Zimbabwe: US imposes sanctions on Mnangagwa’s son and wife of business ally Kudakwashe Tagwirei

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 17:16

Emmerson Mnangagwa Junior, taken from Twitter.

As the US-Africa Leaders Summit kicked off in Washington DC, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Emmerson Junior and Sandra Mpunga, the wife to business mogul Kudakwashe Tagwirei, had been hit with sanctions by the US Treasury. 

Obey Chimuka and Nqobile Magwizi, who are linked to Tagwirei, were added to the sanctions list alongside two entities – Fossil Agro (a farm inputs supplier) and Fossil Contracting (a construction company).

Lafarge, Zimbabwe’s second largest cement company, is now part of the Fossil group after a recent $29m deal backed by local banks and pension funds. Over a dozen people linked to Zanu PF and the government have been removed from the sanctions list.

A dent in Zimbabwe’s re-engagement efforts

Senator James Risch (ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and Senator Chris Coons specifically asked the State and Treasury departments to sanction Emmerson Junior in January 2020.

This sends a clear message to the Mnangagwa-led government that the US will not  “tolerate its impunity”, Risch said on Twitter on 13 December. Political analyst Wellington Gadzikwa says Washington’s recent move shows that Biden is not happy with the way Zimbabwe is conducting its affairs.

“It is a huge setback for a country [that] seeks engagement,” he tells The Africa Report.

Gideon Chitanga, a research associate at the African Centre for the Study of the US at Wits University in Johannesburg, says sanctions have been a long-term policy of the US towards Zimbabwe.

“I do not think it is a shift from the traditional US policy towards Zimbabwe. The new list just reflects what the US has been doing – picking up people who are assumed to be key factors within Zanu PF,” he says.

“This, ostensibly, to exert pressure and the objective is to shift the behaviour of Zanu PF elites so they can at least drift if possible towards a more reformist approach in terms of their politics.”

This year, the US invited Zimbabwe, among other 49 African countries, to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which runs from the 13-15 December. With Mnangagwa under US sanctions for undermining democratic processes in Zimbabwe, Biden instead invited Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava to attend the summit.

Shava, who flew to Washington from Angola, has been holding meetings with US government officials before the summit, according to Zimbabwe government officials.

An indication that the US is willing to mend the relations provided Zimbabwe plays its part on the side of good governance

Obadiah Dodo, an international relations expert, says the invitation of Zimbabwe to the US-Africa Leaders Summit is a gesture of goodwill. “An indication that the US is willing to mend the relations provided Zimbabwe plays its part on the side of good governance,” says Dodo, who is also a professor of Conflictology at Bindura University.

Some US Senators like Risch were not happy with Shava being invited to attend the summit, as they felt someone with fewer corruption records should have attended instead.

Since taking over the reins of power through a military coup in November 2017 from his mentor, the long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa has been on an overdrive to engage the US and the West. However, because of continued massive corruption, economic mismanagement and gross human rights violations more sanctions have been coming in from the UK and the US.

Two visiting US senate officials were tailed and circled by vehicles believed to belong to state security in August this year, according to the Department of State officials at the 19 October briefing. The Department of State said this was an “act of intimidation”.

‘The sanctions are definitely hurting Zimbabwe’

Emmerson Junior has been managing his father’s business entities that are linked to the businessman Tagwirei, according to Washington.

He joins other prominent people, including his father Mnangagwa and Tagwirei, who were sanctioned in 2020 for using their close relationship with government officials to win tenders and aid Zanu PF leadership.

In September this year, the US added deputy police commissioner for administration Stephen Mutamba for his alleged role in “undermining Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions”.

The relationship between Zimbabwe and the US went frosty in the early 2000s when Washington imposed sanctions on Harare under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) of 2001. The Act restricts US support for multilateral financing to Zimbabwe, following the chaotic Land Reform Programme under Mugabe in 2000 that saw Africans taking back their land from about 4,500 white commercial farmers.

Citing gross human rights violations, allies of the US, including the EU, followed suit and announced sanctions.

They are targeted at a few Zanu PF elites in order to disincentivise them from further bleeding the country through corruption, mis-governance and autocratic tendencies.

Dodo says the sanctions are targeted, but those targeted have ‘bulletproof’ means of averting the impact and mercilessly redirecting it at defenceless and innocent citizens.

“The sanctions are definitely hurting Zimbabwe,” he says. “Whether they have forced Zimbabwe to change or not, [Zimbabwe] has gradually fallen to its lowest level economically and socially with ordinary citizens living in the abyss of poverty.”

He says the ruling party Zanu PF will never be moved by the sanctions despite the heavy impact largely because there are other blocks supporting it.

Since 2017, when Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe, he has been failing to turn around the economy.

The sanctions have been the key factor in depriving Zimbabwe access to international financial markets

Zimbabweans are grappling with the ongoing economic crisis amid high inflation, weak currency, stagnant salaries, poor health facilities and electricity shortages.

Mnangagwa and Zanu PF blame sanctions for all these problems bedevilling the economy, but the US and UK have maintained that the sanctions are targeted at selected individuals and do not affect the generality of the population.

Chitanga says though the sanctions are targeted at certain individuals, they are causing an overbearing perception of a country that does not have the capacity to engage with the international community and build business relations based on transparency and integrity.

“They present Zimbabwe as a high-risk destination. The sanctions have been the key factor in depriving Zimbabwe access to international financial markets and account for a large part of the destruction of the economy across the different sectors,” he says.

A 2021 report by the US Special Rapporteur says since sanctions came into effect, Zimbabwe has lost access to more than $100bn in bilateral donor support, grants, and loans from the African Development Bank and Bretton Woods financial institutions – the IMF and the World Bank.

According to the World Bank, during the sanctions era, Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product contracted from $6.8bn in 2001 to $4.4bn in 2008.

The US still trades with Zimbabwe amid its sanctions. In 2021, Zimbabwe’s iron, steel and raw commodities, including tea and tobacco exports to the US, were valued at over $9.27m, according to statistics from the UN’s Comtrade database on international trade.

In addition to $51m in humanitarian aid, the US was Zimbabwe’s single biggest donor, providing $317m in bilateral assistance to support democracy and governance, agriculture and health programmes in 2021.

Growing calls for the US to change pressure strategy on Zimbabwe

Daglous Makumbe, a lecturer at the department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, says the US sanctions are targeted at certain Zanu PF individuals who are bleeding the country.

“They are targeted at a few Zanu PF elites in order to disincentivise them from further bleeding the country through corruption, misgovernance and autocratic tendencies. They are also aimed at enforcing behaviour change that fosters tolerance, democracy, human rights, rule of law and transparency,” he says.

However, Mnangagwa has spent millions of dollars to hire US public relations firms to drive his re-engagement efforts with the international community.

Zanu PF-sponsored groups have been demonstrating at the US embassy in Harare to push for sanctions removal. Additionally, African leaders, including South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, have been pressing Biden to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Ramaphosa, who is under fire for graft charges at home, also took the sanction mantra to the UK.

Chitanga says the sanctions’ usefulness is forgone. “I believe Western capitals should focus their diplomacy more on creating an environment for Zimbabweans to engage in a dialogue across the political society,” he says.

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