The decision by President Donald Trump to extend sanctions on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration came after Zimbabwe’s new government failed to meet international obligations, and spurned an offer for a willing partner in the United States, analysts have said.
This means Zimbabwe must brace for further economic turmoil with the renewal of US sanctions.
Analysts warned the renewed sanctions will spread misery across Zimbabwe’s economy, with a recession expected to hit factories and roll back production, especially those that run in partnership with multinational companies barred from the market by US sanctions. Blue-collar families also face the prospect of job losses, worsening inflation, accelerating the decline of the currency and making imports scarcer and more difficult to acquire.
Trump on Wednesday signed into law new sanctions against Zimbabwe, an end to hopes for better ties with the Washington administration.
The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment (Zidera) Act of 2018, which amends the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, was introduced into Congress on March 22.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the legislation, passing a measure that had outlined the steps the southern African country must fulfil for US-imposed sanctions to be lifted, namely the holding of “free and fair” elections.
But the apparent olive branch was taken away soon after the crackdown on protesters was unfurled while the votes were still being counted, in front of many observers, including US observers, with the policy of rapprochement quickly replaced by hawkish calls in Washington for tougher sanctions on Harare if no halt to the crackdown was implemented.
Trump signed the bill behind closed doors, without the fanfare that has customarily accompanied his signing of executive orders.
Heather Nauert, the US State department spokesperson said in a tele-press conference last Thursday that the Zimbabwe elections on July 30 – “were promising, very promising.”
“We thought it was a historic chance to sort of move beyond the political and economic crises of the past and toward a more democratic change and better dialogue in that country. People turned out massively in those elections. We put out a statement just after those elections complimenting them on those elections.
“However, the success in delivering an election day that was peaceful and open to international observers was then marred by violence, which we’ve been seeing and has been heavily reported, at least in the international press, over the past about week and a half. We’ve seen a disproportionate use of deadly force against protestors by the security forces, which is a great concern of ours.
“We’re concerned by those numerous reports of human rights violations since the elections had taken place about a week and a half or two ago. We have received credible allegations of detentions, of beatings, and other abuses of the people of Zimbabwe, particularly targeting opposition activists,’ Nauert said.
“Now, the latest news today is the foreign – excuse me, the former minister of Finance had left to go to Zambia. Zambia returned him to Zimbabwe, we understand. And some of this is still fresh so we don’t have all the details at this point. But I understand he was detained and possibly let go. So I’m going to pause there because some of this is still unfolding, and I don’t want to give you any inaccurate information since it’s still developing.”
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told the Daily News on Sunday that if the crackdown on protesters had not occurred while the votes were still being counted, in front of many observers, including US observers – and if the riot police had not invaded the grounds of the Bronte Hotel where US observers were staying, and if the roundup of MDC activists and politicians in the Harare suburbs and in other towns had not occurred, the US would have held back the new sanctions.
“All the government had to do was wait three weeks to a month for all the observer group reports to be filed – which would have been cautiously and conditionally optimistic – and Mnangagwa’s engagement policy would have borne fruit.
“Someone in his administration couldn’t wait. It was completely incompetent. The observer reports will now be much more critical. Zimbabwe needed US investment. That cannot now come. Without it, Zimbabwe will stay bankrupt,” Chan said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the extension of the US measures show lack of confidence of the international community in Mnangagwa’s new dawn.
“The conditions they gave are easy to meet if the Zanu PF administration really wants to transform and break from Mugabe. So as far as they intend to reduce human rights abuses and other excesses of the State the sanctions are okay.”
Saungweme said these US penalties are likely to hit working-class and low-income families the hardest.
“But we know from experience the economic effects of sanctions have bigger incidence and impact on the poor and weak whom the sanctions seek to protect from abusive dictators,” he told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Also there is growing evidence of the rich despots getting richer and the poor getting poorer during the subsistence of economic sanctions.
“To that extent, I would see the sanctions as doing more harm to the poor than good. The poor will now suffer from a double tragedy of rights abuses at the hands of the dictatorial regime and unpromising economic prospects from sanctions. Dialogue and back channel diplomacy are alternatives to sanctions that work and have less human costs. Americans should adopt these than sanctions,” Saungweme said.
In the wake of the crackdown in Harare, US senators reportedly demanded tougher punishment for Zimbabwean leaders until they scale back their crackdown on the opposition. Diplomatic sources said the senators also urged Trump to keep all options on the table, while keeping the door open to diplomacy.
The new stance from Congress is a sharp departure from the Trump administration’s policy of appeasement and propitiation after the fall of Mugabe, which has pursued a softer line on Zimbabwe as it transitions the presidency.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa had pledged to follow a path of moderation and promised to pursue a reform agenda that would lead to free and free elections.
The White House appeared willing to give the president a chance to put those pledges into action.
But two US senators Christopher Coons and Jeff Flake who visited Zimbabwe’s capital and met with Mnangagwa expressed exasperation that the president had made a commitment to take action, but some of the important actions required for progress towards the conditions for free and fair and credible elections did not happen.
They suggested they were taken down a garden path by Mnangagwa.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said what Trump had put on the table with this amendment been a series of conditions about what needed to be met for the sanctions to be lifted.
“In many respects it looks like the number of conditions has not been met so you can argue the sanctions will not be lifted,” he told the Daily News on Sunday.
According to the Bill, the US was prepare to fully embrace Zimbabwe if Mnangagwa’s government implements a raft of measures which include setting up an independent electoral body; allowing Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to vote; this year’s elections being both free and fair, and taking place without the involvement of the country’s military.
“Candidates should be allowed free and full access to State media, which must afford equal time and coverage to all registered parties in an impartial manner, and must be able to campaign in an environment that is free from intimidation and violence,” reads part of the new Bill.
Other conditions that were included in the new Bill were that the government releases without cost to all registered political parties print and digital formats of the biometric voter registration roll.
Since assuming office in November last year – on the back of a military-assisted intervention – Mnangagwa has embarked on a spirited campaign to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation.
However, his critics have accused his government of not prioritising law and electoral reforms at home.
Pigou said: “So I’m not entirely sure what the way out is now because those conditions appear to be very much tied to the election process, so it depends on how they read these elections. The amendment is about getting conditionalities on how to get sanctions removed, they are not additional sanctions.
“They provide a roadmap for Zimbabwe in terms of how to get these things removed which should be welcomed in terms of at least having some clarity on that set of points which were previously not available in the earlier interaction of Zidera.”
“What happens next is unclear to me. Having some clarity in navigating out of this is important given that there is not going to be an executive override from … Trump, that’s most unlikely and one needs to see the legislation lifted and one can only do that through following the procedures that are set out in the American law.
“Some may well argue that actually those conditionalities makes things more difficult because the bar was too high, but the argument was that the bar was set on the basis of Zimbabwe’s own Constitutional, legal and reform commitments,” Pigou said.
Richard Mahomva, a political analyst, said the latest amendment is a perpetuation of the sectoral interests that the US has served as a vanguard since the time the land was reclaimed in 2001.
“In November 2017 the same Act clearly articulated the tenets of electoral reform in favour of the opposition. The continued altering of the between November 2017 and the present moment substantiates the US’ curious interest on Zimbabwe. It further shows the extent to which the changing tide of political environment in Zimbabwe invited external interest,” Mahomva told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Again, the timing of the current amendment feeds into a narrative which nullifies the credibility of the 2018 election.
“This further indicates the interests and the biases of the US with regards to power contestations in Zimbabwe.”
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