U.S. Ambassador Reflects on First 100 Days in Zimbabwe

Ambassador Thomas Jr with Nigel Mugamu
Ambassador Thomas Jr with Nigel Mugamu

United States Ambassador Harry Keel Thomas Jr. spent nearly two hours discussing his first 100 days as President Barrack Obama’s representative to Zimbabwe in a discussion moderated by Nigel Mugamu of @263Chat on Thursday, June 16.

On his second tour to the country, Ambassador Thomas Jr., a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, presented his credentials to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on February 25th this year; at a time when the United States government still has concerns about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

In his opening remarks he reminded his audiences- online via Twitter on the hashtag #USZIM100 and live to the nearly 200 individuals gathered at the B2C premises in downtown Harare- of the indivisibility of human rights and the challenges in both the United States and Africa.

Part of the audience at the Tweetable
Part of the audience at the Tweetable

“June 16 is the Day of the African Child – an annual reminder for all stakeholders to amply focus on the rights of African children and equal opportunities for all,” he said. “Similarly, the recent tragedy in Orlando (USA) shows that these events can happen anywhere in the world, to anyone, it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all human beings, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times — especially in the face of such terrible attacks on our freedoms.”

The discussion provided the American diplomat a platform to reflect on the progress towards the commitments he made in his meeting with President Mugabe in February. At the time, U.S. had pledged $30 million towards efforts to alleviate the impact of El Nino. That figure has almost doubled, however, in the Ambassador’s first 100 days.

“Fifty five million just in the last few months to feed Zimbabweans!” he emphasized when asked about the impact of targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe. “The Zimbabwe government is using sanctions as an excuse. We did not design your economic policies,” he said pointing to the policy uncertainty and ease of doing business as one of the obstacles to foreign investment.

He outlined several areas of support provided by his government including $138 million to health and $10 million to democracy and governance processes. But more importantly, the U.S. wants the volume of trade between the two countries to increase. The U.S. exports $59 million worth of goods to Zimbabwe with the southern African country pushing $65 million the other way, he said. American tourists still visit Zimbabwe in numbers bigger than any other country in the West. “They go to Victoria Falls and we would want them to visit other tourist attractions too,” said Thomas Jr. He shared his recent visits to Bulawayo and Gwanda and will be visiting more parts of the country.

Ambassador Thomas Jr. also candidly shared his diplomatic engagements and successes on a people-to-people level in all spheres of Zim life- arts, culture, economic, and political fields. He listed the many names of musicians and artists that he has been able to enjoy already in Zimbabwe, including the Comic Pastor.

He quipped about the name-calling he has been subjected to after being accused of supporting social movements demand policy reforms including #ThisFlag campaign and his continued calls for the government of Zimbabwe to make progress on missing activist Itai Dzamara. “I have been called names by cabinet members here in Zimbabwe that even the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t use anymore,” he noted.

He paid tribute to young activists that took up the challenge to lobby government for policy reforms noting that American and Zimbabwean freedom fighters were young people. It is always about the young people. But he remained firm that Zimbabweans need to uphold their own constitution and their own laws first and foremost. “If you send a truck full of people armed with machetes to take farms, that is a violation of Zimbabwe’s own willing buyer-willing seller laws,” he said noting that not only farms belonging to white farmers are being confiscated.

The U.S. government is building a new complex for its Embassy in Westgate and the top American diplomat recounted his visits to the site where he met with 700 plus workers. There is a hive of activity including entertainment, sports and business for local food vendors. And the whole complex is modeled along the architecture of the Great Zimbabwe site, he said. “We believe in Zim, we believe in your future,” he told his audience.

He highlighted opportunities for young people in the country including the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders which is host to 60 Zimbabwean youth leaders, and has hosted 60 more since 2014. With nearly 1300 Zimbabweans studying at various universities in the United States, Ambassador Thomas Jr. also outlined some of the areas the U.S. has benefitted from Zimbabwe, mostly in human capital and. ZimPAS © June 17, 2016.