By Pauline Hurungudo
United States president Donald Trump has dealt a huge blow to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s re-engagement efforts with Washington and other Western powers — after he extended America’s sanctions against Zimbabwe by another year.
This comes after Mnangagwa and his senior government colleagues were recently given a stay of execution by the European Union (EU), which last month decided against hitting the country’s under-pressure ‘‘new dispensation’’ with fresh sanctions.
It also comes after Trump had last year raised hopes that his government could finally end nearly two decades of frosty relations between the USA and Zimbabwe — after he sent a powerful delegation to Harare to engage with Mnangagwa, ahead of the country’s historic elections.
“On March 6, 2003, by Executive Order 13288, the president declared a national emergency and blocked the property of certain persons, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706), to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine … democratic processes or institutions.
“These actions and policies had contributed to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Zimbabwe, to politically motivated violence and intimidation in that country, and to political and economic instability in the southern African region.
“The actions and policies of these persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.
“For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 6, 2003, and the measures adopted on that date, on November 22, 2005, and on July 25, 2008, to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond March 6, 2019.
“Therefore … I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288,” Trump said on Monday.
In April last year, Trump dispatched to Harare members of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including influential US Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons — who met with Mnangagwa moments after he had returned from a week-long state visit to China, amid indications then that Washington was ready to consider ending nearly 20 years of Zimbabwe’s isolation by the international community if it held free and fair elections.
Both Flake and Coons had introduced a new Bill to amend the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), which meted out punitive sanctions against former president Robert Mugabe personally, as well as against many of his senior officials and some State entities.
The new Bill, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018, contained conditions which were specific to Mnangagwa’s administration — which Trump said on Monday had mostly not been met thus far.
Mnangagwa, who was feted like a king when he replaced Mugabe in November 2017, initially lifted the mood of crisis-weary Zimbabweans who were hopeful at the time that he would turn around the country’s economic fortunes.
However, the post-July 30, 2018 election shootings — which left at least six civilians dead when the military used live ammunition to quell an ugly demonstration in Harare’s central business district (CBD) — and dozens of deaths during this year’s fuel riots, as well as the subsequent vicious clampdown of dissenting voices — are seen as having dented his international image significantly, in addition to harming his chances of getting financial support from Western countries.
In January this year, police and soldiers were engaged in running battles with protesters who flooded the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other towns — to protest the steep fuel price hikes which were announced by Mnangagwa ahead of his tour of Eastern Europe.
Property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was also destroyed and looted in the mayhem which ensued, after thousands of workers heeded a three-day strike call by labour unions.
At the same time, security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protesters, the opposition and civil society leaders, in a move which received wide condemnation in the country and around the world.
Political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that Mnangagwa and his government had themselves “to blame” for the extension of the USA’s sanctions — “because Trump had given them ample time” to demonstrate that they were different from Mugabe.
“The renewal of the sanctions … against individual Zimbabweans and entities by the US was inevitable in the circumstances.
“No effort, beyond a resuscitated choreography about how unfair these measures are, and the damage they have rendered, has been made to see what might be done to demonstrate why these measures should not be in place.
“Government needs to move beyond posturing and propaganda and should adopt a more proactive and pragmatic approach to these issues, as well as the serious potential obstacles that could be invoked through Zidera in terms of potentially accessing preferential lines of credit once it has settled its arrears payments.
“Indeed, why is the government not seeking real dialogue and engagement on these issues? “The AU (African Union) and Sadc’s calls (for lifting of sanctions) were symbolic gestures of solidarity, albeit misplaced ones … as this sidesteps having to comment on the primary challenges to the economy,” Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said.
“Sadc and the AU could play an important and constructive role in exploring what can be practically done to navigate the way forward.
“If they truly believe that the Mnangagwa administration is walking its reform talk, then they need to demonstrate this to support their arguments.
“This would only have traction if the government was actively making such a case for them to support.
“They have not done so, which really shows you how substantively important this issue is. Indeed, it appears to retain more political importance for domestic and regional propaganda and solidarity purposes.
“The government has not taken this route, and it is clear that the kind of reform progress report it released at the end of February is not adequate in this regard,” Pigou added. DailyNews