Zim’s invite to the US-Africa summit, a chance for re-engagement?

The invitation to Zimbabwe by the United States (US) to attend its upcoming Africa Leaders’ summit should bolster the government to ‘seriously’ implement reforms if the country is to be successfully reintegrated into the international community, human rights defenders have said.

US President Joe Biden’s team sent an invite to Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Frederick Shava with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, under US travel sanctions.

However, the invite marks a departure from the previous Barack Obama administration where Zimbabwe was not invited alongside governments that have no diplomatic relations with America.

The US-Africa Leaders’ summit will be held in December in Washington to discuss pressing challenges from food security to climate change, underscore the importance of both parties’ relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities.

Analysts said the ‘olive branch’ extended by the Biden administration may chart a new path for Zimbabwe whose relations with the US have been frosty after almost two decades.

Speaking on Twitter Spaces discussion on Land, Property and Human Rights Violation in Zimbabwe held Tuesday, Director of Africa Programmes under Freedom House, Tiseke Kasambala, questioned how the Zimbabwean government would re-engage the international community without respecting human rights and rule of law, even if Mnangagwa claims the country is “open for business.”

“When you look at how Zimbabwe has placed itself and the arguments it has made against sanctions you then question and look at the current developments that we see today and not just the case of Siphosami Malunga and the land case but also activists languishing in jails being arbitrarily arrested as we speak, the question is how do you re-engage a country like Zimbabwe,” she said citing the case of Esidakeni Farm where Malunga, a human rights advocate and his partners, Charles Moyo and Zephaniah Dhlamini are fighting for their land.

Kasambala said it was “worth noting” that the US President had invited the foreign minister, Frederick Shava to attend the upcoming US Africa leaders’ summit.

“So, this is the US government reaching out with an olive branch to the government to say let’s talk, discuss are you ready for engagement,” but in the absence of the rule of law, human rights and democratic freedoms, she wondered how Zimbabwe’s re-engagement strategy would sell with the international community.

“Without these, can we then talk about the government of Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the international community?”

When President Mnangagwa came to power, he promised to reform Zimbabwe and open the door for re-engagement with the international community.

Despite his sentiments, human rights defenders claim under Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe has seen more heavy-handed repression, violent harassment and arrest of political activists, civil society members and journalists including the deterioration of the economy.

Southern Defenders Chairperson, Arnold Tsunga, also a renowned lawyer, said the lack of respect of the rule of law, such as defying decisions made by the courts by “people who are occupying very serious and significant positions in the political party that controls government” deterred investors.

“How do you get a return on your investment when there is a looming threat of expropriation of your assets, forcible expropriation and defilements of court orders,” he said.

Tsunga said there is ‘no way,’ investors could feel Zimbabwe is a safe environment for investment with democratic reforms.

“People who feel they want to invest in Zimbabwe when they see this happening to persons like Malunga, whose father is lying at the (National) Heroes Acre in recognition of his contribution to independence, they feel, ‘no, no’ this is not a country where you can put your money and feel secure,” he noted.

Tsunga explained that international relations are tied to political risk, especially when the risk depends on who one was close to.

“The fact that your relationship with people in the country and other investors is not dependent on systems and procedures that are predictable but rather on the fact of sympathy that you get from those who wield political power, again that’s not the environment that is conducive for the country to attract investment or for it to open up and unleash potential for Zimbabweans to feel that they belong to Zimbabwe,” he said.

“That’s the push factor for the migration crisis that we face, where Zimbabweans who are not respected in their own country, also do not get respected in neighbouring countries where they are trying to look for greener pastures because there is a better environment of the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

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