The United Kingdom today (February 1 2020) placed four Zimbabwean security chiefs under sanctions over human rights violations and killings “of innocent citizens”.
Analysts say the development could scuttle re-engagement efforts between the two countries.
Britain seemed to thaw to a new administration led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that took over from the late Robert Mugabe following the November 2017 military-assisted power transition.
The UK even expressed its keenness to have Zimbabwe readmitted into the Commonwealth, a club mainly comprising former British colonies from which Harare pulled out in December 2003, amid speculation that the latter could have lent support to the coup plotters as a way of getting rid of Mugabe.
Of late, there have been signs that the Mnangagwa administration was falling out of favour with Britain.
The presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, recently tweeted using his pen name, Jamwanda, claiming that Britain had unsuccessfully tried to manipulate the Harare dispensation to accept Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) announced on its official website that the four are State security minister, Owen Ncube; police Commissioner General, Godwin Matanga, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director, Isaac Moyo and former presidential guard commander, Anselem Sanyatwe.
Ncube, who is already on the US sanctions list, illegally ordered the January 2019 internet shutdown following angry protests.
The African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are pushing for the removal of sanctions against high profile Zimbabwean elites, though.
“These targeted designations hold to account those responsible for the worst human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in November 2017.
“This includes a State-sponsored crackdown against protests in January 2019 that resulted in the deaths of 17 Zimbabweans and post-election violence in August 2018 in which six protestors lost their lives,” said the FCDO.
The sanctions involve asset freezes targeting the security chiefs who have also been banned from travelling to, doing business with or making financial transactions through British systems.
Domic Raab, the UK’s Foreign portfolio secretary, said the sanctions on Ncube, Matanga, Sanyatwe and Moyo were designed to punish perpetrators of gross human rights violations.
“These sanctions send a clear message that we will hold to account those responsible for the most egregious human rights violations, including the deaths of innocent Zimbabweans,” he said.
In August 201, the army was deployed in the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, to quell a protest that erupted as election results were being announced, ending in at least six civilian deaths.
In January 2019, the army was again deployed in Harare to crash protests that followed a 150 percent fuel hike, and some 17 civilians were killed.
From that period to date, opposition party activists, journalists and critics of President Mnangagwa have been tortured, arbitrarily arrested and abducted.
Raab said the sanctions on the four security chiefs would not hurt ordinary citizens.
“These sanctions target senior individuals in the Government, and not ordinary Zimbabweans. We will continue to press for the necessary political and economic reforms that will benefit all Zimbabweans,” he said.
When President Mnangagwa took over, he pushed for re-engagement with the UK after decades of strained relations during Mugabe’s reign.
Former UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, was criticised by the opposition for spearheading re-engagement efforts between Harare and London at the expense of democratic reforms.
Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, told Grazers News that the fresh sanctions on Zimbabwe’s security chiefs was a blow on the Mnangagwa administration’s re-engagement drive.
“The UK and other western countries are showing that they are not hoodwinked by the Zimbabwe government’s talk of engagement which, unfortunately, is not supported by action,” he said.
Mukundu added that Zimbabwe’s human rights record remained poor.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said Zimbabwe could face tougher measures from London after Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), which had, together with the USA, headlined sanctions against Harare from the early 2000s.
“The UK can now do what it wants after Brexit (exit from EU) and it is no longer bound by the dictates of the EU. The landscape has changed in Europe and now that UK can now act independently in its foreign policy, a tougher stance is expected on Zimbabwe,” he said.
Masunungure attributed the UK’s toughening stance to the 2018 killings, saying London could not then act outside the EU bloc, adding that human rights violations and arrests of government’s critics worsened the situation.
“A vacuum at the Foreign affairs ministry which the late SB Moyo (late minister) used to head is also a factor in this latest development. Moyo could relate well with foreign embassies even at a personal level, so another message sent is that his replacement must fit in his shoes,” he said.
Grazers News is the Information for Development Trust (IDT) news blog