US admits sanctions hurting Zim economy

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Harare (New Ziana) – After years of downplaying the true impact of its sanctions regime on Zimbabwe, Washington on Wednesday finally admitted that the Southern African country was losing out on investment opportunities as businesses, citing sanctions as a risk factor, shy away from investing in the country.

The United States exercises its sanctions programme on Zimbabwe through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) which among other things forbids American banks from processing transactions on behalf of Zimbabwean companies and at times individuals who are not even on the sanctions list.

The US, along with the European Union and Britain imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe over two decades ago to force the government to abandon its land reforms in which excess white-owned farmland was compulsorily acquired to resettle landless blacks to economically empower them.

The sanctions, targeting both the economy and individual Zimbabweans seen as central to decision-making in government, are estimated to have cost the country up to US$100 billion in lost economic opportunities.

But the US and its local acolytes have over the years blamed the economic challenges that were brought on by the sanctions to supposed corruption and mismanagement.

However, in a move likely to anger their local proxies who thrive on spreading the false narrative that sanctions were not to blame for Zimbabwe’s economic woes, US Department of State sanctions coordinator James Obrien said the American government was fully aware of the challenges associated with the embargoes.

“We are aware that because of the depth of the problem and the duration of this (sanctions) programme, probably there are a lot of companies that believe that doing business in Zimbabwe is just too difficult and that does cost opportunities for the people of Zimbabwe,” he told a virtual media briefing.

“We are well aware that in difficult environments, companies may decide not to be involved for a host of reasons and one of those reasons may be the risk that either new sanctions will be put in place or current sanctions are not clear.

“We are however willing to be always speaking with businesses or work with those who fear that sanctions are getting in the way of legitimate business activity.”

The US’s disregard of international institutions also played out during the media briefing, after Obrien confessed Washington’s ignorance of a recent UN report which condemns the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Produced by special rapporteur Alena Douhan, the report on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights was tabled before the UN Human Rights Council last month.

Douhan visited Zimbabwe last year, and among many of her observations was that the embargoes had worsened the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans and recommended their immediate removal.

Asked about the US’s stance on the report, Obrien retorted; “I am not familiar with the special rapporteur report, but it sounds like I need to learn more.”

On top of Douhan’s recommendations, calls have grown louder from other African countries for the removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Last month, African leaders, one after the other, took turns to tell the UN General Assembly that time was ripe to end the embargoes on Zimbabwe.

At bilateral level, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pointedly told US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House last month that sanctions against Zimbabwe were a huge burden on the country’s economy.

Asked about the significance of Ramaphosa’s lobby on behalf of Zimbabwe, Obrien said: “It is an example of the kind of consultation that we prize and that is also something we can never do enough, and we will continue to do better. Having conversations with the neighbours, with important regional powers, the SADC, AU and others was very important in the recent changes and will continue to be as we review the programme.”

“We are consulting closely with our partners in the region so there are concerns, SADC has spoken out, the AU, a number of African governments have spoken about what the right approach is to Zimbabwe and my colleagues who work on policy towards Zimbabwe are in regular conversation with them, but we also use that as an opportunity to look at the sanctions programme itself. Earlier this year we delisted 11 people, and we continue to look carefully at the programme,” he said.

The anti-sanctions lobby is being heighted this October, a month in which the sub-regional group dedicated October 25 every year as a day to collectively call for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe.

However, despite the sanctions, Zimbabwe was doing its best to forge ahead with its development agenda.
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