The Zimbabwean state-owned newspaper The Herald recently reported that the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, showered “praises” on Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe at a tourism promotion event in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The more positive statements were the following:

  • “President Mugabe has been calling for peace, and I believe him. You can see that he is sincere, the situation has changed from previous years.”
  • “I think the Government of National Unity has been challenging and difficult for some people, but I think that bringing Zanu-PF and the MDCs together in Government has been useful. I think all sides have learnt something about each other and about the ability to work together.”
  • “Our change in approach to Zimbabwe is simply a reflection of changes that the people and the Government of Zimbabwe are making on their own. We have to keep up with Zimbabwe.”

These statements, while not quite as lavish as The Herald implies in its headline, are jarring. It is especially alarming that Ambassador Wharton failed to give credit to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has been instrumental in driving the positive changes that have occurred in Zimbabwe in recent years.

It is important to note that the state-owned Herald is often used as a mouthpiece for Mugabe and his supporters. The U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe has only made available on their website the official remarks by the ambassador and a press release about the event, which focused exclusively on promoting tourism and did not mention the political situation in Zimbabwe, leaving one to wonder what exactly was said during the press conference in Victoria Falls.

Mugabe and his supporters, as highlighted by Heritage’s Brett Schaefer, have a long history of gross human rights violations, electoral abuses, violence, disastrous economic policies, and subverting the rule of law. Mugabe has been in power for over 32 years and is seeking re-election this year as a new constitution comes into force in the country.

In recent months, Mugabe and his supporters have again begun applying the belligerent tactics used in previous elections, including arresting activists and journalists, subverting election registration procedures, and committing political violence against opposition supporters. Indeed, the military generals under Mugabe’s control have repeatedly refused to support the peaceful transition of power in the country if the opposition party, the MDC, wins at the ballot box.

Supporting the people of Zimbabwe in their cause for free and fair elections is critical. The ambassador’s tone should have been one of caution, urging Mugabe to eschew his previous tactics, not a preemptive affirmation of Mugabe’s sincerity. If the ambassador really did praise Mugabe, the remarks should be retracted. If they were not made, the ambassador should denounce The Herald’s account.