afrol.com / AENS, 9 March - The United States Congress began deliberations on possible sanctions against President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe this week in an attempt to enforce democratic reforms in the embattled southern African nation.
Tennessee Senator Bill Frist said on Friday the Zimbabwe Democracy Bill was designed to ensure that US policy supported the people of Zimbabwe in their struggles to bring about peaceful, democratic change in their country and restore the rule of law. "President Mugabe has effectively implemented a totalitarian regime which has grown over his 20 years of leadership," said Frist. "If stability is to return to Zimbabwe, democracy must be re-instated and strengthened.
- If we ignore the crisis in Zimbabwe, we risk further instability in southern Africa, he said. The bill known as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 aims to double funding for pro-democracy programmes in the country and calls for the US government to support election observers to the presidential elections due next year.
Bilateral assistance from Washington and debt reduction programmes for Zimbabwe have already been cut back. The Act will further urge the US president to impose visa restrictions and other targeted sanctions on those most responsible for political violence in the country.
It will instruct US directors on the boards of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to vote against any future lending to Zimbabwe, except on humanitarian grounds.
However upon the restoration of law and order, the act would be used to promote programmes to further promote democracy, restore all suspended assistance and aggressively promote economic recovery says Frist.
Frist who also chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's sub committee on African affairs says once stability returns to Zimbabwe he would call on the US Treasury Secretary to find ways of easing the country's debt.
The Act would also call on the establishment of a Southern African Finance Centre in Zimbabwe, to serve as an office for three US investment agencies - the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade Development Agency.
These agencies would underwrite American investments into Zimbabwe and the rest of the Southern African region. The bill was introduced as a bipartisan bill, meaning it also has support of members of the Democratic party. It is co-sponsored by Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin. However, an earlier version of the bill failed to make it through the House last year and it remains to be seen whether the new administration under George W Bush will seek to pressure Mugabe in such a manner.