On March 4, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump extended by one year Washington’s long-standing targeted sanctions on 141 entities and individuals, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in Zimbabwe. In a letter addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, Trump stated that “the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States”.
On Friday, State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino explained that the United States’ sanctions are “not comprehensive sanctions”. Rather, they’re targeted sanctions targeting certain “senior officials in the Government of Zimbabwe that have participated in human rights abuses related to political repression, or they’ve engaged in facilitating public corruption by senior officials.”
We believe that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has yet to implement the political and economic overhaul required to improve the country’s reputation with the community of nations, and with the United States, frankly… The actions of the targeted individuals continue to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes. We’re also seriously concerned about the ongoing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
The United States’ targeted sanctions program has been in place since March 2003, when then U.S. President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13288 (pdf). The text of the program stated that the policies and actions of “certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons,” among them Mugabe, Mnangagwa, and now-Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, “to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions, contributing to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Zimbabwe, to politically motivated violence and intimidation in that country, and to political and economic instability in the southern African region, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States”.
Mnangagwa initially grabbed power in November 2017 through a military coup that forced Mugabe to resign after nearly 37 years of bloodstained rule. He is implicated in the Zimbabwean state’s 1980s Gukurahundi massacre of 20,000 members of the Ndebele-speaking minority in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. As national security minister between 1980 and 1988, he oversaw the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), Zimbabwe’s dreaded secret police.
Mnangagwa’s July 2018 presidential election “victory” was tainted by widespread voter intimidation and security forces’ extra-judicial killing of unarmed protesters. Then members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces shot and killed seven unarmed people in Harare during protests against alleged election rigging. The killings betrayed a planned and calculated state terror campaign aimed at permanently silencing the opposition.
Crimes against humanity
In January, Zimbabweans heeded a call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimbabwe’s largest labour organization, for a 3-day national protest against Mnangagwa’s decision to hike the price of fuel by 150%. The government unleashed the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), and suspected ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) party militia, on the protesters.
In a report (pdf) released in February, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum articulated the “crimes against humanity” committed by the three groups:
The systematic and sustained nature of the violations raises fear that this is becoming a case of crimes against humanity… To date, the violations include at least 17 extra-judicial killings, 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including dog bites, 954 arrests and detention (including dragnet arrests), among other violations.
Mnangagwa justified his government’s brutal response to January protests. Last month, he threatened to punish doctors who treated Zimbabweans injured during the protests, as well as the lawyers who’re defending some of the more than 1000 arrested.
Meanwhile, the Mnangagwa regime’s attack on the opposition and civil society continues. More than half a dozen opposition MPs have been charged with treason, which attracts a death sentence or life in prison, for their alleged role in the anti-government protests. According to The Standard, a highly-respected Zimbabwean weekly, those charged with treason “include Zimbabwe’s youngest Member of Parliament Joana Mamombe (Harare West), #ThisFlag founder Pastor Evan Mawarire, outspoken Kuwadzana MP Charlton Hwende and MDC Alliance organising secretary and MP Amos Chibaya. Others are Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leaders Japhet Moyo and Peter Mutasa, Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure, Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe director Rashid Mahiya and Zimbabwe Youth Alliance president Kumbirai Learnmore Magorimbo, among others.”
Trump’s recent measures are separate from the U.S. Congress’ Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) of 2001. Through ZIDERA, the Americans sought to “support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law”.
A “fact” published on the official website of the U.S. Embassy in Harare states that ZIDERA “restricts the United States to vote in support of new assistance to Zimbabwe from international financial institutions (IFI’s), except for programs that meet basic human needs or promote democracy.”
Trump renewed ZIDERA when he signed S.2779, the “Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018” (pdf), in to law last August.
Below is the full text of Trump’s letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate:
Dear Madam Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days before the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288 of March 6, 2003, with respect to the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions is to continue in effect beyond March 6, 2019.
Zimbabwe’s national elections in July 2018 offered an opportunity for Zimbabwe to set itself on a new path and to implement reforms that could allow the United States to re-engage in ways not previously possible. While the election itself was an improvement over past elections, post-election violence, credible reports of intimidation and clear bias of the electoral commission kept it from being fully free and fair. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has yet to implement the political and economic overhaul required to rebuild its reputation within the international community and dramatically improve its relationship with the United States.
The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288 with respect to Zimbabwe and to maintain in force the sanctions to respond to this threat.
DONALD J. TRUMP
Once again, Washington has renewed it’s commitment stay in Zimbabweans’ corner as they continue their struggle for freedom from the blood-stained clutches of Mugabe 2.0.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad