HARARE – Influential Americans have expressed disappointment with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government for failing to live up to their promises that were made when the country’s former leader, Robert Mugabe, was ousted from power through a military coup in November 2017.
This comes as President Donald Trump has just extended sanctions against Zimbabwe by another year — after noting that there has not been significant reforms since Mnangagwa took office.
Mnangagwa, who was feted like a king by millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans when he took power, has increasingly battled to provide life to the country’s near comatose economy.
This has recently resulted in the country witnessing deadly riots, which were sparked by Mnangagwa’s announcement of steep fuel price increases.
Reflecting on the performances of the Zanu PF leader and his government since taking power in 2017, former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton — together with fellow diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield — said in a recent opinion that the country had missed a great opportunity to move forward following the dramatic coup.
“Early euphoria has translated to high levels of frustration by a disaffected and marginalised youth population affected by high unemployment, shortages of major staples and scarcity of foreign currency.
“Hopes that Zimbabwe, through Mnangagwa, would be one of those rare examples of a military coup that restores democracy are slowly and methodically being dashed by a military not willing to allow change. Until recent unrest in response to the rise in petroleum prices and high inflation, most Zimbabweans still hoped for reform of the country’s governance and economic systems and some were still willing to give … Mnangagwa time to show that he is the reformer he has promised to be.
“However, recent splits within Zanu PF and a clear lack of control of the military by Mnangagwa … show that the marriage of convenience between Mnangagwa and the military is unravelling,” the diplomats said in their analysis.
Mnangagwa swept to power in November 2017 when the military intervened in the country’s governance, ending Mugabe’s ruinous rule of nearly four decades. This saw Mugabe being put under house arrest — before the nonagenarian resigned dramatically moments before Parliament started damaging impeachment proceedings against him.
The euphoria which followed Mugabe’s fall led to hopes that Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s long-time aide, would chart a different course. Britain and the US were among the countries which dispatched emissaries to Zimbabwe as part of their efforts to strengthen ties which had broken down during Mugabe’s era.
In April last year, Trump sent to Harare members of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including influential US Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons — who met with Mnangagwa moments after he had returned from a week-long State visit to China — amid indications then that Washington was ready to consider ending nearly 20 years of Zimbabwe’s isolation by the international community if it held free and fair elections.
Both Flake and Coons had introduced a new Bill to amend the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), which meted out punitive sanctions against Mugabe personally, as well as against many of his senior officials and some State entities.
The new Bill, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018, contained conditions which were specific to Mnangagwa’s administration — which Trump said on Monday had mostly not been met thus far.
As a result, Trump extended America’s sanctions against Zimbabwe by another year. Political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that the door was still open for Mnangagwa and his government to show the world that they were different from the Mugabe regime.
“In the context of current US political dynamics and the recent violent repression evident in the Zimbabwean State, it would have been difficult to prevent these measures (sanctions) not being rolled over.
“Certainly, the government could be more proactive in engaging the US on these issues and their removal must follow available protocol and navigate existing political realities.
“Much more important at this juncture, however, is for the Zimbabwean government to secure greater clarity on stipulated Zidera reform issues and how it is already or must meet reform criteria to prevent the invocation of … provisions that could seriously stymie efforts to access preferential credit options from international financial institutions,” Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said.
Namibia-based academic, Admire Mare, said Mnangagwa needed to deliver on all promised reforms to prove his sincerity in upholding a new human rights culture in the country.
“More needs to be done beyond aligning controversial laws with the Constitution. Issues like the rule of law, constitutionalism and ensuring press freedom and freedom of assembly are key.
“Reforms are a complicated cup of tea because of the resistance from within, and the attempt to balance off competing interests within the body politic. However, political will often triumphs over such resistance,” Mare said. Another political analayst, Rashweat Mukundu, said Mnangagwa and his government still had time to mend their relations with the US, but everything depended on whether they had the appetite to address issues that had continually exasperated America.
“The good thing about US sanctions on Zimbabwe is that they are on an annual basis, giving the Zimbabwean government the rest of 2019 to address the issues stated in the sanctions law of the Americans.
“It is up to government to study that law carefully and address the issues therein. My understanding is that America has always kept its doors open for dialogue with the government on how these matters can be addressed.
“But more critically, the ball is in Mnangagwa’s court to remove media and anti-democratic laws that restrict not only political freedom, but freedom of expression and to stop the repression that we are seeing.
“So, these are the things that Mnangagwa can address if he is committed to that.
“The sanctions are continuing more as informed by the actions of the Zanu PF government and not necessarily what people may see to be some hidden agenda of the Americans,” Mukundu said.
Analysts have previously said the post-July 30, 2018 election shootings — which left at least six civilians dead when the military used live ammunition to quell a demonstration in Harare — as well as the dozens of deaths during this year’s fuel riots, and the subsequent vicious clampdown of dissenting voices — have dented Mnangagwa’s international image significantly, in addition to harming his chances of getting financial support from Western countries.
In January this year, police and soldiers were engaged in running battles with protesters who flooded the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other towns — to protest the steep fuel price hikes which were announced by Mnangagwa ahead of his tour of Eastern Europe.
Property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was also destroyed and looted in the mayhem which ensued, after thousands of workers heeded a three-day strike call by labour unions.
At the same time, security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protesters, the opposition and civil society leaders, in a move which received wide condemnation in the country and around the world.