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Balancing Act: Zimbabwe Hosts US and Russian Envoys at The Same Time

US and Russian envoys were expected to arrive in Zimbabwe on Wednesday for simultaneous, but separate engagements with authorities in Harare.

The visits come a year into the war in Ukraine that has divided the world.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of African Affairs, Robert Scott, will arrive first.

State media in Zimbabwe reported that Scott’s arrival comes after the US government allegedly earmarked about R666 million ($37 million) for the “undermining of elections” in August.

The state media claimed that some pro-democracy non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had already received R17 million.

Zimbabwe is expected to pass the Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill, which will ban NGOs’ work, against advice from organisations such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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However, the official line of communication from the government is that Scott will be in the country to review the “reform priorities” of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, “especially in the last five years”.

As US President Joe Biden’s envoy to the US-Africa Leaders Summit, Scott’s work is on democracy and human rights, something for which the opposition in Zimbabwe is longing.

Enter Russia

On the other hand, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs and economic relations from the Sverdlovsk region of the federation, Yarin Vyacheslav is also expected in Zimbabwe later in the afternoon. 

According to his itinerary, issued by Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs ministry, Vyacheslav will be accompanied by Igor Zelenkin, the deputy minister of industry and trade in the Sverdlovsk region. In addition, a business delegation will be in tow. 

The ministry said:

During the visit, the delegation will also tour industrial sites specialising in timber processing, the production of rubber and pharmaceutical substances.

It added that the visit was necessitated by the two countries’ “existing excellent political relations”.

Aiding Russia

The US is working on a law to sanction countries that trade with Russia in a manner that cascades to Russia’s financial capabilities to extend its war on Ukraine.

The proposed law, Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act, was crafted last year and is yet to reach Biden’s desk. 

Zimbabwe's main opposition party leader Nelson Cha

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party leader Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) poses for a portrait in Harare on February 16, 2023.

However, the proposed law is already facing criticism from many African countries, including South Africa, which the US refers to as its “strategic partner in Africa”.

African countries raised this issue at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC last December.

On 21 February, Republican John James, a congressman from Michigan, introduced a Bill “opposing the Republic of South Africa’s hosting of military exercises with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and calling on the Biden administration to conduct a thorough review of the United States-South Africa relationship”.

South Africa took part in the exercise after snubbing America’s versions, known as the Obangame Express 2023 and Cutlass Express 2023.

With other African countries refusing to cut their deep roots with Russia, Zimbabwe is also in the mix, having last month hosted Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko said last week that his country would take Russia’s side in the war if attacked.

A year into the war

Mali’s military rulers now have close ties with Russia’s Wagner Group after elbowing out UN and French peacekeepers.

French President Emmanuel Macron will avoid Mali as he travels to Gabon, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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He said his visit would show France’s “profound humility” and reangle his country’s military involvement in Africa.

France24 reported that while French relations with Mali were at an all-time low, Macron was proud of his forces’ operations to fight insurgents in Mali.

Last week, Mali joined Eritrea in supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, signalling its shift while many African countries had previously chosen to sit on the fence.

Source: News 24