The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front was so desperate to repair relations with the United States government towards the end of 2004 that it sent businessman John Bredenkamp as an emissary to test the waters but at the same time advising embassy officials that the party was prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate the Americans.
Bredenkamp said the pride of the party leadership and complications of personal rivalries constrained the government’s ability to initiate efforts to mend relations. He had therefore been asked by unnamed party leaders in the past to convey messages for the party to foreign governments.
Central Bank governor Gideon Gono and his deputy Nicholas Ncube had delivered similar messages asking what it would take for Zimbabwe to mend its relations with the US.
President Robert Mugabe had even sent a message to United States President George Bush congratulating him on his re-election. ZANU-PF MP and member of the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Victor Chitongo told embassy officials that Mugabe’s letter to Bush was a clear indication that the government was trying to pave the way for a rapprochement.
Chitongo said that he, other “Young Turks”, and old guard ZANU-PF Secretary for Information Nathan Shamuyarira wanted to improve relations and had pressed President Mugabe to send such a letter. And he had agreed to despite strong opposition by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and his own initial misgivings.
The embassy said, however, notwithstanding Bredenkamp’s optimistic appraisal of ZANU-PF flexibility, the party showed little inclination to open up the election environment more than superficially or to negotiate constructively with the opposition.
Viewing cable 04HARARE1913, GOZ SEEKING THAW WITH USG?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001913
AF/S FOR BNEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2009
SUBJECT: GOZ SEEKING THAW WITH USG?
REF: (A) HARARE 1901 (B) HARARE 1900 (C) HARARE 1505
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.5 b/d
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: President Mugabe’s congratulatory message to
President Bush on his re-election (ref A) is the latest among
several indications that the GOZ is prepared to seek some
degree of rapprochement with the USG. Exchanges with senior
Reserve Bank officials, a businessman well-connected with the
ruling party, and a ZANU-PF MP from the Foreign Affairs
Committee suggest political will within the ruling party to
probe for an opening with us. The messages remain too
disjointed and uncoordinated to treat them as a formal
solicitation of interest, however. Moreover, we see little
evidence that the leadership is willing to go as far as
engaging in meaningful dialogue with the opposition,
conducting free and fair elections, or otherwise establishing
rule of law in an effort to earn broader legitimacy in the
international arena or to create conditions for genuine
re-engagement. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (C) At the break-up of a monetary policy briefing for
diplomats earlier this month, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon
Gono invited econoff to his office for a one-hour unscheduled
exchange. Amidst an extended rehash of familiar GOZ economic
policies, Gono delivered a pointed message on bilateral
relations. He said that the GOZ wanted to have better
relations with the USG; what would it take to get relations
back on a constructive track? The following week, Deputy
Reserve Bank Governor Nick Ncube invited econoff to his
office to underscore the message: the leadership wanted
better relations with the United States, which it
distinguished from its public nemesis, the United Kingdom.
He maintained that Mugabe’s congratulatory message to the
President was just one indication; there would be more.
¶3. (C) John Bredenkamp, a Zimbabwean businessman with close
ties to many in the ruling party leadership, delivered a
similar message to poloff the day after Gono’s exchange with
econoff, albeit in more cryptic fashion. At a meeting
Bredenkamp requested, he asserted that when the party was
ready to chart a new course, it would test the waters
indirectly. He implied that in foreign relations, the pride
of the party leadership and complications of personal
rivalries constrained the GOZ’s ability to initiate efforts
to mend relations. He noted in this vein that he had been
asked by unnamed party leaders in the past to convey messages
for the party to foreign governments. He then emphasized,
without attribution, that the GOZ wanted to repair relations
with the USG. He would not elaborate beyond asserting that
“they will bend over backwards for you.”
¶4. (C) Over breakfast on November 17, ZANU-PF MP and member
of the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Victor
Chitongo told poloff that Mugabe’s letter to the President
was a clear indication that the Government was trying to pave
the way for a rapprochement, albeit tentatively. He reported
that he, other “Young Turks”, and old guard ZANU-PF Secretary
for Information (and Princeton grad) Nathan Shamuyarira
wanted to improve relations and had pressed the President to
send such a letter. Despite strong opposition by Information
Minister Jonathan Moyo and his own initial misgivings, the
President grudgingly agreed to send it.
