By Thabani Zwelibanzi
Two United States senators have written to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the U.S. Department of the Treasury update the list of sanctioned persons in Zimbabwe, all but dashing any hopes of Washington and Harare mending ties.
In the letter sent on Wednesday, Senators Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chris Coons said developments in Zimbabwe over the last two years had necessitated an update on the list of people under US sanctions.
“Given the developments in Zimbabwe over the last two years, we urge you to consider enhancing the tools at your disposal, including the use of targeted sanctions, to incentivise changes in behaviour by the government of Zimbabwe,” the senators wrote.
“An update to the list of the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list should incorporate a balance of new designations with appropriate removals.”
It was not immediately clear who the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee wanted to be added onto the list, but the government and military officials who were implicated in the August 2018 and January 2019 killings of demonstrators and civilians could be added onto the list.
People who died in the past 12 months, like former Zapu leader, Dumiso Dabengwa could be removed from the list.
The government blames the US sanctions for the economic downturn that has seen a local currency that was introduced early last year lose more than 85 percent of its value since February 2018.
Inflation is hovering above 550 percent, the worst in more than 11 years.
Last year, the Zimbabwean government organised an anti-sanctions rally, calling on the US and the EU to lift restrictions against the African nation.
This is a message that has found currency with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), with the former setting aside a date where all the countries in the region would call for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
“While the United States has been the top provider of humanitarian and development aid to meet the needs of Zimbabwe’s people, the government of Zimbabwe has implemented a misinformation campaign blaming the country’s woes on targeted sanctions programmes implemented by the United States,” the senators wrote.
“It is important that the United States communicate to the people of Zimbabwe that our sanctions programmes are aimed at deterring human rights abuses, public corruption, the undermining of democratic processes or institutions, and political repression in Zimbabwe. They are not aimed at the Zimbabwean people.”
Last year, the US added Anselem Sanyatwe, a former army general was added onto the list of sanctions, with Security Minister Owen Ncube also being added among the sanctioned people, ironically, on the day of the anti-sanctions march, much to the government’s chagrin.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Sibusiso Moyo fumed at those additions, leading him to summon the US ambassador to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is spending millions on public relations firms and lobbyists to have sanctions lifted, but it seems this approach has fallen flat.
There had been hope in government circles that the US would not renew sanctions this year, but it is now all but certain they will be renewed.