A nominee for the United States (US) Ambassador to Zimbabwe post, Pamela Tremont, claims Zimbabweans are acutely aware that Chinese investment in the country does not really benefit them as she spoke about how America can counter Chinese influence in Africa.
This may be related to local perception of growing mistrust and suspicion, notably between Chinese mining corporations and local communities around Zimbabwe, as a result of a lack of information and openness on contract disclosures.
Tremont will succeed Brian Nichols as US ambassador to Zimbabwe.
During the nomination hearings on March 1, Tremont responded to questions from US senators about how America can better counter Chinese influence in Africa and growing investment by saying that American investments directly benefited Zimbabweans, whereas Chinese investments primarily benefited the government.
“Yes, Zimbabwe and China have a long-standing relationship that goes all the way back to Zimbabwe’s war of independence. I think the difference between Chinese investments in Zimbabwe and perhaps other places in Africa, is the US investments of US$4.5 billion that we have invested in Zimbabwean people, have been for the people,” she said.
She noted that this investment in Zimbabwe promoted people’s health, defended their democratic space, aimed to improve electoral systems and improve food security.
“700 000 Zimbabweans benefited from our food security and agricultural programme last year. It is tremendously important in light of the food shortages brought on by Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine whereas the Chinese investments are much more for the government of Zimbabwe,” Tremont said.
Looking at Chinese investments, Tremont said “the Parliament building does not really necessarily benefit Zimbabwean people the way US investment does.”
She added that the US also held its companies to a much higher standard when they invest in the private sector around the world than other countries did.
Tremont’s remarks were in response to Senator John Barrasso’s observation that in 2022, President Emmerson Mnangagwa commended Zimbabwe’s “excellent relations” with China, following the gift of the US$200 million Mount Hampden Parliament House, which China funded and built.
Barasso also stated Zimbabwe opened its National Data Centre in 2021, which China assisted in building, and that Netone, the telecommunications network provider, has received approximately US$239 million from China since 2013, “with the purpose of gathering information from the government and private firms, including banks.”
Tremont said as an ambassador, she would continue to highlight America’s commitment to helping Zimbabweans improve their wellbeing.
“I think our fantastic embassy in Harare has excellent outreach in public relations with the entire country. I think our image among the Zimbabwean people is much different than what you would sometimes see in the press or from official mouthpieces in Zimbabwe,” she said.
“If confirmed I would continue that outreach and underscore to the Zimbabwean people our commitment to them and to their wellbeing and to defending their democratic rights which are enshrined in their constitution.”
The US diplomat also said American business and their investments overseas represent US values in a way that Chinese investments do not.
“We require that our companies do not pay bribes, we have anti-corruption legislation that we enforce from back here at home. We highlight and impress our own companies to enforce local labour laws and abide by the local laws. Other regimes who do not share our values do not hold their companies to those same values so I think our investments and companies will always have a slightly tougher road to hold as a result,” she stated after Senator Cory Booker asked her for insights that can better improve American interests that align with African interests, claiming there was “a real bipartisan concern about China’s growing influence and corrupt practices that they use and engage in.”
Tremont said the US should not compromise on its values as other regimes who wanted foreign investment.
“I don’t think we can compromise on those in order to compete in a race to the bottom in investment in Africa and influence there. I haven’t been confirmed yet. I haven’t been to Zimbabwe in a very long time but my sense is the Zimbabwean people are keenly aware that they are not benefiting from Chinese investment in Zimbabwe and I think that’s an important point to make,” she said.
In response, President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba through his Twitter account @Tinoedzazvumwe1 said, “this girl is set for bitter grief if she steps onto Zim soil with such weird thoughts and plans! She will come to great grief as did those before her. Zimbabwe’s foreign policy is not changed by a foreigner, let alone one already hostile to it! Never!!”
Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa has praised how Chinese investment changed Zimbabwe’s economic landscape including other parts of Africa and blasted the West for plundering African resources for decades.
In one of his weekly columns, President Mnangagwa said the Chinese investment has over a short time brought value, employment and supported the country while the West remains unhappy by advising African leaders to be wary of the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Brazilians and Arabs.