Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Case Of A Broken Promise - Zimbabwe And U.S. Aid

Anis Haffar

"Zimbabwe officials have been displeased by what they interpret as heavy handed Reaganite efforts to dictate foreign policy to them. They view the cutback in aid as blackmail".
For about two decades, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) was the object of more international attention than most African nations: First, as the domain of a white minority fighting against the historical wave of African self-determination, and more recently, as a new nation burdened with the hopes and questions frequently attending such births.

Quite a bit can be learned from a study of Zimbabwe's recent past. What this nation has to teach relates to how the African nations, and also the US, can best deal with seemingly endless crises which confront the community of nations.

On November 11, 1965, Prime Minister Ian Smith announced Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of in- dependence from Britain. Smith's move represented a defiant reaction on the part of Rhodesia's whites about 3 percent of the population - to the process of African decolonization. The British government of Harold Wilson instituted oil and trade embargoes which were internationalized by the United Nations security council resolution in 1966 (for selective mandatory sanctions), and in 1968 (for comprehensive mandatory sanctions).

An international effort to isolate the rebel Rhodesians was very much the intention. The US closed its library in Salisbury (now Harare) and also refused to recognize Rhodesian passports. In 1970, all the remaining US consulate officials were withdrawn. Smith's regime was forced into serious negotiations which led to majority rule.

However, from 1971 to 1977, the Byrd amendment enabled the US to import Rhodesian chrome and other minerals in violation of the UN sanctions resolutions which the US had supported. (The US imports all of its chrome from Southern Africa). The administration of Jimmy Carter, however, did not share in the urging of the majority of Congress to lift sanctions completely as a prelude to diplomatic recognition. The President and his advisors were aware that any settlement which did not afford the Patriotic Front leaders - Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo - a fair opportunity to gain power through the ballot box would not last long; and would attract greater prospects of increased internationalization of the conflict with the possibility of direct Cuban and Soviet involvement.

In the last years of the search for a settlement to the Rhodesian crisis, success would have been far less assured if it were not for the firm leadership of the US under Carter. Since then, US aid to Zimbabwe has focused on rehabilitating the war-torn country.


Zimbabwe under Mugabe has moved cautiously to redirect the course of the largely white-run economy it inherited at independence in April 1980. It continues to depend on a mixed economy with private industry and farmers working alongside an expanding public sector.

The US is one of Zimbabwe's largest aid donors providing more than $200 million (source: Washington Post) to assist in post-independence efforts at reconstruction. The aid program has been used to help make US capital equipment available to support Zimbabwe's infrastructure development and its manufacturing industries and commercial agriculture. In 1982, $50 million was channelled through a commodity import program to make foreign exchange available for purchases of machinery and raw materials, (source: US Dept. of Commerce).

In turn, Zimbabwe represents one of Africa's most promising and stable markets. It has immense requirements for capital equipment. Large public sector investments are planned to revamp its power, transport and communications networks. Some estimates put spending over the last three years at nearly $1.5 billion on major projects including the Hwange coal-fired power station, an earth satellite station, airport improvements and farm marketing systems.

There are other opportunities for joint economic ventures with the US, as far as agricultural machinery, earth movers, computers and the peripherals, well-drilling equipment, pharmaceuticals, and textile manufacturing. In addition to its mineral riches, Zimbabwe offers an advantage as a site for positive economic and political cooperation in southern Africa.

Recent events have created mutual chills. For one, according to US officials Zimbabwe went against American interests in the UN security council by the abstention on a resolution deploring the Soviet downing of the South Korean airliner. Then came the US invasion of Grenada which Mugabe condemned as "an act of wanton aggression carried out in complete defiance of the UN charter and the sovereign right of the people of Grenada".

The US officials further accused Harare of shunning a memorial service in that capital for US marines and French soldiers killed in Lebanon. To sum all these, US secretary of state Schultz headed off a recent move to halve aid to Zimbabwe. The Congress hitherto had voted to grant the full $75 million request for the African nation.

Zimbabwe officials likewise have been displeased by what they interpret as heavy-handed Reaganite efforts to dictate foreign policy to them. They view the cutback in aid as blackmail. "Robert Mugabe is a very proud man and he will never allow himself to be seen as anyone's stooge," they said.

The issues that caused the strain are not directly related to the two nations' differences on the southern African question: such as American insistence on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola as a prelude to Namibia's independence, and the blatant support of the apartheid regime. The rationale here is that Zimbabwe and the US needed each other on a pragmatic basis.


The current impasse has arisen over international matters that suggest an inevitable conflict between a rightist Republican administration inclined to view such matters amid the east-west animosity, and a young African nation that called itself socialist. "We are non-aligned and we shape our own direction," said Deputy Prime Minister Simon Muzenda. The Americans saw it differently "Mugabe was a guest in the United States and we are asking for his help, which he refused".

The reduction in American assistance to Zimbabwe could be subject to varied interpretations. Is economic assistance a reward for "good behaviour": the faithful support and execution of American policy? The Zimbabweans see US aid as a fulfillment of commitments made during 1979 talks that led to independence and during subsequent meetings. Actually, one is never quite sure how seriously the Reagan administration United Nations police affects the Third World. Nonetheless, Zimbabwe had flung its doors quite open to the US

There is at the same time a slight suspicion that size has something to do with it. Absolutely no change in relations with China has been proposed, even though the Chinese joined the Zimbabweans in opposition to the US at the UN. Nor has the refusal by Israel and Egypt - the largest beneficiaries of American assistance to toe Washington's line on some select issues led to reductions of aid. A better example: the Russians are still beneficiaries of American grain though both have nuclear missiles pointed at each other's throat with intense reciprocity. The inconsistencies are just alarming.

Those who see economic aid as a means for creating a more stable and peaceful world will have to think differently. Zimbabwe ranks with the most important targets for aid among the young nations with good prospects for growth. Zimbabwe was promised $75 million a year from the US for its first three years. That promise is being broken not by the Congress, but by the Reagan administration.


To many in the US it was such a joy when the southern peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, was inaugurated as President and he chose to walk along the street of Washington waving to the crowd. It was an expression of hope - one that Zimbabwe cherished at the dawn of its birth.

How times have changed. Now in Washington, things have become a little different. Concrete barriers are being erected at the entrances to the White House. And for good reason not long ago, a force ripped congressional doors from their hinges. Many expressed fear. Have the times changed so much in so short a time or is it a world expressing itself out of paranoia? What radical changes. It is fair to say Zimbabwe is doing much better than Lebanon, Grenada or Afghanistan and Poland. A halving of aid can be a breeze.

Yes, 1984 is the election year in the American political structure. Fortunately, since 1776, Americans have learned how to select leaders in an orderly systematic way. And when new leaders came, the old exited gracefully in the smoothest of transitions. Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria can benefit more from this American experience than sheer aid - which exhausts itself. If Reagan is voted in for another four years.

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