THE United States says its sanctions are only targeted at a few Zimbabwean companies and individuals who are dabbling in corruption and undermining human rights, emphasising that it is untrue the restrictive measures are to blame for Zimbabwe’s current economic woes.
The Zanu PF government has persistently blamed sanctions for the failing economy while the US and its Western allies attribute the country’s perennial troubles on corruption by the regime and its cronies.
In a four-part podcast on the Zimbabwe Sanctions Programme released by the US embassy in Harare, the Department of State’s director for economic sanctions policy and implementation, Jim Mullinax, said Washington DC has only targeted 83 out of 15 million Zimbabweans for sanctions while only 37 companies have been sanctioned and the number did not indicate that sanctions are targeted at the ordinary people.
“There are lots of myths out there about sanctions,” Mullinax said. “The US does not have sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe nor does it have sanctions against the Zimbabwean people.”
“There is no trade embargo on Zimbabwe. As long as an individual or an entity is not on the sanctions list or owned by an individual or company that is on the sanctions list, that individual or entity can trade and conduct business with US companies freely,” he said.
Companies linked to Zanu PF and its associates, including Mnangagwa’s ally Kudakwashe Tagwirei, are on the sanctions list, with the US saying the firms and individuals were sanctioned for their participation and links to corruption and human rights abuses in the country.
In sanctioning Tagwirei, the US government described him as “a notoriously corrupt Zimbabwean businessman” and said he was being sanctioned for materially assisting senior Zimbabwean government officials involved in public corruption.
His company Sakunda Holdings was also sanctioned.
“Under the Zimbabwe sanctions authority, only 83 people and 37 companies are sanctioned. In a country of over 15 million people, US companies are free to do business with the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans,” he said.
“I know some people claim that US sanctions prevent American companies from doing business with Zimbabwe. That is simply not true.”
He said the state of America’s “flourishing business relationship” with Zimbabwe proves that the US sanctions are not causing international business to stop doing business in Zimbabwe.
“A variety of US firms including John Deere, KFC, General Electric, Fedex and Skechers have found business opportunities in Zimbabwe during difficult times,” Mullinax said.
“In 2020, the United States exported goods totalling US$46.6 million to Zimbabwe and imported goods worth over US$36.9 million from Zimbabwe.”
He said in 2019, American farmers and business exported more than US$10 million worth of machinery, US$7 million worth of vehicles and US$6 million worth of agricultural products to Zimbabwe while Zimbabwe exported iron and steel, among other goods.
Mullinax said the US is using sanctions to disrupt corrupt individuals, human rights abusers, terrorists and others who undermine democracy, stoke instability and provoke violence.
“Sanctions are intended to impose a cost on their behaviour. By preventing sanctioned individuals and entities from using the US financial system, we cut off their access to resources they use to fund their nefarious activities,” he said.
“Our US sanctions complement and not undercut efforts to restore the rule of law, promote democracy and human rights as well as fight corruption.”
He added that sanctions were used “extremely carefully”.
“We sanction someone when there is specific, verifiable evidence that they have engaged in sanctionable activities such as stoking conflict or violence, engaging in corruption, terrorist activities or human rights abuses or undermining democracy, among other destabilising activities.”
He said the US sanctions programme prevents those sanctioned from using the United States as a safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.
“We also use sanctions to influence the behaviour of sanctioned individuals and encourage them to cease malign activities. Sanctions are not intended to be permanent. The US government can lift sanctions under various circumstances, for example when sanctioned individuals or entities stop engaging in activities or behaviour that landed them being on the sanctions list in the first place.”