¶5. (SBU) U.S. policy still receives generally negative
coverage in the state media, with Iraq and the Middle East
featured most frequently. However, the United States is
seldom coupled with the UK as the prime force for regime
change in Zimbabwe, as it was up until a few months ago. And
curiously, after a vicious front page campaign against
Ambassador Dell before his arrival, the state media has had
nary a critical word against him since. The official media
has given favorable coverage of apolitical and cultural
events organized by the Embassy, including prominent print
and broadcast coverage of an Embassy-sponsored “Art for Hope”
charitable event November 19-20. It reported Mugabe’s
congratulatory message to POTUS without extensive comment.
¶6. (C) Months after the Ambassador initiated requests for
courtesy calls with various cabinet officials, doors are only
slowly opening. Indeed, the DATT overhead Minister of
Defense Sidney Sekeremayi telling the Ministry’s Permsec over
the telephone when queried about the Ambassador’s appointment
request: “Why would I want to meet the American Ambassador?”
Fewer than half of the Ambassador’s official appointment
requests to date have met with success. (By contrast, the
Egyptian Ambassador has met with half of the Cabinet.) The
Ambassador’s courtesy calls that have taken place, including
those with President Mugabe, ZANU-PF Party Chairman Nkomo,
Party Secretary for Information and elder statesman
Shamuyarira, Speaker of the House Mnangagwa, and Minister for
State Security Goche, have been surprisingly cordial. And
the Ambassador recently had a meeting with MFA Permsec Bimha
on temporary entry permits for USG-sponsored NGOs which the
A/DCM described as the most normal and business-like of any
he has attended in the last two years.
¶7. (C) At the working level, access remains constrained.
Months of efforts to secure appointments with senior police
officials in connection with our trafficking in persons
agenda, for example, have been politely deflected.
Similarly, most (but not all) GOZ and ruling party officials
continue to snub invitations to Embassy functions and social
events. It is generally difficult to tell whether our
difficulties stem from express orders to avoid us, a lack of
guidance, conflicting priorities, or general fecklessness.
Still, in working level meetings that do occur, including
with police, military, and officials from politicized
ministries such as the Ministries of Youth and Justice, we
are told “Zimbabwe wants better relations with the United
States” — with familiar caveats about sovereignty, no
quarter on land reform, etc.
¶8. (C) The foregoing exchanges are consistent with Mugabe’s
own indication during the Ambassador’s credentials
presentation in August that he wanted to see bilateral
relations improve (ref C). (Ambassador Frazer told
Ambassador Dell in Pretoria earlier this month that,
according to President Mbeki, Mugabe privately reiterated to
Mbeki his interest in better relations with the United
States.) However, it was unclear whether our interlocutors
during these recent instances here were advancing a
semi-coordinated GOZ campaign to improve relations with the
United States or were simply pushing their own agenda. In
any event, a growing impetus is evident among the ruling
party’s younger and more business-oriented figures for
broader international re-engagement, including with
international financial institutions. (An IMF team visiting
earlier in November was accorded meetings with President
Mugabe and other senior officials and given
uncharacteristically favorable media coverage; ref B) For
now, however, Mugabe and key hard-liners are unlikely to
accept more than a tentative testing of the waters or
foundation-laying for possible greater engagement after the
March parliamentary election. Career aspirations of certain
key players such as Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and
the suspicions and resentments of others (including Mugabe
himself) will continue to fuel anti-Western sentiments.
¶9. (C) Still, we are seeing a marked departure from GOZ
rhetoric of the past few years. Until recently, the ruling
party seemed quite prepared to divorce Zimbabwe from the West
completely, regardless of the cost to the country. It is now
betraying a growing recognition of the need for help, which,
coupled with increasing intra-party tensions on the issue,
may afford us opportunities or leverage to exert influence
down the road on issues of primary concern (rule of law,
human rights, good governance) where to date we have had
¶10. (C) At every opportunity, including during the
Ambassador’s courtesy calls to date, we have reiterated the
priority attached by the USG to free and fair elections, rule
of law, human rights, and good governance, and their
importance to bilateral relations. In response,
interlocutors have made little more than token efforts to
sell electoral reforms underway as a basis for re-engagement,
testifying perhaps to their lack of official authority to
push re-engagement or their discomfort with accepting a
connection. And notwithstanding Bredenkamp’s optimistic
appraisal of ZANU-PF flexibility, the party shows little
inclination to open up the election environment more than
superficially or to negotiate constructively with the
opposition. Indeed, the unpopular party’s ability to control
the outcome of the scheduled March elections will likely
remain a priority that trumps all others, at least until
after the March elections. It remains to be seen whether the
party – spurred by domestic political confidence, outside
pressure, and/or economic need – will take more definitive
action to renew engagement with the West after the elections.