CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour’s life-mate, James Rubin, of the lobby firm recently hired by the Zimbabwean Government to lobby for the easing of relations with the Trump administration, has defended the human rights record of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Rubin said that in any case, it is better for the Zimbabwean administration to be working with Americans than the Chinese “who don’t care at all about human rights.”
Rubin has told a top US political magazine Politico that while Zimbabwe’s new leadership has made mistakes, including a crackdown on demonstrators in January that reportedly killed at least 17 people, “it now is far, far better than Zimbabwe’s government was under Mugabe.”
“I’d rather Zimbabwe work with us (Americans) than with the Chinese, who don’t care at all about human rights,” Rubin said.
Rubin served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Clinton Administration from 1997–2000. He has been assigned by Ballard as the lead lobbyist for Zimbabwe. Brian Ballard, the founder of the lobby firm, has strong ties to US president Donald Trump, having chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida, a major swing state, during the US elections. He has also lobbied on behalf of the Trump Organization in the state for more than a decade.
Zimbabwe has tried to retain lobbyists with presidential connections before. In 2008, Zimbabwean government officials agreed to hire two men who claimed have connections to Obama, who were later convicted of illegally attempting to lobby to lift U.S. sanctions on the country.
To emphasize his point, Ballard says last year it turned down lobbying requests from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a repressive regime accused of human rights abuses. After being turned down, the DRC government later approached “an obscure firm” called Sonoran Policy Group owned by one Robert Stryk where they paid $1.5 million, according to Justice Department disclosures, the Politico reports.
Regarding the arrangement with Zimbabwe, Ballard will work “to encourage a re-examination of Zimbabwe by the State Department with a view to establishing the best possible bilateral relationship with the United States and facilitating the restoration of Zimbabwe’s membership in good standing in the community of nations,” according to the firm’s contract.
But Michelle Gavin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Botswana, said that while Zimbabwe’s new government had undertaken some reforms since Mugabe was ousted, the country is still plagued by corruption and human rights abuses.
“What we’re seeing on the ground I don’t think gives many observers any confidence there is genuine respect for the rule of law,” she said.
Bruce Wharton, a former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, tweeted last week that the country’s decision to hire Ballard was a “[t]ragic waste of public funds.”
James Rubin is married to Christiane Maria Amanpour, a British-Iranian journalist and television host. Amanpour is the Chief International Anchor for CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview program Amanpour, and she is the one who interviewed President Mnangagwa in September last year when he was attending the UN General Assembly.
Zimbabwe will pay US$500,000 every year until 13 February 2021, and the payments will be made quarterly, The first payment was made immediately after the signing of the contract by Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo on 13 February 2019.
Apart from the US$500,000 annual fee, Zimbabwe will also pat the lobbysts any other incidental costs such as airline fees, hotel and travel fees, meals, car services etc which costs will be incurred during the execution of the duties.