Sen. Jeff Flake’s work this week as an international observer in Zimbabwe’s historic election is part of a life-long connection to southern Africa.
The Arizona Republican served his Mormon mission in Zimbabwe and South Africa and later returned to the region as a professional, as executive director of Foundation for Democracy, which kept tabs on Namibia’s transition to democracy.
Flake was in rural Zimbabwe on Monday visiting polling stations and watching votes being counted in the country’s first election in decades without deposed President Robert Mugabe on the ballot.
“I have watched eager Zimbabweans line up across dozens of rural villages to cast their votes,” Flake said in a statement. “Excitement and hope is still in the air.”
The elections were the country’s first since Mugabe was forced to step down last year, ending a 37-year reign. Mugabe came to power as part of the country’s transition from troubled white-ruled Rhodesia to current-day Zimbabwe in 1980.
Flake visited Zimbabwe earlier this year with other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He met with Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and urged him to ensure that future elections were credible. Flake is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Africa and Global Health Policy Subcommittee.
Flake, along with Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, introduced a bill to reset relations, including laying out steps Zimbabwe’s new government needs to take in order to have U.S. sanctions lifted. Like Flake, Coons has a connection to southern Africa through missionary work he did with his church.
“In stark contrast to previous meetings with Zimbabwe’s long-serving strong man, Robert Mugabe, that meeting was substantive, hopeful and forward-looking,” Flake said. “President Mnangagwa emphasized the new government’s commitment to transparency and universally accepted standards for free and fair elections.”
Mnangagwa agreed to election monitoring by regional and international institutions.