Zimbabwe has accused the United States of trying to use Covid-19 vaccines to meddle in its internal political affairs, claiming Washington gave the country’s main opposition party half a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has so far refused to consider the approval of western manufactured Covid-19 vaccines, preferring those from China, Russia and India.
For two decades, Zimbabwe’s relations with Western countries have been strained over the southern African country’s alleged human rights abuses and the ruling Zanu PF’s propensity to rig elections
President Mnangagwa’s ruling party accuses countries such as the US of funding the opposition MDC Alliance to pursue a regime change agenda.
The 79-year-old ruler’s spokesperson, George Charamba, ignited a fresh diplomatic tiff this week after claiming the US embassy had imported vaccines so that the MDC Alliance could run its own vaccination programme, parallel to the one initiated by the government.
Mr Charamba claimed Zimbabwe had refused to authorise use of Johnson & Johnson doses that are now stuck at the US embassy in Harare.
He claimed the MDC Alliance received “two tranches of American vaccines, in total amounting to half-a-million doses, for a political vaccination programme through, which they hope to checkmate the goodwill that has accrued to Zanu PF through a sprite public vaccination programme.”
“The United States embassy’s strategy has been to desperately stampede the Ministry of Health to allow the government to accept importation and administration of those unregistered vaccines, using the Covax facility,” Mr Charamba tweeted.
“This would then provide cover to this political donation. Unfortunately for them, Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines, which are registered for use in the country are now registered with the World Health Organisation, making them part of the Covax menu.”
He added: “Zimbabwe insists that any assistance under Covax limits itself to those registered vaccines. The United States and their MDC-Alliance lackeys are in a real bind.”
People queue at a money transfer service in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on March 31, 2020, on the second day of a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The US embassy in Harare, however, dismissed the claims that it was pushing for a parallel Covid-19 vaccination programme in Zimbabwe as false.
“United States government vaccine deployment is very transparent and will come to Africa through the Covax/(African Union) mechanism,” the embassy said.
“The United States government has not provided any entity in Zimbabwe with vaccines to date.”
Fadzayi Mahere, MDC Alliance spokesperson, accused the government of politicking about vaccines at a time the pandemic was killing more people in Zimbabwe.
“It’s a matter of record that people are dying of Covid yet the government [rejected] vaccines that were offered to them under Covax,” Ms Mahere said.
“They must not deflect by dragging the MDC Alliance into this. Our priority is the need to save lives. We cannot be politicking over a matter of this nature. The MDC Alliance has not received vaccines from any person or organisation.”
“It’s a matter of regret that Mr Charamba continues to act in this disgraceful manner. He is telling lies and politicking with people’s lives instead of focusing on vaccine hesitancy.”
US shipping 25 million Covid vaccine doses to Africa, officials say
Covid lockdown Zimbabwe
A man is arrested by police officers after resisting orders to vacate a vegetable market area in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on March 31, 2020, on the second day of a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Other vaccines Zimbabwe has rejected include the British-Swedish AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, from the United States.
Zimbabwe’s vaccination programme has been disrupted by a shortage of vaccines.
In June, the country refused to draw down from its three million doses allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under the Covax facility, claiming it did not have refrigeration facilities suitable for it.
Health experts, however, said the excuse did not make any sense since the Chinese vaccines that were already in use in Zimbabwe were being kept under similar conditions.
Former colonial power Britain has also unsuccessfully tried to convince Zimbabwe to take the Covid-19 vaccine donations under Covax.
Last year, President Mnangagwa’s government accused the US embassy of sponsoring anti-corruption protests in the country that were brutally put down by the military.
The government says it is crafting a new law named the Patriot Bill that will bar local politicians who actively lobbied for US sanctions against Zimbabwe from participating in future elections.
Washington has repeatedly denied allegations that it is pushing for a regime change in Zimbabwe but has consistently called for economic and political reforms in the country.