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FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks at a media conference at State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Analysis

Mnangagwa’s anti-sanctions charade finds few takers

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PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s anti-sanctions charade, including rallies and marches devoid of concrete political reforms, is senseless escapism from what the government ought to do to convince the West to remove restrictive measures which have hung over the country since 2000.

NYASHA CHINGONO

Analysts say the anti-sanctions day and solidarity from its praise singers like China is only a feel-good moment, with no significance on the international arena.  

Now three years running, the anti-sanctions day has become a hollow ceremony at which Mnangagwa reads long speeches denouncing the West in front of placard-wielding supporters and gyrating Zanu PF members.

A music gala was also hosted this week, where action-starved artistes belted out songs in a concert beamed live by the national broadcaster, while top government officials took to the dance floor to presumably jive the sanctions away. 

Online, a Twitter war played out between government apologists and Western embassies, including the US, UK and EU embassies. 

The embassies’ online teams also worked extra shifts defending their tough stance on Zimbabwe, while Zanu PF and its anti-sanctions foot soldiers spent their Monday denouncing the so-called “enemy” for maintaining sanctions on Zimbabwe. 

The anti-sanctions day has become a dramatic affair, with some elements also staging a demonstration at the US embassy in Harare, demanding the lifting of the embargo. 

While some of the foot soldiers may not understand what the sanctions really are, Mnangagwa’s government says the embargo has destroyed the economy. 

Western embassies, mainly the US, maintain that it is actually corruption and a disregard for the rule of law that have ruined the economy. They maintain that the sanctions on several Zanu PF cadres and their cohorts do not affect the generality of Zimbabweans. 

But Zanu PF argues that Zimbabwe’s problems stem from the punitive sanctions regime.

Absolving themselves of any wrongdoing, including grand corruption which the government has acknowledged through several Auditor-General reports,  Mnangagwa’s regime stubbornly attributes blame to the sanctions. 

Political analyst Stephen Chan argues the government should not use sanctions as a scapegoat for poor governance. 

“As it is, the UK has sanctions on about half-a-dozen people, although the US has them on just over 80 people. Even so, the amount of trade and foreign aid involving both countries runs into the hundreds of millions. But with under 100 people in total sanctioned, this can have no overall effect on the economy — which has simply been very badly run,” Chan said. 

The US says: “The US government can lift sanctions once it determines sanctioned individuals have stopped undermining democracy, violating human rights, or facilitating corruption.”

“The Zimbabwe sanctions programme aims to encourage those sanctioned individuals to stop facilitating corruption and start respecting fundamental rights and democratic aspirations.” 

Running the #FriendsDontLetFriends hashtag, a direct opposite of the government’s “Zimbabwe is a friend to all and enemy to none” mantra, keyboard warriors had a field day online. 

But it is apparent that the US, UK and EU are relentless in their bid to pressure Mnangagwa’s regime to reform. 

International relations lecturer at Bindura University, Ronald Chipaike, said the anti-sanctions rhetoric provided Zanu PF with an excuse for economic failure. 

“Sanctions, as long as they are there, will provide Zanu PF with a figleaf or scapegoat for everything going wrong in the country. Corruption and its effects, for example, will continue to be covered by this sanctions narrative,” Chipaike said. 

He added that the anti-sanctions gaffe worked for Zanu PF in getting the sympathy vote. 

“The anti-sanctions rhetoric is effective for the Zimbabwean government in two ways: Gaining sympathy from other developing countries as a victim of bullying by powerful states. This sympathy sometimes creates important alliances critical for regime survival.

And it helps the Zanu PF government create an effective narrative around the reasons why economic growth is not moving as fast as was expected, especially when they meet with potential voters as the nation is moving towards elections in 2023. Zanu PF cannot reform itself out of power,” he added. 

After failing to fulfill electoral promises and commitments made during his inaugural speech in November 2017, which include the normalising relations through broad-based reforms, Mnangagwa has resorted to an anti-sanctions crusade. 

Despite calling on Zimbabweans to stop whining over sanctions and instead of harnessing the available local resources for development, Mnangagwa is doing the exact opposite.

“Takaita masanctions edu atidzorera shure, asi ikozvino hatichafaniri kuramba tichichema namasanctions (The sanctions have affected our growth, but we should not continue mourning over sanctions,” Mnangagwa said in 2018.

Upon realisation that his re-engagement drive has failed to charm segments of the international community, Mnangagwa has spent millions hiring public relations firms to spruce up the country’s battered image and believes a few marches and concerts will make Washington DC rescind its position on sanctions. 

Two years ago, he rallied Southern African Development Community (Sadc) heads of state and the African Union (AU) to participate in the anti-sanctions campaign.

True to the ethos of African brotherhood, the AU and Sadc joined in the crusade against sanctions, with the then chair of the southern African regional bloc, Tanzanian president John Magufuli, saying sanctions had crippled Zimbabwe.

Analyst Chan maintains the anti-sanctions rhetoric will not yield the intended results. 

“The rhetoric will have no effect at all upon the outside world — which would probably be satisfied even with a series of ‘summit’ dialogues between Mnangagwa and Chamisa,” Chan said. 

On Monday, Mnangagwa had his usual praise singers, including China, singing the anti-sanctions song.

“Sanctions spook investors, disrupt financial transactions btw (between) Zim & foreign countries, disable Zim from accessing lines of credit from intl (international) financial agencies.They are hurting all the people of the country. Our position against sanctions imposed on Zim is consistent, resolute & clear,” Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun wrote on Twitter.

However, amid the sham anti-sanctions day, Mnangagwa knows what should be done. 
The West has unequivocally demanded concrete reforms, which Mnangagwa’s headstrong regime continues to negate. 

Since 2018, Zimbabwe’s human rights record has worsened due to killings, abductions, security service brutality and clampdown on civil rights, including freedoms of expression and assembly. 

In the full glare of international media, the government has arrested pro-democracy activists, journalists and political activists, some of whom are still locked up without trial.  
Mnangagwa has succeeded in emulating his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, who plunged Zimbabwe into pariah status until his death.

Zimbabwe has since 2018 lost the goodwill of former coloniser Britain, which maintains that sanctions affect only a few individuals. 

“I love buying Zimbabwean blueberries in the UK. UK sanctions don’t stop trade.

They are about stopping human rights violations and corruption,” British ambassador Melanie Robinson said. 

The British sentiment on the kind of governance Mnangagwa has presided over the past three years is also testimony to the fact that Zimbabwe has lost the goodwill of the former colonial master, which was Harare’s leading cheerleader during the military coup that swept Mnangagwa to power. Britain was Zimbabwe’s biggest cheerleader after the 2017 coup and remained so until January 2019 when the then UK minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, declared that Whitehall would no longer support Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth and the country’s attempt to woo back foreign funders.

While the West maintains a tough stance on Zimbabwe, the government should not only clamour for the removal of sanctions but also prove that it can walk the talk on reforms.

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