Isolated Zim seeks regional alliances

BY BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

WHILST Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming isolated on the international stage, with the United States of America expected to tighten sanctions against Harare in the coming week, the southern African country is now closing ranks with its neighbours and other regional nations.

This week, Zimbabwe hosted bi-national commission meetings with Botswana in the capital where the two countries signed several agreements and committed to stronger relations, which had soured during former president Robert Mugabe’s rule. President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi chaired the last leg of the three-day meetings.

Zimbabwean officials were, however, left with egg on the face after the Botswana government denied it would provide a US$600 million credit facility to Harare after state media had reported a breakthrough in securing an economic rescue package.

Botswana’s permanent secretary in the president’s office Carter Morupisi issued a statement denying that Gaborone had committed to such a facility, describing reports quoting Foreign Affairs permanent secretary James Manzou on the loan facility as “unfounded”. Botswana said this was a private sector facility not a bailout.

This follows another rebuff by South Africa of a request for a US$1,2 billion emergency credit bailout.

However, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team will be jetting into Zimbabwe on March 12 for another bi-national commission meeting with Mnangagwa and representatives from government, state enterprises as well as business.

The commission will cover a number of sectors, among them health, transport and trade.

Sadc has also thrown its weight behind Zimbabwe with its chairperson, Namibia President Hage Geingob, saying in a statement the regional bloc was in support of Mnangagwa and his government. Geingob’s statement came at a time the Mnangagwa administration was under fire for sanctioning a military-led crackdown which human rights organisations say left at least 17 people dead, scores injured and numerous women raped.

The killings came after the August 1, 2018 shootings, where the army killed at least six people a few days after the elections.

Less than a week after the Sadc statement, the European Parliament published a statement condemning the human rights violations, which included an internet shutdown, a violent crackdown on dissent and the breakdown in the rule of law. The EU Parliament also called on the European Council to slap more restrictive measures on Mnangagwa’s government.

The EU resolved mid-February to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe, with the bloc’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, saying there was dissatisfaction with the slow pace at which promised reforms were taking place.

The international isolation is also being worsened by the tightening of sanctions by US President Donald Trump, who is due to review executive orders on the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) on Zimbabwe this coming week.

“Since 2003, the President of the United States has maintained targeted sanctions on individuals and entities in Zimbabwe for undermining democratic processes and violating human rights, implemented under Executive Orders 13288, 13391, and 13469 pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. That basis for the targeted sanctions must be reviewed annually, and at the President’s discretion, he can sign a notice of continuation of the national emergency with respect to Zimbabwe,” US embassy spokesperson Stacy Lomba said this week.

The Independent understands the sanctions will be extended in view of the gross human rights violations blamed on the Mnangagwa administration.

The Ofac list is targeted at companies, entities or individuals linked to undermining democratic processes and institutions in Zimbabwe.

US targeted sanctions currently apply to 85 Zimbabwean individuals and 56 entities (mostly farms and legal entities owned by the 85 individuals).

Mnangagwa has been criticised for failing to implement far-reaching economic and political reforms.

This week, the German ambassador to Zimbabwe, Thorsten Hutter, told the Independent this week that his country was willing to engage with Zimbabwe provided that political and economic reforms were implemented.

“In terms of political reforms, this includes among other things a commitment to upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights. The government has on numerous occasions pledged its commitment to political and economic reforms. Let me underline that these reforms are not to be implemented for Germany’s sake, but for the sake of Zimbabwe.

Recent events have cast a shadow over the government’s willingness to implement reforms. I hope that this commitment will be upheld.

“The Zimbabwean government has been arguing that its reaction to the protests was necessary in order to protect rights of citizens, including their property, and to restore law and order. I want to underline that governments have the responsibility to do that. However, the crackdown has resulted in deplorable deaths and numerous human rights violations have been reported. These incidents obviously raise the question, if the reaction by the government was proportionate. The President has announced that incidents of abuses and human rights violations will be investigated. We will follow this investigation process closely,” said Hutter.

Mnangagwa’s government has also lost the support of Britain, which was warming up to it and backing Harare’s bid to re-join the Commonwealth.

London is now demanding reforms, sending signals that the Mnangagwa administration is no different from Mugabe’s ousted government, with heated debates on Zimbabwe taking place in the British parliament.

Although China has remained largely silent, it has spurned overtures by Harare for a bailout package, preferring commercial arrangements.

Russia has been supportive in commercial arrangements, but its support has been solely driven by its demand for platinum and other natural resources.

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