Two years after Zimbabwe's political leaders signed the Global Political Agreement aimed at ending the long-running political crisis there, little agreement can be seen in the Southern African nation. While some progress has been made in stabilizing its shattered economy, human rights and political freedoms continue to suffer, and the GPA's agreed-to reforms have all but ground to a halt.
President Robert Mugabe used the recent opening of the United Nations General Assembly to continue blaming others for his nation's problems, saying sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union are having a broad effect on Zimbabwe and its people. As with progress on the GPA itself, Mugabe is proving yet again that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Such statements have become a standard excuse by many for Zimbabwe’s failure to recover more rapidly from the abyss it reached in 2008, but they obstruct the truth. Along with the European Union, the U.S. has imposed targeted measures, including financial sanctions and travel bans, against 244 people who together bear the most responsibility for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, the undermining of democracy and disregard for the rule of law. Meanwhile, the U.S. has provided funds for health services, safe drinking water, education, agriculture, social protection and other essential aid to the Zimbabwean people totaling $300 million last year alone.
The list of sanctioned individuals will change when the behavior of those on the list changes. The violent attacks against political opponents seen following the 2008 presidential election have subsided, but the suppression continues. Farms are being seized with impunity by those with political connections, and political activists are harassed and arrested. Groups of ruffians have disrupted hearings on constitutional reforms to be adopted before the next election to such an extent that the process had to be suspended pending tighter security. Government police have even intervened in an internal dispute in the Zimbabwean Anglican Church, seizing property from a congregation in Harare upset with the policies of the local bishop with political connections.
The U.S. is committed to engaging the Zimbabwean government, but significant improvements in the political environment, greater respect for human rights and political freedoms are needed before the U.S. changes its posture on the measures taken against those responsible for Zimbabwe’s decline.