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Zimbabweans march against targeted sanctions on the country’s leadership, in Harare, Oct. 25, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Thousands of Zimbabweans marched Friday in Harare to protest sanctions imposed on the country's leadership for most of the past two decades.

Protester Gilbert Shumba says the sanctions are to blame for food shortages.

"Let's go and destroy and kick these sanctions," he said. "These sanctions destroy us, they are affecting me, my family, my kids, my dog, my rat, even that wizard which resides in my house, even that cockroach is relying on myself. When I am in hunger, all those things are in hunger."

Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi said Zimbabweans are united in demanding that the sanctions end.

"As Zimbabwe, we are saying enough of these sanctions. These sanctions are making our people to suffer in big numbers, there is widespread poverty," Mutodi said.

The United States and European Union first imposed sanctions on former President Robert Mugabe and dozens of his allies in 2002. The sanctions were a response to what then-U.S. President George W. Bush called a systematic campaign to repress dissent and undermine Zimbabwe's democratic institutions.

The travel and financial sanctions targeted only Mugabe and his supporters, not the entire country. But Zimbabwean leaders, including current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, blame them for blocking development of Zimbabwe's economy.

Ahead of the Friday march, Brian Nichols, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, told media that Harare needed to make changes for the sanctions to be lifted.

"If the government of Zimbabwe were truly interested in the issue of sanctions and considered this a major problem, rather than having a rally, what the government of Zimbabwe would do was make a chart of what the things that the international community is asking it to do, and then come with an argument, saying we have addressed the concerns that you have here with you," he said.

Nichols added that the U.S. has asked Zimbabwe to repeal laws that critics say are used to stifle dissent and media freedom, but the laws remain on the books.

In addition, the ambassador said Mnangagwa's government should address corruption, which he said is causing Zimbabwe's economy to remain depressed.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will on Friday jointly call for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe, which it says has had an adverse impact on the country’s economy.

All 16-member SADC will individually call for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe Friday, as they committed during the regional body’s 39th Summit in Tanzania, in August.

Addressing reporters in Gaborone recently, SADC executive secretary Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax, explained the decision.

“The 25th was chosen or decided by SADC Heads of States when they met in August, just to emphasize that indeed it has taken so long for these sanctions to continue being in place and to be lifted. Every member state is at liberty to choose any kind of activity which they feel that is going to have an impact and to add voice.”

The countries are echoing Zimbabwe’s claim that targeted sanctions, imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and others, over allegations of human rights abuses, rigged elections and forceful takeover of land from white farmers, are hurting the economy.

Imposed during the leadership of then President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has argued that contrary to the West’s claim that the sanctions are targeted to specific individuals and entities tied to the ruling Zanu-PF party, the sanctions are broad and are hurting the citizens.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa made this point at the 74th Session of United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“These sanctions constitute a denial of the human rights of the people of Zimbabwe to develop and improvement of their quality of life. Furthermore, the sanctions are slowing down our progress, inhibiting our economic recovery and punishing the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo has released findings on the impact of the sanctions, which Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa shared to reporters during a recent post-cabinet briefing, in Harare.

“The minister stated that Zimbabwe had lost at least $42 billion on account of the sanctions. Despite the sanctions being labelled as targeted, the sanctions have and continue to inflict pain on the rank and file of Zimbabwean citizens, especially women and children.”

Applauding SADC’s support in calling for the lifting of sanctions, Mnangagwa demanded the immediate lifting of what he termed illegal sanctions.

“Those that imposed illegal sanctions must heed this call and lift them now.”

Lawrence Tax said SADC’s move to pile pressure on western countries is overdue.

“This process has been there. Zimbabwe has tried for quite a number of years, SADC has also been trying to work together with Zimbabwe for a number of years, but we are not seeing results. So what is happening now is to emphasize that indeed, allow Zimbabwe to enjoy their political independence. They can only enjoy their political independence if the political independence is accompanied by social economic development.”

The U.S. has two sets of sanctions on Zimbabwe - Executive Order 13288 which includes travel bans and arms embargo, and also the recently amended Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018 or ZIDERA which calls for certain reforms to enable Zimbabwe to, among other things, access loans from financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Matthew Harrington, explains.

“We don’t have sanctions in place on the people of Zimbabwe. There two categories of sanctions, one is the ZIDERA which is not taking effect yet because ZIDERA refers to debt relief and new lending and that to happen there is need for some conditions to be met, those conditions have not been met. So, ZIDERA provides a roadmap to the future but hasn’t been called to effect yet. There is a second category of sanctions, targeted sanctions focusing on individuals that have been determined over the years to have played a negative role in the undermining of democratic institutions and processes.”

Reacting to the accusations that sanctions hurt the ordinary citizen, U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols said Zimbabwe’s biggest sanctions are placed on the country itself by corrupt government and ruling party officials, who he said have contributed to the poorly functioning economy.

Nichols challenged the government to address corruption in the Soviet-style Command Agriculture program aimed to boost production, tampering of the Old Mutual Implied Rate, and also abuse of the parastatal company, Zimbabwe National Roads Administration.

“The biggest sanctions on Zimbabwe are the sanctions Zimbabwe puts on itself. $3 billion in accounted for spending in Command Agriculture, that money going into private companies that jack up the exchange rate up to 27 on the OMIR, so those types of problems, ZINARA losing $25 million unaccounted for and all its executives building luxurious homes…”

But many Zanu-PF and government, deny these allegations. Former Zanu-PF Member of Parliament, Malachi Nkomo, the U.S. is trying to bring Zimbawe to its knees.

“What we are trying to do as Zanu-PF government is to show the whole world that we are suffering just because of these sanctions that have been targeted to our leaders and country as a whole. Its not our leaders only who are suffering, but everybody in Zimbabwe is suffering because of these sanctions that have been bestowed on us.”

Harrington said Zimbabwe can only expect better relations with the U.S., including the lifting of sanctions, if the country addresses issues of human rights, corruption and economic mismanagement.

“We would welcome a better relationship with Zimbabwe, but our view, and we welcome some of the change in tone and commitments but we would very much like to see those commitments translated into action on the ground. If they are that would lead to a better relationship with us, that’s the bottom line.”

Former Zanu PF Insiza South Member of Parliament Malachi Nkomo says public protests organized by the ruling party and SADC are designed to show the world that the sanctions are real.

“What we are trying to do as Zanu PF government is to show the whole world that we are suffering just because of these sanctions targeted on our leaders and the country as a whole. It’s not only our leaders who are suffering but everybody in Zimbabwe is suffering because of these sanctions.”

United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols says only 141 people and companies are on the country’s sanctions list. Zimbabwe has hired some companies in the United States to campaign for the removal of the sanctions.

SADC to Call for Lifting of Targeted Sanctions in Zimbabwe
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