‘Foreign adversary’: Zimbabwe summons US ambassador to explain remarks by Trump official

Summoned: SB Moyo to speak with US Ambassador

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has summoned American ambassador Brian Nichols over remarks by a senior US official that Zimbabwe is one of several “foreign adversaries” using the George Floyd protests to interfere in US affairs.

Nichols will meet Foreign Affairs officials on Monday, Minister Sibusiso Moyo confirmed late Sunday.

Violence has erupted in multiple American cities after a white policeman killed a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis. Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, said Sunday that countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe were stoking tensions in the US.

Appearing in an interview on the ABC news channel, O’Brien was asked to respond to a tweet by Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the US Senate’s intelligence committee, which pointed to “heavy social media activity” from three adversaries.

In response, O’Brien mentioned Russia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe as countries that he claimed are the adversaries working against the US.

“Senator Rubio is right, and I’ve seen a number of tweets from the Chinese today that are taking pleasure and solace in what they are seeing here. I want to tell our foreign adversaries, whether it’s a Zimbabwe or a China, that the difference between us and you is that that officer who killed George Floyd, he’ll be investigated, prosecuted, and he’ll receive a fair trial,” O’Brien said.

He went on: “Rubio is 100% that our foreign adversaries are going to try to sow discord, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

In a separate interview on CNN, O’Brien said there was no systemic racism in the USA, and that the policeman who killed Floyd was just a lone “bad apple”.

On Sunday, Information Secretary Nick Mangwana said: “Zimbabwe does not consider itself America’s adversary. We prefer having friends and allies to having unhelpful adversity with any other nation including the USA”.

While there has been no formal response to the Floyd murder by the Zimbabwe government, presidential spokesman George Charamba taunted the US at the weekend, saying Zimbabwe should summon Nichols over the killing.

US vs Zimbabwe: A timeline

Zimbabwe has had a frosty relationship with the US since 2002, when America imposed sanctions on the country; the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001 and an executive order of measures that came into effect a year later. The US says those measures were taken in response to Zimbabwe’s human rights abuses, but Zimbabwe argues this was punishment for land reform.

[Click to read: Special Report – US sanctions on Zimbabwe: truths, history, and lies]

The row has, over the past two years, played out on social media.

A timeline of some key clashes between the US and Zimbabwe over the past two years:

  • July 2018: The US Congress and Senate authorises an updated version of ZDERA, just days ahead of elections in Zimbabwe. 
  • August 1: A US election observer team, invited to observe the Zimbabwean elections for the first time in years, says the election has “fallen short” of standards. The US, on the same day, condemns Zimbabwe for the army’s killing of six people during a protest
  • January 2019: The US strongly condemns the army’s crackdown during protests against a fuel price hike. Zimbabwe accuses the US of having a hand in the protests
  • October 2019: Zimbabwe holds a poorly attended “anti-sanctions” march in Harare, and mobilises the region to set aside an “anti-sanctions” day. The US embassy responds with a stream of shrill tweets criticising the Zimbabwe government.
  • SB Moyo accuses Nichols of “conducting himself like an opposition member” and threatens to expel him.
  • Jan 2020: Two influential US senators say they want America to “enhance the tools at its disposal” to act on Zimbabwe. Chris Coons, the Senator who has pushed for US action on Zimbabwe and is a member of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, and Jim Risch, chair of the US Foreign Relations Committee, sends a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the US Treasury update the list of sanctioned persons in Zimbabwe. 
  • January 2020: The US Embassy in Botswana tweets that it has met SADC executive secretary Stergomena Tax and discussed “how failed economic policies and corruption have created the current economic crisis in Zimbabwe”. Tax denies discussing this, saying: “Might be the position of the Embassy, but definitely not SADC’s position”
  • March 2020: The US adds Anselem Sanyatwe, a former brigadier, and Security Minister Owen Ncube to the list of sanctioned individuals. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says: “Silencing political opposition and civil society is unacceptable.”
  • May 2020: The US condemns Zimbabwe over the reported abduction of three MDC activists, calling it “abhorrent” and demanding that Zimbabwe “bring the perpetrators to account”. SB Moyo responds with a strongly worded statement accusing the US and other Western governments of jumping to conclusions