ZIMBABWE has so much ground to cover before Western powers irked by its bad-boy tag consider calling off damaging embargoes that have frustrated growth for two decades, political and international relations experts warned this week.
The experts were reacting to last week’s renewal of United States (US) and European Union (EU) embargoes, blamed by leaders across Africa of fuelling prolonged waves of crises.
In a notice to the US congress last week, President Joe Biden reiterated that policies of Zimbabwe’s top-ranking officials continued to undermine democratic processes in the country. This was a clear indication that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s re-engagement efforts, which have been ongoing since he came into power in 2017, were failing.
To complicate matters for a leader, who desperately requires crucial world power endorsement to drive foreign direct investment into the country and rebuild an economy that has battled de–industrialisation for 23 years, the EU said it was extending its embargo against the Zimbabwe Defence Industries. It accused the state-controlled arms outfit of underpinning higher levels of repression in the country.
The US enacted the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) in 2001 following what it described as human rights violations by the late former president Robert Mugabe.
The trade embargos have been consistently renewed by different administrations in the US and the EU.
But they have sparked off an explosion of frosty relations between Harare and the west, which has maintained that sanctions are a result of a reform deficit in Zimbabwe.
When Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, he went on an aggressive global offensive to persuade the US and the EU to remove sanctions in the country.
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Zimbabwe splurged millions of US dollars hiring international lobbyists, including Ballard Partners, to help persuade the US to remove the restrictions.
However, these efforts have been in vain.
Demand for reform has remained a prerequisite for the embargoes to be removed.
Mnangagwa spurned an opportunity towards improved relations when he came to power, with so much international goodwill.
This was evidenced by the United Kingdom (UK)’s decision to release of a US$100 million package to fund private sector recovery. It was the first direct funding to the country by the UK in 20 years.
However, the goodwill soon disappeared following two events that occurred after the July 2018 harmonised elections.
Soldiers shot and killed six citizens during a protest over delayed announcement of election results before firing at protestors against steep fuel price hikes in January 2019. As a result of widespread outrage triggered by the killings, Mnangagwa set up a commission led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe to investigate the shootings.
Despite recommendations by the commission, which included compensating shooting victims and bringing to book those responsible for bloodshed, Mnangagwa’s government has not acted five years on.
This has been a major referral point, particularly by the EU on the government’s reform deficit.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said there was need for changes in the behaviour of government for sanctions to be removed.
He added that Mnangagwa missed the opportunity to appease the West when he got the levers of power.
“Mnangagwa lost a golden opportunity in 2018 when he could have conducted what would have been the cleanest election,” Masunungure said. “The post-election violence was made worse by the violence in 2019. If this had not occurred there could have been a chance of some incremental steps towards easing of the restrictions.”
He said the removal of US sanctions would be difficult because they have legal backing.
And the solution to ending the UK and EU sanctions would be compensating white farmers who were expelled from swathes of prime land in 2000.
The failure of the government to implement a raft of reforms, which revolve around elections and the democratic space remains a major stumbling block to the removal of sanctions.
Mnangagwa has been accused of closing the democratic space with the vicious clampdown on demonstrations, banning numerous meetings of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change as well as the arrest of opposition legislator Job Sikhala.
The decision to come up with the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill, which places non-governmental organisations under leash, and the Patriotic Bill, which criminalises those purported to be campaigning against the country has been widely viewed as a further assault on civil liberties.
Lack of seriousness by the government when it comes to reforms means the sanctions will not be removed, according to political analyst Effie Ncube.
“The renewal of sanctions shows that the EU and the US can see through the deception involved in the re-engagement programme,” Ncube said. “Instead of undertaking the painful but necessary reforms that would lead to the lifting of sanctions, the government of Zimbabwe, through its insincere re-engagement, is asking the international community to endorse continued violations of constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms.
“With even more draconian restrictions on the way, like those proposed under the Patriotic Bill, the Electoral Amendment Bill and the PVO Amendment Bill, government is not giving the US, the EU and other countries any reasons why sanctions should be removed.”
It is only through concrete reforms and sincerity from the government that will see the US and its Western allies loosening the sanctions vice, analysts agreed.