THE decision this week by the United Kingdom (UK) to broaden sanctions on Harare by adding four members of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inner circle over alleged human rights abuses signals frosty relations with the former coloniser.
The fresh embargo has thrown spanners in Mnangagwa’s re-engagement efforts with Western governments.
Importantly, it proves that Zimbabwe’s ruler, after receiving goodwill internationally and at home over pledges to implement critical reforms, after the late Robert Mugabe’s 37-year tumultuous governance, squandered a golden opportunity to rebuild a crumbled economy and introduce key structural reforms.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the imposition of sanctions on State Security minister Owen Ncube, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director-general Isaac Moyo; Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania and former presidential guard commander Anselem Sanyatwe, was meant to add a fresh impetus to calls for implementation of political and economic reforms.
“These sanctions send a clear message that we will hold to account those responsible for the most egregious human rights violations, including the deaths of innocent Zimbabweans,” Raab said in a statement.
“These sanctions target senior individuals in the government, and not ordinary Zimbabweans. We will continue to press for the necessary political and economic reforms that will benefit all Zimbabweans.”
Ironically, when Mnangagwa grabbed power through a bloodless military coup in 2017 that ended Mugabe’s iron-fist rule, London overtly supported the “second republic”, including overtures to support Harare’s readmission into the Commonwealth, which Zimbabwe had quit in 2003.
In 2018, the late Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, met Boris Johnson, the then British Foreign Secretary, and extensively discussed how Harare and London could reset relations messed up by chaotic land seizures in the early 2000s.
Since the military takeover, and the subsequent 2018 disputed election, UK’s rhetoric and stance towards Harare has hardened, as Mnangagwa has proven himself a non-reformist.
Mnangagwa has dithered on implementing recommendations made by the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission that was commissioned to probe circumstances around the death of scores of civilians shot by soldiers in broad daylight in Harare on August 1, 2018 — a day after the national elections.
Part of the recommendations, says the government should compensate victims of the shootings. The United States and the UK urged Harare to deal with the perpetrators, but nothing has been done.
In 2019, state security agents also shot dead 17 civilians in protests that brought Zimbabwe to a standstill after the government had increased the price of fuel by 150%. The killings attracted the ire of the international community.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London, hinted that newly-elected United States President Joe Biden would throw his weight behind the UK’s embargo against Mnangagwa’s regime.
“Sanctions are now modest to the point of sparse, but are symbolic of not just the UK, but international concern over human rights. This will be a view echoed even more strongly by President Biden’s US. The Zimbabwean government is not sending positive symbolic messages of its own,” Chan said.
With Zimbabwe ranked among the most corrupt nations in the region by a recent Transparency International (TI) report, Chan said Mnangagwa’s fight against graft was just a facade, and could scare away fresh investment.
“The constant arresting and re-arresting of journalists who report on corruption in high places suggest to the world that neither the question of human rights nor of corruption is taken seriously by the government. And the presence of corruption makes it difficult for big companies to consider major investment.
“These are connected issues and indicate a regime in which money is kept by a few and freedom is denied to many. Only sweeping reforms, including transparent dialogue with the opposition and the bringing to trial of even senior politburo members for corruption will start to change the image Zimbabwe has constructed of itself,” Chan said.
On the economic front, Zimbabwe’s quest to mend battered relations with multilateral lenders is off the rails after failing to meet milestones under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP). Saddled with a US$10 billion debt, the SMP — on the verge of collapse — was tailored to allow Harare implement robust policies that are key for macro-economic stability.
After London announced the latest round of sanctions against Mnangagwa’s henchmen, the government tried to downplay the sanctions against the targeted individuals, whom it said had no economic and travelling interests in the European country.
Political analyst Prolific Mataruse argued that such incorrigible behaviour would not help extricate the country from a multifaceted crisis, worsened by a checkered human rights record.
“The reflexive reaction is the temptation to send back rhetorical salvos. The other reflex is to ensconce ourselves further with the Chinese. Both reactions do not help our case,” Mataruse said.
South African-based political analyst Mike Mavura said the fresh sanctions by the UK brings into sharp focus the futility of government’s re-engagement drive.
“The UK’s extension of sanctions on Mnangagwa’s henchmen is a marker of the failure of the Second Republic to move the needle in terms of re-engagement with the West. The West has embassies in Zimbabwe, they see the Second Republic’s lawfare against activists. For them, those are key indicators that no reforms have taken place,” Mavura said.