If America Were in Africa

If America Were in Africa

In April 2013, when I was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, I accompanied former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young to a meeting with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Then Secretary of State John Kerry had dispatched us to Harare to convince Mugabe to allow free and fair elections later that summer. For years, Zimbabwean elections had been marred by violence, voter intimidation, and manipulation of the legal system by the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). If Mugabe and his cronies refrained from such tactics in the upcoming ballot, we told the Zimbabwean president, the United States was prepared to ease sanctions that had been in place since 2001 and fully normalize relations with his country. Mugabe and Young were well acquainted from the heady days following Zimbabwe’s independence from the United Kingdom. It was said that Young was the only man left on earth to whom Mugabe would listen with a friendly and willing ear.

Mugabe listened to us, but he did not heed our advice. On July 31, 2013, the Zimbabwean president was reelected to a sixth term in office amid allegations of widespread irregularities at the polls. ZANU-PF won a two-thirds majority in Parliament. A little more than four years later, Mugabe was overthrown in a coup by members of his own party. He died in exile in Singapore in 2019.