ZIMBABWE’S foreign policy and international re-engagement drive has not shifted from the Mugabe era, as shown by the imposition of fresh sanctions on individuals, analysts have said.
President Joe Biden’s government slapped sanctions on Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Emmerson Jr, and business tycoon Kudakwashe Tagwirei’s wife Sandra Mpunga, Nqobile Magwizi, Obey Chimuka and Fossil Contracting
Agro ahead of the US-Africa Summit which began this week.
The individuals were placed on the reviewed list for their links to Tagwirei, who was sanctioned in 2020 on accusations of using his wealth to cultivate relationships with high-level government officials while receiving state contracts and access to hard currency in exchange for luxury items.
“The Zimbabwe sanctions programme targets human rights abusers and those who undermine democratic processes or facilitate corruption.
US sanctions do not target the Zimbabwean people, the country of Zimbabwe, or Zimbabwe’s banking sector,” says the report.
“We urge the Zimbabwean government to take meaningful steps towards creating a peaceful, prosperous, and politically vibrant Zimbabwe, and to address the root causes of many of Zimbabwe’s ills: corrupt elites and their abuse of the country’s institutions for their personal benefit. The goal of sanctions is behaviour change. Today’s actions demonstrate our support for a transparent and prosperous Zimbabwe,” read a Press statement by the US Treasury.
The new restrictions will immediately clampdown on the targeted individuals linked to Tagwirei’s company.
“As a result of today’s designations, all property and interests in property of the designated persons located in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50% or more in the aggregate by one or more of such persons are also blocked.
“All transactions by US persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons are prohibited, unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt. These prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person and the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person,” read the statement.
Effect on re-engagement programme
The move has been viewed as the latest setback or confirmation of the failure of government’s re-engagement programme.
Forty-nine African heads of state and the African Union were invited to the summit, where Zimbabwe was represented by Foreign minister Fredrick Shava, with Mnangagwa barred by travel restrictions over his human rights record.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan says the US will commit US$55 billion to buttress ties with African states in the next three years.
Mnangagwa, who was catapulted to power by a 2017 military coup that ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, has been making frantic efforts to reconcile with the West.
Since coming to power, Mnangagwa made over 47 trips – between the 2017 and 2022 Zanu PF elective congresses – in a re-engagement drive that has been bogged down by human rights abuses and failure to implement key reforms.
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya says the new sanctions show that Zimbabwe has done little to implement reforms, synonymous with the late former president Mugabe.
“It means that the dialogue between the government of Zimbabwe and the United States post Mugabe has not changed its policies. Its international relations and diplomatic thrust has failed. What it means is that the reforms that the Mnangagwa government promised after the removal of Robert Mugabe have not materialised.
“It is basically a failure of foreign policy, and failure to basically change the foreign policy projections post-Mugabe. Because what we see happening now is what we saw happening under Mugabe.
“These targeted sanctions were put under the regime of Mugabe and his allies, and we see it happening against Mnangagwa and people around him, so there have not been policy shifts and meeting of the minds between the United States and the government of Zimbabwe,” Ruhanya said.
Whilst Harare says sanctions have been hampering economic development, the US has been maintaining that bad governance and corruption in Zimbabwe have been responsible for the country’s decline.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu says there is a need for the US government to empower citizens so they can hold their government accountable.
“Elites may use the sanctions as a scapegoat for their non-performance.
There is need for the Americans to come up with a roadmap that gives citizens, civil society leverage in dealing with their government to say: This is a roadmap to ending sanctions, what are you doing about it?
“What we need is to see improved relations based on reforms by the Zimbabwean government that are clearly agreed by the American government. We need a blueprint that shows what steps Zimbabwe should take as citizens in order to end the sanctions, then we will be empowered to hold our government to account,” Mukundu said.
Closing the civic space
While civil society has been demanding transparency, the government has been accused of making attempts to close civic space.
The Mnangagwa administration ranked worse than the Mugabe administration over human rights abuses in a 2022 report by an independent think-tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI).
According to the report, Mnangagwa has been maintaining a hard stance in a bid to retain power, according to the ZDI report titleD Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023.
Among other reforms aimed at consolidating power, Mnangagwa has been using lawfare against opponents, whilst making political appointments and programmes that intensify militarisation of Zanu PF to bolster his stay in power, according to the report.
ZDI also made an analysis of the civic space between 2014 and 2021, by contrasting Mugabe’s last four years in power against Mnangagwa’s initial four years, whose findings showed continual tightening of democratic space.
2019 saw a 13% decline in state freedom from 44% in 2014 under Mugabe to 31% under Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe has been roping in other government heads to solve a long-standing impasse with creditors and the international community.
This month, Harare engaged the services of former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano to head a delegation that would seek to extricate the country from the debt crisis.
In September, Rwandan President Paul Kagame advised Mnangagwa to start convincing Zimbabweans that things were fine before he convinces the international community. Kagame was speaking on the sidelines of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Kigali, Rwanda.