As the United States gears up for the swearing in of Joe Biden on Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has called for the lifting of US sanctions against his country. He reasoned that the US has no right to punish other nations in the name of democracy after the insurrection at the US Capitol. However, Zimbabwe’s own human rights record looms over the two year anniversary of a brutal protest crackdown.
Supporters of outgoing president Donald Trump, incited by his comments on social media to take back the presidency, took it upon themselves to storm the Capitol in Washington DC on the 6 January. Five people were killed in the violence.
While the world looked on in horror, the US House of Representatives quickly voted to impeach Trump, a request to be examined by the Senate after its recess ends on Tuesday.
“Donald Trump epitomizes the sort of third world mentality that elections are about winning at all costs, even if it means discrediting institutions that were promoting fairness,” says Rejoice Ngwenya, the director of Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions, or COMALISO, a Harare-based policy think tank.
Ngwenya says that while it would be naïve to condemn democracy on the basis of that one event, it has dented the image of the US as the “last frontier of democratic sanity.”
Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa feels the United States lost much credibility in those few hours, as he expressed on Twitter.
“Last year, President Trump extended painful economic sanctions placed on Zimbabwe, citing concerns about Zimbabwe’s democracy. Yesterday’s events [6 January] showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy. These sanctions must end.”
“That however, does not de-legitimize America’s right to promote democracy in Zimbabwe,” Ngwenya says, adding that the US consistently and carefully listens to Zimbabwean human rights groups, who are vocal in their condemnation of suppression of rights and speech.
Tuesday marks the two-year anniversary of the excessive force used by Zimbabwean security forces to crush a protest throughout the country against rising fuel prices. Human Rights Watch, a US-based international human rights watchdog group, reported that at least 17 people had been shot dead, and 17 women had been raped.
As summed up in a tweet by the US Embassy in Harare, it called for the investigation and conviction of those who carried out those acts of violence two years ago under the Mnangagwa administration.
“We still have political prisoners, the opposition is harassed, and journalists are imprisoned,” says Ngwenya.
He is referring to the recent number of arrests carried out by the Zimbabwean security forces: Allan Moyo, a pro-democracy campaigner, who has been in remand prison for more than 40 days.
Fadzayi Mahere, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer arrested and charged with publishing or communicating falsehoods, was released on bail after spending a week in prison.
Job Sikhala, opposition party Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) was denied bail on 15 January, and will remain in prison until he returns to court on 18 February, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
This includes journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been arrested for the third time after uncovering graft in Covid-19 supplies tender case.
The US has levied economic sanctions against Zimbabwe for human rights abuses and corruption since 2002, which includes targeting 141 individuals, including Mnangagwa. He predecessor Robert Mugabe, repeatedly claimed that sanctions were what was ruining the country for Zimbabweans.
“Ordinary people don’t have accounts in Switzerland; ordinary people do not import Ferraris from Italy. Ordinary people do not shop at Harrods,” says Director Ngwenya.
“What affects ordinary people are bad economic policies and oppression– it is only those who benefit from chaos and corruption are affected” by sanctions, he adds.
He says that Zimbabweans simply want a good, democratic, sensible government.
“The ones that talk about sanctions are the ones who are guilty,” he adds.
While all eyes are on the US when Biden takes power on Wednesday, Ngwenya contends that the US will remain committed to Zimbabwe, but will not lift the sanctions.