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Mnangagwa and inner circle slapped with U.S sanctions


The United States has sanctioned Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his wife Auxillia, and other senior government officials for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. The sanctions specifically target Mnangagwa’s inner circle of government and business associates engaged in illicit activities like smuggling and bribery. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on three entities and 11 people 

Mnangagwa is allegedly accused of protecting gold and diamond smugglers who operate in Zimbabwe, directing government officials to facilitate the sale of gold and diamonds in illicit markets and taking bribes in exchange for his services, among other offenses.

President Joe Biden also on Monday signed an executive order that terminates Zimbabwe’s national emergency and revokes Zimbabwe-specific sanctions. Now, the administration is using a Trump-era executive order that implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as its authority to issue the sanctions

According to Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, the changes to Zimbabwe’s sanctions regime “are intended to make clear what has always been true: our sanctions are not intended to target the people of Zimbabwe.” Today we are refocusing our sanctions on clear and specific targets: President Mnangagwa’s inner circle of government officials and businesspeople who are most responsible for corruption or human rights abuse against the people of Zimbabwe.

The United States claims these new sanctions are precisely targeted to avoid harming the people of Zimbabwe. However, their assurances ring hollow and seem disingenuous given the West’s history of deception to skirt accountability for the damage caused by broad sanctions. It’s unlikely the US is being fully transparent about the aims and impacts of these measures. Rather, they are most likely obfuscating the truth and making misleading promises to save face on the international stage and control the narrative about sanctions’ effects on ordinary citizens. Their statements should be scrutinized closely rather than taken at face value. Secondly, sanctions that apply on individuals are hypocritical as its main goal is to enforce compliance with a certain social norm. The hypocrisy is that the nation that conveys itself as the human rights protector, is enforcing its social norms on foreign government individuals. 

On social media, government spokesman Nick Mangwana praised the removals, calling it a “great vindication” of Mnangagwa’s foreign policy. But, he said, since Mnangagwa and some companies remain under sanctions, all of Zimbabwe “remains under illegal sanctions.”

The United States first imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2003, citing human rights abuses and undermining of democracy under then-President Robert Mugabe. These sanctions restricted trade, financial transactions, and travel visas for hundreds of Zimbabwean individuals and entities.

Over the nearly 20 years since, Zimbabwe’s government has blamed these sanctions for crippling the country’s economy, triggering hyperinflation, high unemployment, and food shortages. The sanctions have taken a toll, limiting foreign investment, loans, and access to global markets for Zimbabwean companies for two decades. So for the US to now lift those broader sanctions seems a tacit admission they failed to achieve their colonial goals of improving human rights and governance.

At the same time, the US imposing new targeted sanctions on President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his wife, and other senior officials reeks of hypocrisy. Mnangagwa and others are accused of corruption, yet such alleged corruption, at least according to them, was widespread even under Mugabe’s rule when sanctions were first imposed.

Rather than acknowledge decades of sanctions have hurt Zimbabwe’s people more than its leaders, the US instead claims the high moral ground with new sanctions on individuals. But if corruption and abuse were concerns before, Zimbabwe’s people suffered the most from the sanctions that failed for 20 years.

Many see the lifting only as the US no longer willing to isolate Zimbabwe broadly, while targeted measures allow maintaining pressure to achieve certain colonial goals. But after being the original sanctions proponent and defender, the shift seems a reluctant admission of their costs and failure without true accountability.

However, all allegations of corruption have not been proven, and since the broader sanctions were in place before Mnangagwa presidency, shows a great deal of political goodwill that the President Mnangagwa have gained. 

Emmerson Mnangagwa has held senior positions in Zimbabwe’s government for decades before becoming president in 2017. Appointed as Vice President under Robert Mugabe in 2014, he was instrumental in the country’s governance while under restrictive U.S. and EU sanctions.

First imposed in 2003, sanctions on Zimbabwe aimed to freeze the overseas assets of government officials and entities, bar travel, and block most aid funding and trade over human rights abuses and undermining democracy. Though not directly named until later additions, Mnangagwa as a top official operated under the limitations they imposed.

Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF leaders attributed the economic hardship to the sanctions which cut off foreign direct investments and access to global markets. 

Either way, it fell upon officials like Mnangagwa to minimize the sanctions’ damage through responsible governance and service to Zimbabweans. With Mugabe aging, he was positioned as heir apparent though rivals remained wary of his influence. Carrying out duties despite restrictions became a test of his leadership.

According to Mnangagwa, reforms and global re-engagement took priority over perpetuating sanctions grievances. He led behind-the-scenes negotiations to reintegrate Zimbabwe with the IMF and World Bank. And he advocated for increased transparency in the valuable mining sector, governed by an agency he chaired.

Since assuming the presidency in 2017, Mnangagwa has preached reform and re-engagement with the West as critical to legitimize his rule and reviving Zimbabwe’s economy. He hired an American consulting firm to lobby the U.S., resulting in easing of certain sanctions under Trump.

Mnangagwa also passed new investment laws and held largely peaceful 2018 elections to present an image of stability and openness. Even opposition figures see lifting sanctions as beneficial if reforms continue.

With Mnangagwa still hampered by U.S. restrictions as president, his position is nuanced. He must balance the sanctions targeted at him and his inner circle, while managing the opportunity to attract foreign investment and access to the world market for the sake of the population.

The U.S. seeks to thread the needle of maintaining pressure on individuals without punishing Zimbabwe’s public. As Mnangagwa remains under sanction, a great responsibility rests on him to exercise the responsible leadership expected of his office.

Only time will tell if Mnangagwa rises to the task. But after decades serving Zimbabwe under sanctions before becoming president, he has the experience to still work for its benefit even while personally targeted.

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