The United States government says it is willing to engage Zimbabwe only after genuine political and economic reforms and accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of aping former President Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule.
US has maintained sanctions on the southern African nation since 2001 through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), and sanctioned individuals and dozens of companies associated with the government.
Mnangagwa is among the 141 people and institutions that are still under the US sanctions, which were extended on July 25 this year, days before elections that gave Mnangagwa a five-year term.
The International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, which sent observers to the election, said Zimbabwe lacked a “culture of democracy” in which citizens could vote freely while political parties were treated unequally.
In a statement before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, deputy assistant secretary of State for Africa, Matthew Harrington said Mnangagwa’s government has tried to change “but so far, the pace and scale of reforms has been too gradual and not nearly ambitious enough”.
“The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, recently updated by Congress, has provided a very important tool and clearly identified the reforms we expect: restoration of the rule of law, a commitment to equitable, legal and transparent land reform, and ensuring that military and national police forces are subordinate to the civilian government.”
Harrington cited the clampdown on opposition leaders as a challenge to Mnangagwa’s administration and implored the Zimbabwean government to end a clampdown on the opposition.
“On July 30, Zimbabwe held its first presidential election without Robert Mugabe in nearly four decades. The election took place after a nearly 40-year history of deeply flawed elections, serious human rights challenges, catastrophic economic mismanagement, and widespread corruption,” Harrington said.
“There were some encouraging signs in the pre-election period, including the welcoming of credible international observer groups and foreign journalists, and a more permissive campaign environment for members of the opposition. And election day itself was peaceful, but that has usually been the case in Zimbabwe. Ultimately, however, the process was marred by the army’s use of deadly force against protestors on August 1 and reports of supporters and State agents of the ruling party.
“Zanu PF assaulted and abducted members of the opposition in the weeks that followed. It is clear that Zimbabwe has a long way to go — and requires profound political and economic reforms — to sustainably change the path on which it has been for nearly four decades.”
Since Mnangagwa took over power, Zimbabwe has been working in the diplomatic corridors to convince the US to lift sanctions, as it seeks to secure debt relief and new financial support to revive the faltering economy.
“We welcome the change in rhetoric from the Mugabe years. Since the election, we have seen some promising signs from the government, including appointment of a new, more technocratic Cabinet, announcement of an economic plan acknowledging the need for significant monetary and fiscal reform, and a budget which, if implemented, would make important strides in that direction. So far, however, the pace and scale of reforms has been too gradual and not nearly ambitious enough,” Harrington said.
He said Zimbabwe should be capable of providing for the needs of its own citizens and respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms will be a more responsible member of the international community.
“To reach that end, Zimbabwe will require implementation of fundamental reforms, not merely a commitment to do so. We want Zimbabwe to succeed and would welcome a better bilateral relationship, but the ball is squarely in the government’s court to demonstrate it is irrevocably on a different trajectory,” Harrington said.
He said Zimbabwe should repeal the Public Order and Security Act, and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which have long been used to suppress human rights and which violate Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution.
“Second, the government should immediately end the harassment of members of the political opposition. It should drop spurious charges against former Finance minister and prominent opposition figure Tendai Biti and all those who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Third, the government should allow the commission of inquiry to work transparently and independently, and hold perpetrators of the August 1 violence fully accountable.
And fourth, the government should move quickly to ensure legislation is consistent with the 2013 Constitution, as well as uphold its letter and spirit.”
He said the US wanted a stable, peaceful, democratic Zimbabwe that was genuinely accountable to its citizens and responsive to their needs.