THE standoff between the Zimbabwean government and Western countries over sanctions intensified this week as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) joined Zimbabwe, for the second year running, in commemorating the regional call for the removal of sanctions imposed on the country by the West early in the millennium.
Last year in Tanzania, Sadc set aside October 25 as the day to lobby for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe.
The sanctions were placed by the United States in 2001 over what Washington described as gross human rights violations.
Harare, however, maintains the sanctions were retributive measures by the West after the land reform programme beginning at the turn of the millennium displaced white people from farms and replaced them with indigenous farmers.
The European Union also placed the country under sanctions, but these have been mostly relaxed.
Government organised an anti-sanctions march last year and gala last week to drive home the message for the restrictions to be lifted. In a State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week President Emmerson Mnangagwa reiterated his government’s efforts at reengagement with the Western powers but Western diplomats showed their countries were not ready to give in and the toxicity of the relations between Harare and Western capitals was there for all to see.
The Sona, which was held concurrently with the official opening of the Third Session of the Ninth Parliament of Zimbabwe, gave a glowing report on progress on the reengagement front.
Mnangagwa said his government “continues to consolidate” its reengagement efforts; however, the reality on the ground is far divorced from the rosy picture he painted.
Sharp differences between his government and Western countries continued to manifest. Mnangagwa’s government has blamed sanctions for the country’s economic and social ills. Western countries, however, point to government’s mismanagement of the country and corruption as the cause of the country’s economic and social crisis.
“So, last year’s anti-sanctions solidarity day’s events I think were very much designed to distract the people of Zimbabwe from the real causes of the problems in this country,” United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, told a local news outlet in an interview last week.
Nichols said he thought if the government of Zimbabwe put the energy that they put into organising these types of events, and generating statements from other Sadc members, into pursuing the reform agenda that the government campaigned upon and talked about three years ago, in November 2017, and then, in 2018, at the inauguration of Mnangagwa, they would have advanced further in that reform agenda.
He said only then would the conditions that the restrictive measures that the United States, the European Union, UK, Canada, Australia and others have imposed on Zimbabwe be met.
“So, I think this [the regional anti-sanctions lobby] is a really hollow exercise that does not serve the greater interests of the people of Zimbabwe.”
United Kingdom minister for African Affairs James Duddridge also derided claims by Mnangagwa’s government that sanctions have been the major cause of the national crisis.
“The UK stands up for human rights, democracy and rule of law. Our sanctions only target those who disregard these values in Zimbabwe and across the world,” Duddridge wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter. “The UK is committed to tackling corruption and ensuring a better future for Zimbabweans.”
For political analyst Tawanda Zinyama there is a great chasm between Mnangagwa’s pronouncements and the reality on the ground. “When it comes to Sona, I do not read much into what was said. It is the implementation that I am interested in,” Zinyama said.
He said without effective implementation of what he pronounced in his address last week, statements such as Sona would remain classified as public relations management.
The issue of sanctions is not the only issue that has strained relations between Zimbabwe and Western capitals.
Allegations of human rights abuses have also taken centre-stage as a bone of contention. These include the arrest earlier this year of opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.
Ngarivhume, who was organising a nationwide protest against corruption scheduled for July 31 this year, and Chin’ono were arrested by police over allegations of inciting violence and criminal abuse of social media. The arrests were widely condemned, with the government accused of stifling freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.
The EU, the US and the UN, among many other international bodies, voiced concern over the arrests, which they said were a violation of civil liberties.
The trenchant criticism dampened the government’s reengagement initiative, a key deliverable of Mnangagwa’s administration. It showed that deliverable as elusive as it ever was.
Relations between Zimbabwe and Western capitals plunged further with Zanu PF’s acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa telling journalists Nichols was a “thug” and threatening to have him kicked out of the country.
Washington summoned outgoing Zimbabwean ambassador to the United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga over Chinamasa’s remarks. The government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the commission appointed by Mnangagwa and led by former South Africa president Kgalema Mothlante remains another major sticking point.
The commission was appointed to investigate the post-election killing of civilians during protests over the delay in the announcement of election results on August 1, 2018. Among the commission’s recommendations was that those responsible for the shootings should be brought to book.
Mnangagwa’s government is yet to implement the recommendations prompting Western countries to accuse the government of being insincere and paying lip service to reforms.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said there has been no consolidation on the re-engagement front at all.
“I actually see to the contrary,” Mandaza said. “For re-engagement to be successful, they need to take on board what the Western capitals are saying. It is a whole lot of rhetoric without action.”