On 4 July 2004, President George Bush's then secretary of state, Colin Powell, announced that the US and European Union had "ended all official assistance to the government of Zimbabwe", and that they were lobbying other governments to do the same.
This, he stressed, was punishment to President Robert Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe for what he termed "authoritarian rule" and for pursuing "wrong policies", principally "his [Mugabe's] cynical 'land reform' programme", which Powell alleged had rendered "millions of people [to be] desperately hungry".
By this policy, the Bush administration seemed to have broken new ground in international relations, with a foreign power unilaterally seeking intervention in the affairs of another as punishment for "pursuing wrong policies".
If such a novel ethic were to be accepted and implemented in international relations, one wonders what fate would have befallen the Bush administration and virtually all its predecessors.
Backing up the US charge of "wrong policies", Powell added: "Worse still, the entire Zimbabwean economy is near collapse. Reckless governmental mismanagement and unchecked corruption have produced annual inflation rates of near 300%, unemployment of more than 70% and widespread shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities. Is it any wonder that Zimbabweans are demanding political change, or that President Mugabe must rely on stepped-up violence and vote-rigging to remain in office?" As if unaware that his rhetorical question acknowledged that the Zimbabwe body-politic had avenues for dissent and mechanisms for correcting and punishing politicians who pursue "wrong policies", Powell made another staggering revelation: "And we [Bush administration] will continue to assist directly, in many different ways, the brave men and women of Zimbabwe who are resisting tyranny."
Powell continued: "The US expected Zanu PF and the opposition party [to work] together [to] legislate the constitutional changes to allow for a transition. With the president gone, with a transitional government in place and with a date fixed for new elections, Zimbabweans of all descriptions would, I believe, come together to begin the process of rebuilding their country."
Powell even dropped sufficient pecuniary enticements: "If this happens, the United States would be quick to pledge generous assistance to the restoration of Zimbabwe's political and economic institutions even before the election. Other donors, I am sure, would be close behind. Reading this, Robert Mugabe and his cohorts may cry, 'blackmail'. We should ignore them. Their time has come and gone."
Now we know whose time has really come and gone! But Powell was making it clear US policy and measures went beyond stopping official assistance and mobilising the Western world against Zimbabwe. They included sponsoring opposition politics in Zimbabwe, and envisaged the removal of President Mugabe from both the leadership of his party and government through processes well outside of the ballot.
It was the US government's prerogative to determine when Robert Mugabe and his government's "time was up".
This marked a significant departure from the policy the US had pursued all along and which its assistant secretary for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, had articulated to the African affairs subcommittee of the Congress' Committee on Foreign Relations on 28 June 2001, when he stressed that the US always had to be clear that "it is up to Zimbabweans themselves to decide who will govern them, and [that] they must be given the opportunity to choose freely".
The US expected the replacement of the Zanu PF government by a miscegenated one born out of a collaborative legislative programme combining a reconstituted leadership of Zanu PF and the Western-sponsored MDC. In short, US policy envisaged "regime change", with elections only coming in as an aftermath, if not an afterthought. …