Legislation that would update the United States approach to targeted sanctions on individuals and firms in Zimbabwe was tabled this week in Congress under the name of the Zimbabwe Renewal Act of 2010.
Sponsored by African-American Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey and some 35 other representatives, the legislation aims to retune sanctions to reflect political changes such as the national unity government installed in Harare in early 2009 to resolve an acute crisis following contested and violent elections in 2008.
Gerald Lemelle, executive director of Africa Action which has been advocating such a modification of the Zimbabwe sanctions regimen, commented in a statement that "this is a promising day for everyone who supports democracy and development in Zimbabwe." He called the legislation "a major step forward for the people of Zimbabwe.”
Sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and other top figures of his ZANU-PF party and related companies were put in place with the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, known as Zidera.
The law cited human rights violations and the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. But there have been calls in the past year for a U.S. policy to shift gears to reflect changes on the ground. The new law calls for establishment of a multi-donor human rights trust fund and support for crucial sectors like education, health care and agriculture.
The legislation also calls for the U.S. Treasury to forgive bilateral debts owed by Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, the new act will maintain sanctions on individuals deemed to be continuing to undermine the democratic transition in the country, and will review and update existing sanctions to reflect further developments.
Africa Action Campaigns Director Briggs Bomba told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that he hopes t7he act will be passed quickly by the House and be reconciled with a Senate version to be signed into law.
Some political analysts say Zimbabwe under President Mugabe's continued dominance is not a candidate for relaxation of sanctions, arguing that he has been intransigent in negotiations with his governing partners, in particular Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Relations between Harare and Washington, perceived to be on the mend over the past year and a half since the unity government was installed in Harare, took a sudden turn for the worse this week following hostile remarks by President Robert on Sunday and comments Tuesday by U.S. President Barack Obama questioning his leadership.
Mr. Mugabe triggered a diplomatic row when he castigated the United States and other Western countries in remarks at the interment of his sister Sabina at National Heroes Acre in Harare. President Mugabe told the West to "go to hell" for what he maintained was its interference in Zimbabwean political life.
U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray and his German and European counterparts walked out in protest. Summoned by the Foreign Ministry for an explanation, the diplomats said Mr. Mugabe had insulted their governments.
President Obama focused on Mr. Mugabe in a forum on Africa saying that the Zimbabwean president had come to power in the national liberation process, but today was not serving the Zimbabwean people very well.