The United States’ offer to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe could be on the verge of collapsing after Washington expressed irritation at the slow progress by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to draw up the reforms needed to ensure free and fair elections.
In damning comments made at least three months ahead of key presidential and parliamentary elections, US Democratic Senator Chris Coons warned it was “possible” that the US would drop out of the deal to end sanctions if Mnangagwa continued delaying democratic reforms meant to clear the way for a free and fair poll due between July and August.
Coons said he was optimistic after meeting Mnangagwa last month that an agreement had been reached.
A five-member delegation of US Senators visited Zimbabwe from April 6 to 8, consisting of Senators Coons, Jeff Flake, Cory Booker, Michael Bennet and Garry Peters, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to assess the political situation in the country, and said Mnangagwa promised he would produce reforms and, ultimately, elections acceptable to all.
But Coons said Mnangagwa was not walking the talk in ushering democratic change as promised, which will result in the lifting of sanctions.
“President Mnangagwa, both in our personal meeting, which was positive and terrific and very long, and in public statements, both in the press conference afterwards and in an editorial published in the New York Times has committed himself to democracy, to free and fair elections, to protecting human rights, towards returning to a rules-based, open economy,” Coons told CGTN Africa.
“If he takes those steps, sanctions relief should be forthcoming from the United States and Senator Flake and I would take the action necessary in the American Congress to accomplish that.
“But, frankly, after what was a very encouraging meeting a few weeks ago, we’ve seen no concrete steps in response. The amount of time left before the election is shrinking, so the importance of taking prompt, concrete steps to demonstrate the president’s commitment to democracy is becoming more and more important.”
He said Mnangagwa should ditch the rhetoric and start implementing electoral reforms.
“There’ve been some encouraging initial meetings with opposition parties but no concrete steps. So whether you look at EU (European Union) Standards, AU (African Union) Standards, Sadc standards, there are standards for free and fair elections, that don’t vary significantly. I just urge …Mnangagwa and his administration to take concrete steps, soon,” Coons said.
On prospects of lifting sanctions imposed on Zanu PF officials, Coons said, “Relieving sanctions would provide significant economic lift for Zimbabwe, both because it would then encourage foreign direct investment, re-establishment if robust economic ties, and it would bring engagement with the Western world for Zimbabwe which has been an increasingly isolated challenged and impoverished country, over the decades of former president Mugabe’s rule.”
The visit by the Congressional Delegation came at a time when Senators Coons and Flake introduced a bill to lay the framework for US relations with the new government in Zimbabwe.
The proposed legislation sought to update the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (Zidera) and set steps Zimbabwe needs to take to have targeted sanctions lifted.
With ousted former president Robert Mugabe’s relations with the West having been toxic for most of the past two decades, the US government has to date been renewing its targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe and the country’s then top leadership.
But last month, Washington introduced a Bill which amends the biting Zidera, which introduced tough sanctions against Mugabe personally, as well as many of his senior officials and State entities.
The new Bill, now referred to as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018, does not only contain conditions which are specific to Mnangagwa’s new dispensation — but if these conditions are met, will see President Donald Trump’s administration completely removing the current sanctions and re-establishing wholesome relations with Harare.
On their visit to Zimbabwe, the delegation met civil society, political parties and representatives of government including Mnangagwa.
According to the Bill, the US will fully embrace Zimbabwe if Mnangagwa’s government implements a raft of measures which include setting up an independent electoral body; allowing Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to vote; this year’s elections being both free and fair, and taking place without the involvement of the country’s military.
Other conditions that are included in the new Bill are that the government releases without cost to all registered political parties print and digital formats of the biometric voter registration roll.
The US senator said Washington was ready to help revive Zimbabwe’s economy.