By Molly Phee, U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
(Note: Originally published in the Standard, March 6 2022)
Over the last nineteen years, the United States has imposed targeted financial sanctions against select members of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite for undermining democratic processes, abusing human rights, or facilitating corruption.
Then, as now, we made clear our support for the Zimbabwean people’s aspirations for greater democracy, respect for human rights, and better governance – aspirations enshrined in Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.
Unfortunately, sanctioned members of the ruling elite continue to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions, commit human rights abuses related to repression, and engage in corruption. For these reasons, successive administrations have renewed the sanctions against those who continue to undercut Zimbabwe’s democracy.
Sadly, this year is no different. On March 3, President Biden renewed the sanctions for another year. Such an extension doesn’t have to be the case! We hope that next year at this same time the people of Zimbabwe can celebrate their aspirations having become a reality.
U.S. sanctions against the ruling elite do not block trade and investment with non-sanctioned individuals and entities. At present, 83 individuals and 37 entities are designated under the Zimbabwe sanctions program.
In fact, annual trade between our two countries exceeds US$87 million. The U.S. government has even deepened its support for U.S. companies seeking to do business in Zimbabwe. Last May, our embassy worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce to support our first-ever official trade mission to Zimbabwe.
The United States has also provided US$3.5 billion in health, humanitarian, and development assistance since independence. This includes supporting agriculture and economic development and helping Zimbabweans secure sustainable livelihoods. We help confront the scourge of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, and have provided over US$48 million to help Zimbabwe respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the years, the United States has remained a reliable, steadfast partner to the people of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans tell us they want a future where the rights, liberties, and welfare of all are protected, regardless of who they vote for.
We want this for Zimbabwe, too.
We stand ready to work together, mindful that democratic consolidation is inextricably linked to credible reform in line with Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the restoration of the rule of law, the institutionalization of democratic governance, respect for human rights and constitutional rights, including property rights, the prosecution of high-level corruption, and holding to account members of the security services who use excessive force against civilians.
By pushing forward with reforms already outlined in Zimbabwe’s constitution, the Mnangagwa government can show the world that its citizens live in a safe, prosperous, equitable country regardless of their political views. Let all Zimbabweans feel free to offer their fullest potential and work to build a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive society.
As Zimbabweans prepare for by-elections in just a few short weeks – with the 2023 general elections not far behind – the Zimbabwean government has an opportunity. By taking concrete steps in line with its own constitution to hold elections that are free and fair, inclusive and accessible, and free from intimidation, violence, and electoral malpractice, the government can enhance its standing with the international community.
With two election cycles already underway, the time is right to guarantee the electoral commission’s independence, cease giving humanitarian and agricultural aid based on party affiliation and protect the constitutional rights of all Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe can invite local, regional, and international election monitors to strengthen the electoral process, give all parties and candidates equal access to publicly available media, allow journalists to report freely without fear of arrest or prosecution, and ensure its security forces remain in the barracks while the police foster a safe environment for all.
Some leaders in Zimbabwe understand this, others do not. On February 26, Vice President Chiwenga said that his party will “crush” the opposition like “lice” – “you put it on a flat stone and then flatten it to the extent that even flies will not make a meal out of it.” This is not the sort of language one uses to confirm a commitment to multi-party democracy, to free and fair elections, and to non-violence.
At the Summit for Democracy last December, President Biden described American democracy as “an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals and to heal our divisions.” We acknowledge our own journey to improve as a nation that serves the needs of all citizens.
While we may not always see eye to eye with the Zimbabwean government, we are committed to working with the Zimbabwean people to help them build the future of which they dream. Achieving those dreams requires strengthened democratic institutions that live up to the ideals of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
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