BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
THE European Union (EU) and United States (US) have scoffed at the anti-sanctions march held by government on Friday, saying the restrictive measures would remain in place until President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has fulfilled its reform pledge.
Mnangagwa on Friday led a poorly attended Sadc-brokered march demanding the unconditional lifting of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, saying they were stifling economic growth and hurting ordinary citizens. The sanctions were imposed by the West at the turn of the century in reaction to government’s gross human rights violations and electoral fraud during the late former President Robert Mugabe’s rule.
But EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen and US foreign relations committee chair Senator Jim Risch challenged Harare to spend more energy on addressing the key issues which invited the sanctions than on protest marches.
“(The) EU is looking at what is on the ground, what is the actual situation on the ground and these are the kind of issues that can come into play for us to lift the sanctions,” Olkkonen told HStv on Friday while Mnangagwa was addressing his followers at the National Sports Stadium.
“Lifting of the sanctions is not decided on street marches or social media campaigns; this will not divert attention on the situation on the ground. Frankly speaking, there are a lot of other issues challenging Zimbabweans that would warrant attention than the EU restrictive measures.”
He added: “We are not moved by the march at all. A stadium event would not be in any way decisive.”
Olkkonen said the bloc was contesting the narrative by Mnangagwa that the sanctions were behind the economic meltdown.
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“I strongly disagree. Zimbabwe is not where it is because of the so-called sanctions, but years of mismanagement of the economy and corruption, but that blame has shifted to the EU, I disagree.”
The US, which slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act, also responded to Mnangagwa’s march by adding State Security minister Owen Ncube on the sanctions list, for leading State-sanctioned human rights abuses under the new dispensation.
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Jim Risch also accused Mnangagwa of trying to deflect blame for the country’s economic crisis by blaming Western sanctions, advising the Zimbabwean leader to focus on improving his governance record.
“The ruling party should focus on the needs of the Zimbabwean people instead of their bad governance, corruption and State capture,” Risch said, blasting Sadc’s solidarity as misdirected energy.
“Regional institutions should also focus their energies on supporting democracy, not kleptocratic regimes.”
The regional bloc resolved at its last summit in Tanzania in August to campaign in solidarity with Zimbabwe for the removal of the sanctions.
Olkkonen denied that sanctions were part of the Western governments’ regime change strategy, claiming the EU was working with civic organisations and through United States organs for advocacy and human rights, nothing more.
“We don’t give material and financial support to anyone for regime change agenda. We work with everyone, government and the opposition; it is my right as a diplomat. We are supporting NGOs (non-governmental organisations) on their advocacy work on human rights issues and it is not a regime change agenda.”
He said funding from the bloc was normally supposed to be distributed in full consultation with the host government, but due to problems regarding how the Zanu PF government has mismanaged public funds, aid to Zimbabwe was now being channelled via United Nations organs and other civic organisations.
Olkkonen also denied the sanctions were a response to the land redistribution programme that saw commercial white farmers being displaced, insisting human rights issues and democracy were at the centre of the embargoes.
In his address at the National Sports Stadium, Mnangagwa said the land reform programme triggered the sanctions, but vowed it was an irreversible process.
Olkkonen said he appreciated that the programme was irreversible, but insisted that the way it was implemented created problems for the country, resulting in a lot of productive land lying fallow and half the population in need of food aid.
“How to move forward, it is a politically sensitive issue in Zimbabwe and we cannot dictate what government should do,” he said, revealing how the bloc has been working with the Zimbabwean government in the development of a new land policy and ownership.