Can a leopard change its spots?
That's the question facing Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe ceded some power by accepting opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as the nation's prime minister. While there has been discussion of policy shifts in Harare, much more needs to be done before the government can claim to be answering to and respecting the will of its people. So for now, the answer to that ancient riddle is uncertain.
With the formation of the inclusive cabinet last month, there have been calls for the international community to remove sanctions targeting top government leaders and their supporters for their actions to undermine human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe even points to these measures as the cause of his country's many problems. This is a mere shifting of the blame, which falls squarely on him.
As a result, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, the EU and others have indeed imposed targeted sanctions on those that have played integral roles in impeding democracy, abusing human rights and ruining Zimbabwe's economy.
Claims by the Mugabe regime that these sanctions are “illegal,” “blanket,” or directed at ordinary Zimbabweans are false. The sanctions target specific individuals, not the nation as a whole. Under them, Mr. Mugabe, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and over 130 other individuals are restricted in their foreign travel and financial transactions.
For the people of Zimbabwe, the U.S. and others in the international community continue to offer their support and aid. The U.S. remains among the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe in an effort to ease the suffering of that nation’s innocent people.
Because of the questions that remain about Mr. Mugabe's intentions, it would be premature to remove restrictions now. Political activists continue to be detained and are denied due process, repressive laws still hold sway and peaceful demonstrators are often brutally attacked by security forces.
The U.S. has stated repeatedly that it will judge the new government in Zimbabwe on its actions. For now, real change in Zimbabwe remains to be seen.