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Zimbabwe's Rights Abuses May Dent Hope of Lifting Sanctions

Protestors stage a "illegal" protest
Protestors stage a "illegal" protest

Activists and the main opposition party in Zimbabwe say the country is not ready for the end of U.S. and European sanctions, accusing the government of continued human rights violations. President Emmerson Mnangagwa's sympathizers say lifting sanctions will help country's ailing economy, but economists disagree.

Tatenda Mombeyarara, the leader of the activist group Citizens Manifesto, opposes planned protests by regional leaders to demand the end of Western sanctions imposed on former President Robert Mugabe and his allies in 2002 for election rigging and human rights abuses.

Mombeyarara — speaking while recovering in a private hospital after being abducted by about 10 armed men who he suspects were members of the security forces — said the recent crackdowns by security forces on protesters and a spate of abductions showed that Zimbabwe's rights record hasn't improved.

'Much worse situation'

“So it would be wrong for any body or institution to have sanctions removed on the falsehoods that the human rights situation in Zimbabwe has improved,” he said. “The reality is that they have worsened. We are in a far, far much worse situation. So if we got sanctions because of human rights abuses, what should actually be happening is tightening those sanctions."

Racheal Kamangira, a member of a pro-government group called Broad Coalition Against Sanctions, has the opposite view.
Since February, Kamangira and members of her group have been camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Harare, demanding the sanctions be lifted.

Members of a pro-Zimbabwe government group called Broad Coalition Against Sanctions have been camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Harare, demanding the sanctions be lifted, Aug. 20, 2019. They say sanctions hurt ordinary citizens. (C. Mavhunga/VOA)

"Those targeted ones, if they get sick, they go to other countries to get medication,” she said. “When we get sick, we have no medication. They were targeting our former president. Right now, he is no longer ruling this country. But the ones suffering are ordinary Zimbabweans."

The 43-year old widow said that once the sanctions are lifted, the economy will improve and she will be able to find a job and send her three children to school.

Spending, corruption

But Daniel Ndlela, a former economics professor at the University of Zimbabwe, said Harare first has to cut expenditures and deal with corruption before there can be any economic improvement.

Sanctions, he said, have little to do with Zimbabwe's economic problems.

"The idea [is] that if they are lifted, we will immediately have loans coming through,” he said. “But that won't happen until we service the debts owed to the IFIs — international finance institutions. The money we owe all around is not due to sanctions."

Zimbabwe has been mostly cut off from international loans and foreign investment since the early 2000s because of Mugabe's abuses and policies seen as unfavorable to outside companies.