted sanctions and I can tell you that my embassy works hard to try to resolve any that may arise. But, blaming targeted sanctions for Zimbabwe's serious economic challenges or for issues such as potholes and road accidents is diversionary," he said.

"Worse, such statements do not acknowledge Zimbabwe's agency, its ability to address its challenges and to mobilize its magnificent natural resources and human capital.

"Zimbabwe is tremendously blessed in human and natural resources, and the narrative that targeted sanctions are the reason for economic woes undermines and obscures this nation's vast capabilities."

The US is willing to work with the Zanu PF government.

"We are also willing to work with members of the Zanu PF government that are willing to work with us," Wharton added.

"As a Zanu PF-supporting friend of mine said ... yes, I do have those ... the burden of diplomacy is to keep seeking engagement until all conflict is ended. I agree with that and I am willing. The US government is willing".

Wharton said decisions including the unbudgeted 1997 cash-pay-outs given to war veterans and the economic turnaround witnessed between 2008 and 2010 provide insight into the positive and negative effects of critical policy decisions by government.

"There were no sanctions in 1997 and they had not been varied in 2008. Zimbabwe's sovereign policy decisions are the primary drivers of its economic performance," he insisted.

"Zimbabwe's economy has been through dramatic ups and downs in the last 15 years. You all know that better than I do. But the idea that targeted U.S. sanctions have caused Zimbabwe's economic woes simply does not hold up to critical analysis, the evidence is clear," he said

"Now, this fact ought to be encouraging to Zimbabweans because it means that Zimbabwe need not wait until real or imagined external forces create the conditions needed for economic growth.

"Zimbabwe's economy is in the hands of Zimbabweans. While businesses, labour unions, trade associations, courts and schools all have important roles, economic destiny starts with decisions made by the government of Zimbabwe."

Mugabe had hoped that his victory in last year's violence-free elections would lead to the immediate removal of the sanctions but the EU and the US have backed claims by the opposition that the vote was fraudulent, infuriating the Zanu PF leader.

However, the EU has indicated it will lift its remaining sanctions next week, although not on Mugabe and his wife Grace.

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