UNITED States President Joe Biden (pictured) has renewed sanctions on Zimbabwe’s political elite for undermining democratic processes and failing to reform.
Biden cited the “absence of progress on the most fundamental reforms needed to ensure the rule of law, democratic governance, and the protection of human rights”, as justification of maintaining sanctions on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Biden, who came to power after a disputed victory over Donald Trump, extended the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288 of 6 March 2003 in respect to violations by certain members of the Zimbabwean government.
This is Biden’s first executive order in relation to US foreign policy towards Zimbabwe, which has deteriorated over the years.
The extension of the national emergency, effective 6 March, comes after four top security chiefs were slapped with travel sanctions and asset freeze for their involvement in the 1 August 2018 post-election shootings in central Harare when six people were killed by police and soldiers and the January 2019 shooting of 17 people, torture and intimidation.
The four are minister of State Security Owen Ncube, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director-general Isaac Moyo, police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga and former Presidential Guard commander Anselem Sanyatwe.
In his notice to the US congress, Biden, who was also instrumental in the crafting of the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) said it was necessary to keep the national emergency in place.
The initial national emergency was declared in Executive Order 13288 of 6 March 2003, with respect to the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions.
“The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States,” Biden said.
“Therefore, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288, as amended, with respect to Zimbabwe and to maintain in force the sanctions to respond to this threat.”
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the president publishes in the federal register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date.
Zimbabwe expected relations between the two countries to thaw but Biden’s order comes as a slap in government’s face.
Newly appointed Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava has a mammoth task to restart the re-engagement drive with the US government.
Shava was sworn in this week and restoring relations with erstwhile Western powers would be top of his agenda.
While his predecessor, the late former Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo failed to make a breakthrough in his re-engagement agenda with the West, Shava will be looking to use his experience working in the US to his advantage.
Notwithstanding his experience with US politics from his stint as the country’s representative at the United Nations, the government’s tainted human rights record, among other violations, will undermine his bid to restore relations that worsened at the turn of the century.
The new foreign minister is also seized with convincing the international community that Mnangagwa is a reformer as he claimed during his inauguration in 2017.
Shava is however haunted by a dark past after he was embroiled in the Willowgate scandal, which could also undermine his re-engagement drive.
Apart from the US, Shava is also seized with restoring relations with the UK which renewed sanctions on Zimbabwe recently.
President Biden accused President Emmerson of failing to entrench political and economic reforms.
“President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not made the necessary political and economic reforms that would warrant terminating the existing targeted sanctions program,” Biden said.
Biden also noted with concerned continued repression by state security forced who last year drew international criticism for several violations on innocent citizens under the cover of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Security forces have also been accused of torture and abductions of human rights activists.
“Throughout the last year, government security services routinely intimidated and violently repressed citizens, including members of opposition political parties, union members, and journalists,” Biden said.
Biden also accused Mnangagwa’s regime of failing to ensure basic reforms for the protection of human rights, saying this left Zimbabweans vulnerable to a repressive regime.
“The absence of progress on the most fundamental reforms needed to ensure the rule of law, democratic governance, and the protection of human rights leaves Zimbabweans vulnerable to ongoing repression and presents a continuing threat to peace and security in the region,” he added.