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Uncle Sam not letting go of little Zimbabwe

09 Mar 2024 at 09:16hrs | Views
THERE is something interesting about the new United States sanctions regime announced this week. Besides President Joseph Biden making a statement, the US National Security Council made one too. What are we missing here?

Zimbabwe has been under sanctions by the US for more than two decades, starting at the turn of the century when it embarked on a national land reform programme: A programme that changed the land tenure system and broke the backbone of the settler economy, which was largely agro-based.

The President Emmerson Mnangagwa  administration over the years has tried to bring finality to the land question by paying compensation to former white commercial farmers. His government has entered into a US$3,5 billion deal with the farmers, an amount which today is nearly a fifth of the US$18 billion national debt and public guaranteed loans.

This settlement agreement, as imperfect and murky as it is, takes the flak off Zimbabwe in respect of property rights. It more than ever demonstrates that the Harare regime, while not reversing the land refo rm, is at least cognisant that compensation has to be paid for both land and improvements.

It is in this context that on March 4, 2023, the US President Biden announced the "Termination of emergency with respect to the situation in Zimbabwe". The emergency was declared in Executive Order 13288 and fine-tuned orders 13391 and 13469.

The US government, true to form, knew how to hide the bad news while propping the "good news" — sanctions removal. Very few among the common men and women understood that in one fell swoop the Americans had made a bad situation worse.

While removing the sanctions on an extended list of individuals and companies, the US designated key actors under the Global Magnitsky Programme. This new programme targets what it terms, key actors for corruption and serious human rights abuses.

The US Treasury said: "Today we are refocusing our sanctions on clear and specific targets: President Mnangagwa's criminal network of government officials and businesspeople who are most responsible for corruption or human rights abuse against the people of Zimbabwe."

The US Treasury, in one short line, makes something profound: Previous sanctions were ineffective; they were too spread. They have found out Mnangagwa is head of a criminal network responsible for corruption or human rights abuse against Zimbabweans.

The sanctions are now targeted at 11 individuals, including Mnangagwa and his wife Auxillia, Kudakwashe Tagwirei and Obey Chimuka. The rest are military or have military connections. The target is smaller and can be hit harder than before. We  will revert back to this in a moment.

Like the hollywood scriptwriters, the US Treasury played on the perception of Mnangagwa as ruthless, gold dealer and hobnobbing with known criminals. He thus became the head of a criminal network. Very subtle, but effective.

Mnangagwa has not helped the situation by being all talk and no action on corruption since his November 2017 assumption of power via a coup. He has not arrested any big land barons or people involved in the smuggling of precious minerals to Dubai and other eastern European destinations.

His government has done practically nothing about the Al Jazeera Gold Mafia exposè, where some of the protagonists named him personally as the godfather of gold smuggling. Voila, the charge of corruption sticks and finds favour with struggling Zimbabweans.

Unlike China, Mnangagwa plays nice with his subordinates implicated in corruption. All he does is issue warning after warning, but no action against the transgressors.

Mnangagwa has been hob-knobbing with shady characters like Delish Nguwaya whose name is linked to many government procurement scandals. Nguwaya has not made it any easier for Mnangagwa when his pictures with Mnangagwa's son were posted all over — proving his connection to the First Family.

It is noteworthy that the US takes the sanctions regime so serious that its powerful National Security Council (NSC) had to issue its own statement.

NSC said: "Today, the United States is employing a new set of tools in Zimbabwe, including the flagship Global Magnitsky sanctions programme, to make clear that the egregious behaviour of some of the most powerful people and companies in Zimbabwe matches the actions of the worst human rights abusers and corrupt actors globally."

What are the most powerful companies in Zimbabwe? In the new regulations are Fossil Agro and Fossil Contracting. The statement says Fossil Agro is a subsidiary of Sakunda Holdings and has provided it (Zimbabwe) with material support. Meanwhile, Fossil Contracting has received Government of Zimbabwe contracts that have facilitated corruption.

Fossil Agro is the largest financier of agriculture in Zimbabwe, while Fossil Contracting is the largest contractor maintaining and constructing new roads across the country. In simple terms, agriculture financing has been substantially curtailed, while the Second Republic signature projects of refurbishing roads is in danger or will take longer than necessary.

Interestingly, let us take a peek at what they say about Tagwirei.

"Tagwirei is designated in pursuant to the EO 13818 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or logistical support, or technological support for, or goods and services to or in support of corruption, and the transfer or the facilitation of the transfer of proceeds of corruption."

It is common cause that Tagwirei has an extensive business empire that stretches from financial services, insurance, mining, farming, logistics and construction, among others. In short, he makes Zimbabwe tick and taking him out halts every government project.

While Uncle Sam tinkered with the sanctions, the reality is that noose is now tighter and like US senator Chester Crocker said during debate on Zidera: "To separate Zimbabwean people from Zanu-PF, we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you, senators, have the stomach for what you have to do." Now it seems they have Zimbabwe where they have always wanted. It is going to be a bum-squeaky time henceforth.

Zimbabwe has to be ingenious, it is now a sink or swim situation. Real leaders have to stand up and provide direction.

    Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - newsday
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