Thursday, 20 September 2007

James D McGee promises his country to continue on its negative engagement with Zimbabwe

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

IT IS an honour and a privilege for me to appear before you today as President Bush's nominee to be Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe.

I appreciate the confidence that the President and Secretary Rice have in me by putting my name forward for your consideration.

If confirmed, I look forward to working with the administration, this Committee, and the Congress in advancing U.S. interests and in helping our efforts to put Zimbabwe back on the path of democracy and economic prosperity.

Although Zimbabwe once enjoyed a sound economy and vibrant democratic institutions, the country today is suffering under authoritarian misrule.

The Government continues to commit unspeakable human rights abuses while enforcing policies that have produced economic collapse, food shortages, and the destruction of once strong judicial, financial, health and educational institutions. Regional stability is threatened as the people of Zimbabwe flee their rapidly disintegrating country to neighboring countries.

If confirmed, I would continue our government's efforts in assisting the people of Zimbabwe in their pursuit of a democratically elected government that respects human rights and the rule of law. Such a government could promote the welfare of its people by implementing the economic reforms needed to bring prosperity to Zimbabwe and contribute to regional growth and stability.

In undertaking this assignment, I would call on my years of experience in Africa and elsewhere, representing the United States and working to promote democratic values. During my 26 years in the Foreign Service, I have served as Ambassador to Swaziland, Madagascar, and the Comoros.

In these and other assignments, I sought to strengthen our bilateral relations while advancing U.S. interests by pressing for democratic reforms. I worked closely with pro-democracy civil society organisations in Swaziland to help write and eventually enact the first constitution that country had seen in over thirty years.

In Madagascar, I helped the country to prepare for and implement successfully free and fair elections following the election crisis of 2001. I would work diligently to strengthen pro-democracy organisations in Zimbabwe.

I strongly believe that there is a deep reservoir of democratic knowledge, capacity, and desire in Zimbabwe that needs continuing support to challenge the government to enact democratic reforms and to keep hope alive that change is possible.

Mr. Chairman, it must be stated that while the prospects for democratic transformation in Zimbabwe are very challenging, we remain strongly committed to facilitating peaceful change. Our goal must be that the presidential and parliamentary elections take place as scheduled for next year and meet international standards.

However, unless the government of Zimbabwe quickly establishes conditions for a free and fair election and rigorously implements a level playing field, the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next year will not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. It is imperative that there be a substantial period of time for all candidates to campaign on a level playing field.

Still, we must continue our efforts. Abandoning the people of Zimbabwe to the worst effects of their government's misrule is not in America's interests. Returning Zimbabwe to a democratic state with a strong economy is necessary to promote regional stability and economic growth.

Therefore, we must use the tools at our disposal to achieve the results we seek. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act and our targeted sanctions program have increased the pressure on those individuals that have undermined democracy and prosperity.

We are working with like-minded members of the international community to increase this pressure. We must continue to lend our support to regional efforts to pressure the Government of Zimbabwe to enact needed reforms.

The United States strongly supports the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) initiative to resolve the political and economic crisis, but the government of Zimbabwe continues its repression and intimidation of civil society, religious organisations, businesspeople, and political groups.

It is essential now more than ever for the United States to continue its support for civil society and pro-democratic elements in Zimbabwe. We need to play a major role in ensuring that these organisations survive the current repression to participate in Zimbabwe's eventual recovery.

We must also continue our humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people and ensure that it reaches the people in need. In fiscal year 2007, United States food aid amounted to over $170 million. Today the United States is helping to feed nearly one-in-five Zimbabweans.

Non-food aid humanitarian assistance is approximately $5.1 million, and HIV/AIDS programs were increased to $31 million in fiscal year 2007. This funding is helping to deliver anti-retroviral treatment to 40,000 Zimbabweans. These actions demonstrate the generosity and compassion of the American people.

Resolution of Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis would stem the flow of migrants seeking a better life outside Zimbabwe. It would restore Zimbabwe's contribution to regional economic growth and enable the country to feed itself, rather than depending on international handouts. With a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe, SADC could be a stronger instrument of regional economic development, providing opportunities for African growth and for U.S. private investment.

Zimbabwe is at an increasingly difficult point in its history. I welcome the opportunity to take on the challenges that will be faced by the next U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe.

If confirmed, I will do my best to protect Americans and American interests while working to help the people of Zimbabwe restore their country to a democratic and prosperous member of the international community.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

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