THE decision by the European Union (EU) last week to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe drives yet another dagger in the heart of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive, amid fresh allegations of human rights abuses against Harare.
The EU has renewed sanctions against the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), a military-controlled company, over “persistent” human rights abuses. Over recent years, the bloc has been rolling back sanctions, leaving only an arms embargo against ZDI. Travel bans and asset freezes on former First Lady Grace Mugabe, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Philip Valerio Sibanda (pictured) remain suspended.
“In light of its continuing concerns, the EU has reviewed its restrictive measures, recalling their purpose to encourage a demonstrable, genuine and long-term commitment by the Zimbabwean authorities to respect and uphold human rights and the rule of law,” the EU said in its statement last week.
“The EU has decided to renew its arms embargo and to maintain a targeted assets freeze against one company, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, taking into account the situation in Zimbabwe, including the continuing need to investigate the role of security force actors in human rights abuses.”
This comes a few weeks after the United Kingdom joined the United States in slapping sanctions on Mnangagwa’s allies.
The sanctioned securocrats are State Security minister Owen Ncube, Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe Republic Police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, and the former commander of the Presidential Guard, Anselem Sanyatwe.
The US recently slapped sanctions on Mnangagwa cronies, including Ncube and businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei.
This is a far cry from the goodwill the septuagenarian leader enjoyed when he assumed power in 2017, declaring his administration was a “new dispensation”.
During that period, the British government advanced a US$100 million loan through the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the UK’s development finance institution and Standard Chartered Bank to Zimbabwe private companies to re-equip and increase capacity utilisation.
The financial package, the first direct commercial loan by the UK to Zimbabwe in over 20 years, was seen as a vote of confidence in Mnangagwa.
However, the honeymoon was short-lived, as the killing of six civilians on August 1, 2018, during protests over delayed announcement of election results, severed relations between Harare and Western capitals. A commission of inquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, which probed the August 1 post-election violence blamed the security forces for the deaths.
This was worsened by the killing of 17 people by armed forces in January 2019 during a protest against a 150% increase in the price of fuel, prompting widespread criticism.
The arrests of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono over plans to hold a protest on July 31 last year further tainted Zimbabwe.
Western capitals recently demanded an investigation into the 2019 shootings.
The US embassy issued a statement calling for the sanctioning of soldiers and police responsible for the January 2019 killings.
“Two years? When will Zimbabwe investigate, prosecute, and convict government security forces accused of rape, torture, and killing civilians in January 2019?” the US embassy said in a statement.
“Two years is too long to seek justice, answers, accountability.”
The EU’s decision to maintain sanctions, while symbolic, is a strong message to Mnangagwa’s government over their concerns over human rights violations, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“Re-engagement is about repairing what has been broken. The sanctions of the EU, which have been relaxed, are largely symbolic. It is more of an expression of frustration, anger and irritation,” Masunungure said.
“They are saying that human rights have deteriorated. The United States will soon review its sanctions and the writing is on the wall.”
He said the recently appointed Foreign Affairs minister Fredrick Shava, who replaced the late Sibusiso Moyo, who succumbed to Covid-19 complications last year, faces a herculean task to re-engage with western countries given the current hostilities between Harare and western countries.
Masunungure said Shava’s appointment as the chief public relations man is unlikely to yield positive results, considering his past tainted by his conviction over corruption.
He was implicated in the Willowgate scandal in 1988 by the late then Chief Justice Wilson Sandura Commission over the importation of cars and resale at inflated prices.
Shava resigned from the government after giving false testimony to the Sandura Commission.
He was convicted and imprisoned, but was set free after being pardoned by the late former President Robert Mugabe.
“Shava has a more daunting task than SB Moyo. He is burdened with his tainted background as a minister. It is a dirty past. He could be seen as someone approaching the re-engagement table with dirty hands,” Masunungure said.
However, political analyst Tawanda Zinyama believes that western countries should appreciate Mnangagwa’s efforts to re-engage, as evidenced by the US$3,5 billion compensation to white farmers, whose land was expropriated during the land reform programme in 2000.
Zinyama said it takes time for government to implement recommendations as those from the Mothlante Commission.
Delays in implementing reforms, he added, could be a stumbling block to a successful re-engagement process.