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Mon. January 30, 2023
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IA-Forum Interview: Ambassador David Shinn
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International Affairs Forum: Zimbabwe has prided itself on being a democracy. With the recent situation however, it has obviously been challenged. What do you think this means for Zimbabwe's future political situation? Do you think it will have an impact on other African countries working towards democracy? Ambassador David Shinn: I think Zimbabwe has a good change of returning to democratic principles in a post-Mugabe era, assuming it is not replaced by a military government. Much damage has been done and it will take some time to overcome the setbacks of recent years. The harm to the economy is even greater. Returning to both a democratic process and viable economy is a double challenge. The situation in Zimbabwe has already had a negative impact on the economy of surrounding countries, especially South Africa, which has had a huge influx of impoverished Zimbabweans. This situation could indirectly affect the democractic process in those countries. There have already been illegal acts of violence against Zimbabweans in South Africa. IA-Forum: What role - if any - should other countries...such as South Africa - as Thabo Mbeki is a mediator, and organizations such as the African Union play in resolving the situation? Amb. Shinn: Principal Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has stated there can be no progress in mediating the dispute over the future government of Zimbabwe so long as South African President Thabo Mbeki remains the mediator. Tsvangirai declared Mbeki is biased in favor of Mugabe. This would seem to end his role in the process and the time has probably come to find another mediator. It is difficult for the African Union to play a role because it has members who both support and oppose Mugabe. IA-Forum: What can/should the US do to help? Do you think the sactions that President Bush has proposed help or hurt the situation? Amb. Shinn: Mugabe has written off the United States because he sees Washington as a proponent of Tsvangirai. US sanctions are largely a "feel good" measure as they will not have any significant impact unless virtually every other country in the world adheres to them. Some key countries like China have said they will not. US leverage is limited in this case. One thing the US and others could do is provide assistance to those Zimbabweans who have fled to neighboring African countries. IA-Forum: Some African leaders have been slow to criticize Mugabe - especially at the recent conference in Sharm El-Sheikh - why do you think this has been so? Amb. Shinn: African leaders have always been reluctant to criticize one of their own. In some cases, the African leader leveling the criticism is also subject to criticism and he/she does not want to deal with that situation. Actually, political leaders in Zambia, Botswana, and Kenya have been surprisingly outspoken in their criticism of the situation in Zimbabwe. IA-Forum: What do you think the chances would be for a coalition government like that in Kenya? Is this even a desirable goal? Amb. Shinn: It is difficult to see a coalition government functioning in Zimbabwe. It was hard to achieve it in Kenya; emotions on both sides in Zimbabwe are probably higher. I just don't see Mugabe and Tsvangirai working together. If Mugabe can not restore the economy quickly, and it is doubtful that he can, it may completely collapse. That could force another change. Ambassador Shinn is an adjunct professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and is currently working on a book on China's growing influence in Africa that will be published later this year. He has served in several posts in the U.S. Department of State including twice being named Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

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