PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government has a mammoth task in its attempt to convince the United States, European Union, Australia and Canada to lift remaining targeted sanctions after the West declared the July 31 polls largely flawed thereby subverting the will of Zimbabweans.
Although the West continues to indicate it is willing to review sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle if they fully embrace the rule of law, the veteran leader has publicly maintained a hard-line stance, threatening to retaliate against British and American companies operating in Zimbabwe should the two countries maintain the punitive measures he describes as a human rights violation.
Mugabe, as has become tradition, came out guns blazing at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, attacking the West for the continued renewal of sanctions, which he said violated fundamental principles of the UN charter on state sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.
“Our small and peaceful country is threatened daily by covetous and bigoted big powers whose hunger for domination and control of other nations and their resources know no bounds,” Mugabe fumed. “Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies.
“Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country. Political analysts say Mugabe’s utterances were unhelpful in pushing for the removal of sanctions, arguing that Zimbabwe, instead, should opt for a more diplomatic approach to finding a lasting solution to the stand-off.
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton insists sanctions will be reviewed only when Mugabe’s government changes attitude.
“Sanctions were imposed originally against people that we felt were making decisions that were weakening Zimbabwe,” Wharton said in an interview. “Decisions to abrogate the rule of law; decisions to not respect the human rights of people in Zimbabwe and decisions that weakened democratic institutions in Zimbabwe.
“We regularly review the targeted sanctions; they could go, we could add some new names or entities and we can take some off.”
The US imposed targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies in 2003. The sanctions, which ban more than 250 individuals and companies from doing business with the US, were extended in 2009.
The US maintains that a change in their sanctions policy will occur only in the context of credible, transparent and peaceful reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.
The EU has refused to accept the recent general elections as credible despite the Sadc Observer Mission report endorsing the polls, while Britain maintains Mugabe’s re-election could not be deemed credible without an independent investigation into allegations of vote rigging.
“As a bloc we are employing a wait-and-see approach in the hope that the Zanu PF government will improve the well-being of Zimbabweans,” EU Ambassador Aldo Dell’Arricia told the Zimbabwe Independent.
“The EU has not made any major statement on the re-engagement except the recent removal of Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation from the targeted list. But as of now all is in slow motion but moving forward.”
Re-engagement efforts between Zimbabwe and the 27-member European economic bloc intensified during the just-ended inclusive government — nearly a decade after relations had soured over allegations of gross human rights violations at the height of the land reform programme and in the run-up to the elections in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008.
The last visit to the Belgian capital in May by a unity government delegation culminated in the bloc removing over two thirds of individuals and companies from the sanctions list while easing some of the travel bans and restrictions on Zanu PF’s top officials.
Although the inclusive government succeeded in at least reaching out to the European governments, with its representatives shuttling to Brussels for talks which attracted reciprocal visits to Zimbabwe, the new government has so far maintained its hard-line stance at the expense of diplomacy.
Government officials who formed part of the bloated delegation to the UN meeting last week were angered by a reminder from the US government to remain within a 25-mile radius of the UN General Assembly.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Director Pedzisa Ruhanya said Mugabe has to change his policies if sanctions are to be removed.
“It will be difficult to re-engage the West given Mugabe’s misplaced and misdirected undiplomatic rants in New York recently,” Ruhanya said. “In order to have meaningful relations, Zanu PF should change its authoritarian political policies and embrace democratic practices.
Another political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said it is difficult to judge Western countries’ reaction to Mugabe’s re-engagement efforts.
“We have no choice but to re-engage. However, we don’t know how the West will react, but obviously they have a lot to consider,” Mandaza said.