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Mnangagwa’s trip of shame


President Mnangagwa’s US re-engagement failure complete



ONE of the biggest ambitions that President Emmerson Mnangagwa haboured when he took over power following a military coup in 2017 was to re-engage the United States and end its embargo on Harare.


 This ambition saw his government forking out a whooping US$500 000 in 2019 in a deal with a lobby firm to canvas for the removal of targeted Western sanctions. However, latest developments show that this goal will now become the biggest failure of his diplomatic charm offensive.

 Mnangagwa and 11 other individuals, who include First Lady Auxillia, were on Monday last week targeted with fresh sanctions under the US Global Magnitsky (GloMag) sanctions programme. Three companies linked to Mnangagwa’s ally, businessman Kuda Tagwireyi, were also sanctioned under the latest punitive measures. They were sanctioned for corruption and human rights violations.

The GloMag programme revoked the Zimbabwe-specific sanctions programme in place since 2003 but tightened the noose on Mnangagwa and his cabal.

 Also sanctioned under the new programme is Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri. Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) leader and Central Intelligence Organisation deputy director Walter Tapfumaneyi, Tagwirei, his wife Sandra Mpunga, businessman Obey Chimuka, police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, deputy police commissioner Stephen Mutamba and Midlands minister of state Owen Ncube are also on the list.

Tagwirei’s Sakunda Holdings, as well as Fossil Agro and Fossil Contracting are also targeted by the US Treasury which accuses the entities of facilitating high-level corruption.

In 2019, Mnangagwa’s government raised eyebrows when it splashed US$500 000 to engage former State Department official who served in the Bill Clinton administration, James Rubin, to be the lead lobbyist for Zimbabwe to shrug off the US sanctions.

The latest development is therefore a major sign the re-engagement drive is totally off the rails.

US embassy officials held a Press conference in Harare to explain the new sanctions regime and it seems the fallout is deepening. During the presser, the US embassy chargé d’affaires, Laurence Socha, said the United States is committed to upholding core values of respect for human rights and responsible, transparent governance.

Socha was quoted as saying: “The United States is committed to ensuring our sanctions are timely, relevant and targeted against individuals responsible for corruption and serious human rights abuses.”

 “In Zimbabwe, we continue to witness gross abuses of political, economic and human rights. The target[1]ing of civil society and severe restrictions on political and human rights [is] a major concern for the United States.”

Socha reaffirmed the US commitment to working with the people of Zimbabwe.

“This sanctions transition is a key factor in the United States’ commitment to working with the people of Zimbabwe. US sanctions are not on the country of Zimbabwe, we are refocusing our sanctions on specific and clear individuals and entities.”

 In December last year, the United States government made an announcement of a new travel embargo targeted at the regime actors responsible for undermining democracy, notably through election rigging or manipulation and corruption.

 The fresh visa restrictions targeted officials at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), Zanu PF, the police and the judiciary.

Those targeted by the new punitive measures were barred from travelling to the US due to their lack of fairness in dealing with electoral matters. Their families will also be denied US visas, secretary of state Antony Blinken announced.

 Blinken said interfering with the independent operation of the judiciary during its adjudication of electoral cases, or abusing or violating human rights in Zimbabwe was unacceptable.

The fallout between Mnangagwa and Washington can be traced to 1 August 2018, when the army was deployed to the streets of Harare to violently crush protests by opposition supporters aggrieved by delays in the announcement of presidential election results. The army killed six civilians and wounded several others.

A commission of enquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe revealed that Zimbabwean soldiers and police used “unjustified and disproportionate” force during the protests.

The commission recommended that those responsible face “internal” discipline. In January 2019, the army again killed 17 civilians and inflicted gunshot wounds on several others while trying to quell fuel price hike protests.

Owen Ncube, who was then the minister of State Security, ordered an internet shutdown. Internet monitoring group  NetBlocks reported the blocking of social media and messaging platforms including  WhatsApp,  Facebook,  Twitter  and  Instagram.

 The disruption was extended to prevent the use of virtual private network (VPN) circumvention tools by demonstrators.

The country’s largest cellular provider,  Econet, confirmed that the government issued a directive blocking all internet access during the pro[1]tests.  After the protests, the High Court ruled that the internet shut[1]down was illegal and ordered it to be restored. The citation of the latest sanctions spotlighted these latest developments.

 “…Mnangagwa also oversees Zimbabwe’s security services, which have violently repressed political opponents and civil society groups,” Socha said.

 “These designations build on recent US government actions, including pausing US participation in the African Development Bank Dialogue and utilising the Department of State’s new visa restriction policy for undermining democracy in Zimbabwe.”

There is hope yet for Mnangagwa’s reform, but the chances are slim, given his lengthy history of violent politics and oppression.

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