Although the country remains under United States sanctions, President Joe Biden has invited Zimbabwe to the December 13-15 summit in Washington which is expected to be attended by dozens of African leaders.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is banned from travelling to the US, is expected to be represented by foreign affairs minister Fredrick Shava, who was Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Washington before his cabinet appointment.
Harare’s invitation has however, drawn criticism with the Biden administration accused of rewarding an increasingly autocratic regime whose spy agency earlier this year chased down senior U.S. congressional staffers across the streets of the capital.
“When you partner with bad actors, nondemocratic leaders, you’re sending a clear message to the people in those countries … and giving these leaders more power and legitimacy on the world stage,” Nicole Widdersheim of the Human Rights Watch advocacy organization told Foreign Policy magazine.
However, the summit is coming at a time when the war in Ukraine and the consequent political and economic repercussions have created a new “geopolitical order”.
Analysts also said Washington was trying to avoid a repeat of the diplomatic embarrassment experienced earlier this year when the leaders of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala refused to attend the US-hosted Summit of the Americas, after President Biden refused to send invitations to three autocrats in the region.
For the Africa summit, the Biden administration simply invited all countries in good standing with the African Union.“It avoids any offence on the African side, but on the U.S. side it looks like a betrayal of our values and our policies,” said Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. diplomat and senior associate for the Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
“We took an approach to invitations to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that will enable wide participation in dialogue on shared global priorities,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said.
“This summit is an important opportunity to engage with African leaders on shared commitments on respecting human rights and strengthening democratic institutions. As we have in other settings, we will discuss issues of concern and areas where we have disagreements.”
Meanwhile, US senators have since demanded that the Biden administration takes action after Senate Foreign Committee officials were involved in a movie-style car chase in Harare with suspected agents of the country’s CIO.
The officials were reportedly on an official visit to Harare organised with the US embassy to meet human rights advocates and civil society leaders to hear first-hand the deteriorating political situation in the country.
The incident incensed U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who sent a letter to President Joe Biden informing him of the harassment and car chase his staffers experienced. In the letter, he urged Biden to step up U.S. attention on the “dire” repressive political atmosphere in Zimbabwe and boost support for the country’s increasingly embattled civil society organizations and pro-democracy activists.
“This blatant aggression towards congressional staff, one of whom—as the Zimbabweans surely know served as a senior advisor to you for many years when you were Chairman and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee—was meant to intimidate the staff themselves, and to send a message to the United States: our support of Zimbabweans working to defend democracy is unwelcome by those who hold power,” Menendez wrote in his letter to Biden dated Sept. 12, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy. Menendez did not name the two staffers in his letter.
“Such outrageous behaviour highlights the Zimbabwean regime’s reckless disregard for international norms. If American officials are deliberately targeted, you can well imagine the violence that will be directed to Zimbabweans who dare to criticise the government.”