PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration must forget the idea of having sanctions imposed by the United States lifted unless he moves to jail soldiers accused of killing six civilians in the deadly post-election violence that rocked the country last August, a top diplomat has said.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Matthew Harrington, while admitting that the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe had shown an improvement, also demanded that Mnangagwa goes ahead with repealing repressive laws around the media.
“Any goodwill from the international community that might have been generated by an improved election process dissipated as a result of several problematic developments,” Harrington told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Six people were killed while dozens were left with gaping gunshot wounds after violence broke out in Harare.
Angry protestors tried to besiege the election command centre in the capital demanding the release of presidential election results, two days after voting.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is constitutionally allowed a maximum of five days but reports of rigging irked pro-opposition supporters.
Mnangagwa deployed the military which used live ammunition leading to the deaths.
A commission of inquiry headed by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe found the military guilty of using unnecessary force and the opposition MDC of instigating the violence.
Harrington also cited the protests in January that left another 17 people dead.
“In addition, in January and February (2019) the army launched a sustained crackdown on citizens in response to their protests over fuel price increases.
“We welcome a better relationship with Zimbabwe, but the ball is very much in the Zimbabwean government’s court. If there’s real, concrete progress in the areas laid out in the ZDERA legislation, Zimbabwe will find a committed partner in the United States,” he added.
In 2001, the US passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zdera), imposing travel restrictions and asset freezes on over 200 individuals and entities accused of abetting human rights violations.
Then President Robert Mugabe argued the sanctions were a reaction to his land expropriation programme that also left a number of people dead and initially aimed at redressing colonial land holding imbalances.
President Mnangagwa’s economic adviser Ashok Chakravarti, who also spoke after Harrington at the CSIS event to discuss “Zimbabwe’s burgeoning food crisis” on May 1, said the US sanctions had created a perception problem for Zimbabwe.
“Zdera does make a difference to trade and commercial flows, not legally. International markets don’t necessarily work purely on the laws in place. Perception is terribly important,” Chakravarti argued.
“Some years ago, we had 40 correspondent banks which dealt with Zimbabwe. It’s a fact that there are only about half a dozen banks that are willing to do business with Zimbabwe now because of the perceived risks. It has nothing to do with whether there’s a specific law in place.”
Chakravarti revealed he had his child’s school fees who is studying in the US blocked because the funds had originated from Zimbabwe.
However, Harrington insisted Zimbabwe had shown little political will to have the sanctions lifted by “doing the right things.”
“The government are saying some of the right things but it is falling short when it comes to concrete actions. There are some steps the government could take to demonstrate it is serious about improving rule of law and respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.
“It could repeal POSA (Public Order and Security Act) and AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act), two laws long emblematic of a repressive regime. It could stop using the army to harass and intimidate citizens who exercise their fundamental right to free speech, and it could hold accountable those members of the security services who have abused their fellow citizens,” argued Harrington.
The US diplomat added: “Those simple actions would send a strong signal to Zimbabweans and the international community that Zimbabwe is on a very different path and genuinely committed to embracing democratic institutions and values, and to becoming a more responsible member of the international community. And not one of those steps, I would point out, requires outside assistance. The government could take any one of them today. The fact that it has chosen not to do so raises questions about the genuineness of its commitment to put the country on a much different trajectory.”