The United States on Thursday opened a remarkably large and expensive embassy in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a structure described by the U.S. ambassador as a symbol of America’s commitment to the people of Zimbabwe after decades of sanctions intended to weaken the heinous regime of longtime dictator Robert Mugabe.
With help from Japan, the U.S. is competing with China for influence in post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
The Trump administration is still a bit suspicious of Zimbabwe’s government, headed now by Mugabe’s former hatchet man Emmerson Mnangagwa, so sanctions have not been fully lifted yet. Ambassador Brian Nichols sounded an encouraging note at the embassy opening on Thursday and praised Mnangagwa for making progress on the rule of law.
“In addition to structures, we built relationships across a network of service providers. We look forward to deepening those relationships,” Nichols said at the embassy.
“The United States aspires to strengthen its partnership with Zimbabwe and to expand trade and investment between our countries. Embracing political and economic reform is the key to achieving these goals,” he said.
“The construction of this building shows what good relations we have and what beautiful thoughts we have about each other. We hope for the best all the time. It is a good sign and shows the U.S. is going to be here forever,” Zimbabwe’s acting Trade Minister Cain Mathema responded.
Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Toshiyuki Iwado pledged support on technology and infrastructure at an event held to commemorate the ascension of Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito.
China announced plans this week to build a cultural center in Harare to cement its partnership with Zimbabwe on the Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese Ambassador Guo Shaochun praised China’s “great partnership” with Zimbabwe and “fruitful” cooperation on cultural and educational issues.
China does not, however, appear very high on President Emmerson Mnangagwa. According to a Friday report at Bulawayo 24 news, the Chinese have decided to write Mnangagwa off and deal directly with the Zimbabwean military leaders, including “militaristic Vice President and retired general Constantino Chiwenga.”
The report continued that Beijing pumped the brakes on a multi-billion-dollar bailout package for Zimbabwe because China’s contacts in the Zimbabwean military said Mnangagwa would squander the money on securing his own political power.
The Chinese were also said to be dismayed about the extent of corruption in Mnangagwa’s government, a deficiency the president himself has publicly admitted to after Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping told him money earmarked for water and sanitation was stolen by corrupt officials and wasted on cars and luxury goods.
A government source told Bulawayo 24 that China also deemed Mnangagwa a bad bet because the Zimbabwean president sought to mend ties with the United States and move into the orbit of the International Monetary Fund.
Mnangagwa has been wrestling with internal politics ever since his disputed 2018 election victory over opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, while the more trenchant critics of Mnangagwa’s disappointing economic policies are beginning to make sarcastic public comments about the danger of starving citizens resorting to cannibalism.
A weakening Mnangagwa appears to have backed away from blaming greedy Zimbabwean businessmen for the country’s economic woes, while Chiwenga is still comfortable throwing around accusations of “financial terrorism.”