'Lift US sanctions temporarily to snatch Zanu PF scapegoat'

HARARE - The United States (US) President Donald Trump must temporarily lift long-standing sanctions against Zimbabwe to undercut a massive government exercise in dishonesty that the targeted measures are at the root of all economic problems and a cash crunch that has forced the government to delay wages to soldiers and civil servants, local author and journalist Peter Godwin has told the US Congress.

Appearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, Godwin suggested that Congress could suspend sanctions on Zimbabwe until elections, to take away the scapegoat that has seen government go in overdrive blaming every other ill bedevilling the nation to sanctions — a narrative that is being swallowed hook-line-and-sinker by the solidarity mob.

Western countries imposed sanctions in 2001 on government over allegations of ballot fraud and crushing civil liberties, while lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) froze financial aid since Harare defaulted in 1999.

This comes as former Finance minister Tendai Biti — who has led a high-powered MDC delegation to Washington DC — delivered moving testimony before the subcommittee where he described the military intervention that enthroned Emmerson Mnangagwa as president as an illegal and illegitimate transfer of power from one faction of the ruling party to another.

With former autocrat Robert Mugabe’s departure, Biti said Zimbabwe now faces an uncertain future, but one which presents real opportunities for reconstructing, rebuilding and re-fabricating a new Zimbabwean story, and a new Zimbabwean society.

Biti, who is accompanied by top MDC alliance leaders Welshman Ncube, Nelson Chamisa and Jacob Ngarivhume, were invited by the State Department to testify before the great centre of American democracy.

Major General Sibusiso Moyo, who appeared on State television on the morning of November 15 to announce the military intervention with the memorable words “the situation in our country has moved to a new level,” and is the new Foreign and International Trade minister, reacted angrily to the “sanctions trip.”

“Zimbabwe’s new government has been in office for shorter than two weeks. It is staggering that these gentlemen should have expected the deeds of 37 years to be corrected and livelihoods improved in such a short time,” he said in a statement.

“As if that myopia was not enough, the trio and others requested their American hosts for more of the same policies which have inflicted suffering on our people.

“How could any serious putative future leader of our country ask that Zidera remains in place?”

Yet, the MDC Alliance never called for maintenance of sanctions but outlined a proposed roadmap to elections as the fundamental precondition to the establishment of a sustainable, just, and free Zimbabwe. The roadmap Biti envisaged was anchored on clear benchmarks such as restoration of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and legitimate civilian rule, electoral and economic reforms and restoring the social contract.

Reacting from Washington yesterday to the brouhaha over sanctions “lies”, Chamisa said: “What we are here for is more about the re-positioning of the opposition than the positioning of the ruling party.

It’s more about the next government, not this outgoing one, the future government not this present one. We are the next government in seven months’ time.”

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said as a patriotic and homegrown political party, “the MDC doesn’t call for the imposition of sanctions against the Republic of Zimbabwe.”

“We would like to participate in the socio-economic regeneration of our beloved motherland and as such, sanctions remain an anathema in our political discourse.

“The government of Zimbabwe should allow all its citizens to enjoy their fundamental rights and liberties as fully provided for by the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“Political parties should be given the leeway and latitude to lawfully go about their day to day activities without any undue interference and or hindrance by any organ of the State,” he said.

The MDC is frequently denounced by Zanu PF as a pawn of white western interests, despite its largely black urban base.

The ruling Zanu PF party claims some whites have never accepted black majority rule and are desperate to get “black puppets” into power to protect their business interests.

Zimbabwe’s hardliner generals have long been regarded as wielding a de facto veto over the country’s troubled transformation process and as likely to block transfer of power to the winners of elections that Mnangagwa insist should take place mid next year should the victors not be the Zanu PF candidate and his Zanu PF party.

Zimbabwe’s generals were behind the 2008 violence that forced opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from a blood-soaked second round vote he had been tipped to win after beating Mugabe in the first round ballot.

Successive elections have been blighted by violence and charges of vote rigging, which saw the European Union and US maintaining sanctions on top Zanu PF members and army generals.

Godwin told the Senate committee: “One is tempted to indulge in a period of blue sky thinking to say we have had these sanctions, these individualised sanctions in place for however long and they have had no effect whatsoever.

“In fact, what they have done, to some extent, critics will say is provided Zanu PF with a very convenient excuse for every time the economy is bad, they say it’s sanctions, it’s sanctions, it’s not us, blame America, blame the EU.”

Godwin said sanctions shield government from the consequences of their own mismanagement.

“Bear in mind, that Zimbabwe as far as I understand has the fastest shrinking economies in the history of peacetime economies….It’s pure incompetence, corruption and patronage.

“…I am almost hesitant to mention this. You flip the sanctions that you have got now… a reverse sunset clause where you say I will tell you what we will do. You have got this new government, we will give you the benefit of the doubt for six months or say until the next elections, we are going to drop all sanctions, but they will automatically go back on if you don’t meet these benchmarks, the benchmarks we have all been talking about. The ones where there is pretty wide agreement on in civic society. That way you take away the excuse of sanctions and whatever.

“… That will be a way to prioritise the carrot over the stick to see if it mixes up and if it works. Personally, I don’t think it will work, but sometimes that can be unlocked,” Godwin told the committee.

The US has said it was prepared to discuss lifting multiple US sanctions on Zimbabwe if it began enacting political and economic reforms.

In a message for Zimbabwe’s political leaders, acting assistant secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto said: “Our position has always been that if they engage in the constitutional reforms, economic and political reforms, and move forward to protecting political space and the human rights, then we can start the dialogue on lifting sanctions.”

The US has not given aid to Zimbabwe’s government for many years, but provides development aid to nongovernmental groups, particularly for healthcare.

Meanwhile, in Harare on Tuesday, the Cairo-based African Export and Import Bank (Afrexim) pledged up to $1,5 billion in loans and financial guarantees to Zimbabwe in a major shot in the arm for Mnangagwa’s bankrupt government.

The bank’s president and chairperson Okey Oramah told reporters after a meeting with Mnangagwa and senior government officials that “we support the stabilisation of the economy, that means providing liquidity to make sure that the situation where people are rushing every time to look for cash is dealt with.”