Former US ambassador to Zimbabwe urges Washington to work with whoever wins coming elections


Statement by Ambassador (ret) Charles Ray

To the Africa Subcommittee of the

House Foreign Affairs Committee




Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, I am honored to be able to appear before you today to discuss the path forward in US-Zimbabwe relations. I served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2012, during the period of the ZANU-PF/MDC coalition government, a time of relative peace and economic stability, but, unfortunately, also a time of lost opportunities to put Zimbabwe on the path of truly representative government and a prosperous economy.

Most American today know very little about Zimbabwe, but for a brief time in November 2017, it was again prominent in the American mass media. 

After several weeks of increasing political turmoil, primarily within Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, the first vice president, Emmerson D. Mnangagwa was accused of disloyalty and sacked. He then fled to South Africa, claiming that his life was in danger. Around this same time, Mugabe’s wife, Grace, began to appear more and more in public, making statements that she should be the one to succeed the aging leader, pronouncements that Mugabe did nothing to deny. In an unprecedented—for Zimbabwe—move, Constantine Chiwenga, chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Staff, made a public statement that the military would not stand idly by and allow liberation figures to be removed from government or the party. 

Shortly thereafter the military made its move. It took control of key installations in Harare, and placed Mugabe and his family under effective house arrest—although, it was quick to publicly announce that what it was doing was not a coup. As one opposition figure said, though, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. It was a palace coup, with the army moving against elements of its own party, but make no mistake about it, it was a coup d’état. Relatively nonviolent, and done in a most unusual way; Mugabe was allowed to meet the press, to phone the South African president, to meet with the coup leader in what on the surface appeared a cordial encounter, and even to call a cabinet meeting; it was still a change of government initiated by force of arms rather than the ballot box.

How the military’s actions will be dealt with is something for Zimbabweans to decide. For the rest of the world, and the United States in particular, the key questions are; where does Zimbabwe go from here, and what role should we play in that journey?

We should start with a bit of background on Zimbabwe’s new ruler, Emmerson Mnangagwa.  The question on many minds is, will he be any different from Mugabe? He is, after all, someone who worked closely with Mugabe for more than 37 years after the country’s independence, who

served as an intelligence officer during the war for independence, and who, because of his actions in support the crackdown on Ndebele political opposition in the 1980s, and MDC supporters in the 1990s, has earned the nickname, ‘Crocodile.’ Prior to being appointed to the first vice president position, Mnangagwa served as defense minister and justice minister. Though he lacks Mugabe’s charisma, he enjoys the support of most senior military officials.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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