As Zimbabwe was wrapping up its day of national activities to protest against sanctions, as called for by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the United States, which has the highest number of the country’s government, ruling Zanu-PF party officials and several businesses on its targeted list, announced the addition of Owen Ncube, Minister of State for National Security in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Office, to the list of more than 140.
In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said he designated Ncube for “his involvement in gross violation of human rights in Zimbabwe.”
A proponent of sanctions on Zimbabwe is former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and also former Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Johnnie Carson, who says the sanctions must stay because Mnangagwa’s government has not reformed.
“I think that the sanctions against Zimbabwe are targeted sanctions. Those sanctions are against individuals, their family members, and particular entities that have been most responsible for undermining Zimbabwe’s democracy and human rights, and social fabric. I think those sanctions should in fact remain in place until we see some more serious fundamental changes in Zimbabwe.”
Mnangagwa and his government contend that they are making the changes recommended by the U.S. in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018 (ZIDERA) such as appealing the controversial media law, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), and also opening up political space by engaging opposition politicians, and argue the sanctions should be removed as a result.
Speaking at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Friday, where the anti-sanctions protestors gathered, President Mnangagwa accused the U.S. of setting unrealistic standards for his country.
“No amount of propaganda can spin or sugarcoat this gruesome truth. The continued judgment and setting of utopian standards for Zimbabwe, which are never applied in any other jurisdictions, are callous, vindictive and should not be allowed to continue. This is the basis on which we say, enough is enough. Remove these sanctions."
Carson acknowledged efforts by Mnangagwa’s government to reform, but said they are not enough.
Responding to SADC’s decision to show solidarity with Zimbabwe against the sanctions, Carson said while it’s important for the U.S. to listen to the region’s views, he urged the regional body to hold Zimbabwe accountable for the state of the economy and allegations of human rights against its citizens.
“I think it's important that the U.S. take into account and listen to the views of the leaders across SADC. Southern Africa has some of the strongest democracies in Africa. They have some of the best run and best managed countries on the continent. But I think it's also very important that the leaders of SADC encourage continued serious political and economic and human rights reforms in Zimbabwe itself.”
The African Union Ambassador to Washington, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, however, takes issue with the U.S sanctions and any other western country, arguing that the restrictive measures are unfounded, because Zimbabwe is changing.
Right now as the sanctions exist in Zimbabwe, they are unfounded and need to be lifted and be lifted immediately. They are unfounded. The people who are suffering is the average men and women on the streets. Everybody knows no one.”
Responding to allegations raised by the U.S. regarding the level of corruption, and also violations of human rights, Chihombori-Quao says while she does not dispute that corruption and human rights abuses are happening, sanctions are not the answer.
“There is corruption everywhere. I'm not saying we don't have corruption. There's corruption everywhere. But when you are dealing with small economies it makes it even more difficult … Which brings me to the first question that you asked, the position that SADC has taken. It’s a commendable position. It’s a position that I think should be taken to the next level – as SADC they should have a single currency, that way these fluctuations, situations, economic decisions, political decisions will not affect a country to this extent.
On allegations of human rights abuses, Chihombori says those should be looked into on a case by case basis.
“Yes, things happen, this is a country. I'm not saying everybody is perfect. Don't get me wrong OK. It's not going to take these four, five situations and blow them up and allow those situations to affect 16, 17 million people. That's what I'm saying. We need to look at them. Issue by issue. Yes, if somebody disappears, we need to investigate, the international community should go in and go in and look at that particular situation, but not allow it to bleed into affecting the rest of the whole country t. That is that's the one country that is just wrong.”
Despite the condemnation of sanctions from SADC, Dr. Chihombori Quao and others, International Crisis Group senior consultant for Southern Africa, Piers Pigou, believes no amount of outcry will shift the U.S. position on Zimbabwe sanctions.
Agreeing that the sanctions have not really had significant impact, Pigou argues that the government of Zimbabwe is benefitting from using the sanctions as an excuse for its failed policies.
“This is part of a choreographed political maneuvering. What's interesting is that there is an increasing sense that actually the Zimbabwean government is not that interested to see these measures being lifted that it suits them to happen in place. And it provides them with a kind of a political comfort blanket which it can use for solidarity purposes in the region.”
Pigou adds that by showing solidarity with Zimbabwe’s government for the lifting of sanctions, SADC appears to have turned its back on the issues around which the sanctions have been imposed.
“The tragedy in this process is that it reflects a fundamental lack of understanding by SADC member states about what these measures really are and what they are responsible for and the role that they can or cannot play in the projected recovery of the Zimbabwean economy."
Zimbabwe’s opposition groups including the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have argued that Zimbabwe’s government has imposed sanctions on itself, and should reform for the country to recover.