Zvamaida Murwira, Harare Bureau
United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols flew to Washington this week amid reports that he evaded reprimand by Zimbabwean authorities over his role in MDC-Alliance’s illegal demonstrations last week.
Mr Nichols allegedly met MDC-Alliance deputy national chairperson, Mr Job Sikhala at the legislator’s Chitungwiza residence where the diplomat assured the opposition that Washington would impose punitive measures should Zimbabwean authorities arrest illegal protestors.
It also emerged that Mr Nichols was under fire from his principals in Washington on why the cover of his underground dealings with members of the opposition was easily blown out by Zimbabwean authorities.
Sources in diplomatic circles said Mr Nichols flew to Washington this week where he is set to brief his principals regarding his role in the MDC-Alliance demonstrations which the US, European Union and other Western countries have openly supported.
Sources said Mr Nichols had been summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade who wanted to understand why he was straying from his diplomatic duties and meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
“He went to Washington, obviously to get a briefing from his handlers. He wants to get direction on how he would respond to the summon by Zimbabwean authorities. But that was undiplomatic for him to avoid attending the meeting,” said a source in diplomatic circles.
“What has also made authorities in Washington livid about Mr Nichols is how his intelligence-gathering meetings, that were supposed to be private and confidential ended up in the public glare and a subject of discussion in the media. It also raised eyebrows on his probity with respect to his ability to gather and protect information and more importantly, his ability to discern the calibre of people to engage.”
Contacted for comment, spokesperson for the US embassy in Harare, Ms Stacy Lomba confirmed that Mr Nichols was not in Harare but denied that he had evaded a meeting with Zimbabwean authorities.
She also denied that her boss had met senior officials from the MDC-Alliance.
“The ambassador is not in the country. Our Charge de Affairs is joining a group of EU ambassadors for a meeting at the Macro Finance Assistance this afternoon. He did not meet anyone neither was he in Chitungwiza as alleged. We are equally not aware of an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade inviting our ambassador. Our communication channels are open and there has never such communication inviting our ambassador as what you seem to be alleging,” said Ms Lomba.
Sources said Ambassador Nichols, his deputy Thomas Hastings and regional security officer Patrick Bellinger, including Mrs Nichols and Mrs Hastings, met Mr Sikhala on Thursday last week — the eve of the planned demonstrations — at the latter’s home in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza.