- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

JOHANNESBURG — The American ambassador to Zimbabwe is being smeared with sexual innuendoes and threatened with expulsion in the state-owned press after a speech that criticized the rule of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

It is not uncommon for governments to expel diplomats who interfere in the affairs of the host country, the Herald newspaper said yesterday.

Zimbabwe “could take that route” in the case of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell, added the paper, which is widely considered to reflect the government’s views. The Foreign Ministry has summoned Mr. Dell to appear and is expected to announce any action today.

Other reports have accused Mr. Dell of frequenting a public garden where “many of our youthful citizens have been deflowered, lured by the greenback from generous and flaunting foreigners not given [to] enjoying sex the conventional way.”

In Washington, the State Department said simply yesterday that Mr. Dell had “effectively refuted regime propaganda that blames Zimbabwe’s economic problems on European and U.S. sanctions.”

Mr. Dell infuriated the government with remarks last week at the United Methodist Church’s Africa University in the eastern border town of Mutare, where he said “corrupt rule” rather than sanctions was to blame for Zimbabwe’s economic problems.

“Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe’s decline,” Mr. Dell said in the speech. “The Zimbabwe government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule has brought on the crisis. …

“I know of no other example in the world of an economy that, in times of peace, has contracted so precipitously in the course of six years.”

Drawing from a list of figures, Mr. Dell noted that:

• Gross domestic product declined almost 30 percent from 1997 to 2003 and continued to fall through 2005.

• Annual inflation, now “in the mid-triple digits,” could rise to 1,000 percent by January.

• Manufacturing has shrunk by 51 percent since 1997 and exports have fallen by half in the past four years.

• Foreign direct investment has evaporated from $444 million in 1998 to $9 million in 2004.

• Well over a quarter of the population has fled the country. Of those who remain, half are short of food and 80 percent live below the poverty line.

In the past five years, most commercial farmland has been nationalized in what Mr. Dell described as a “misguided and ill-fated land grab,” which led to the collapse of exports and rising famine at home.

The Zimbabwe dollar, which was stronger than the U.S. currency when Mr. Mugabe took office in 1980, now trades at up to 100,000 to the dollar.

A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday that the government was “very irate” at the ambassador’s comments and intended to summon him for discussions.

Mr. Dell first drew attention last month when he was held at gunpoint for 90 minutes by Mr. Mugabe’s bodyguards. He was accused of having wandered into a poorly marked exclusion zone while walking his dog in the botanical gardens that border the presidential palace.

At that time, the government accused him of trying to spark a diplomatic rift between the countries. But the local press began suggesting after Friday’s speech that he had been in the park to seek a sexual liaison.

Mr. Mugabe, 82, was returned to power in a 2002 presidential election and the ruling ZANU-PF claimed victory in a general election in March this year, but international observers said that both elections were marred by widespread fraud and intimidation. Most Western countries, including the United States, refuse to recognize the results.

The United States, Britain, the European Union and Australia have imposed travel and personal sanctions against Mr. Mugabe, his Cabinet and leading members of the security forces.

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