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US Senate backs its ambassador after Zimbabwe attacks





The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Friday backed the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, a day after President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government threatened to expel him for alleged political meddling.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo took issue with Ambassador Brian Nichols' forthright comments about official corruption, which the envoy said was the cause of Zimbabwe's economic malaise, and not sanctions as claimed by the regime.

The powerful US Senate committee, in a tweeted response on Friday, gave no inch to the regime in Harare as it backed Nichols to the hilt.

"The US is deeply committed to the people of Zimbabwe," the Committee chaired by Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho) said. "Ambassador Nichols set the record straight that culpability for Zimbabwe's dire economic situation rests with its leaders, provided the truth about sanctions, and reiterated our strong and lasting commitment to a free and open Zimbabwe."

Mnangagwa's efforts to woo western countries to back his regime with budgetary support and debt relief have gone up in smoke after his government targeted opponents, killing dozens, following his disputed election win in July last year.

The 77-year-old took over power from the late Robert Mugabe in a 2017 military coup promising economic prosperity and greater freedoms for Zimbabweans, but many now say life is worse than when Mugabe departed after a controversial 37-year-rule.

Amid an ever-present threat of strikes by government workers and rising public anger over a deepening economic crisis marked by hyperinflation and shortages of power, fuel and medicines, Mnangagwa's regime has blamed United States sanctions which have been in place since 2001.

The United States embassy last week called out the regime, accusing it of using propaganda to distract from its own failings including corruption and misuse of the country's mineral riches.

Writing in a local newspaper a day before nationwide marches called by the government to protest against US sanctions, Ambassador Nichols said: "What is holding Zimbabwe back? It's not sanctions. There are only 141 Zimbabwean people and companies on the United States sanctions' list. That's right, just 141, in a country of 16 million. They are on the list for good reason. These are people who have engaged in corruption, committed human rights abuses, and undermined Zimbabwe's democratic process.

"Blaming sanctions is a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from the real reasons behind Zimbabwe's economic challenges —corruption, economic mismanagement, and failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law."

The US is deeply committed to the people of #Zimbabwe. Amb. Nichols set the record straight that culpability for Zimbabwe's dire economic situation rests with its leaders, provided the truth about sanctions, & reiterated our strong and lasting commitment to a free & open Zimbabwe

— U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SenateForeign) November 1, 2019

Moyo issued an unprecedented statement on Thursday, accusing Nichols of making a "constant portrayal as fact of what are mostly largely unsubstantiated allegations or even rumours, often still being investigated or processed by law enforcement or other agencies of government."

"Persistent behaviour of this nature will test the patience of even the most tolerant amongst us… We have the means to bring all of this to an end, should we deem it necessary or should we be pushed too far," Moyo said in a thinly-veiled threat to expel America's top diplomat in Harare.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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