THE United Kingdom (UK) will not bail out Zimbabwe until President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government embarks on comprehensive political and economic reforms.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s re-engagement efforts with Western powers appear to have hit a brick wall, after the United States of America, the European Union (EU) and the UK recently renewed their targeted sanctions against the country.
It also comes after some British parliamentarians pleaded with their government last week to soften its hardline stance against Harare and bail it out with a financial rescue package — given the magnitude of the economic crisis facing the country.
But Whitehall rejected the pleas, with the UK’s minister of State for Defence and deputy leader of the House of Lords, Frederick Curzon, arguing strongly that Harare needed to implement needed reforms to earn its support.
“My Lords, I acknowledge … that we must continue to give hope and encouragement to all those who want to see genuine political and economic change in Zimbabwe.
“However, we have to face the reality that no package of external support will deliver for the Zimbabwean people without fundamental reforms.
“Therefore, the onus must remain on the government of that country to demonstrate true commitment to change. So far, we have seen limited progress,” Curzon said.
According to London, the reforms that Harare should implement include aligning restrictive laws with the country’s Constitution, ending human rights abuses, holding to account human rights abusers and implementing economic reforms which will advance the ease of doing business in the country.
While Mnangagwa’s government has claimed that it is making headway in implementing these reforms, critics — including the UK, the USA and the EU — have expressed concern over both the pace and extent of the reforms.
Contributing to the debate on Zimbabwe, the Lord of Highbury and shadow spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Ray Collins, also urged the UK to impose sanctions on all rights abusers.
“My Lords, the fact remains that Zimbabwe is still a very dangerous place for people to live and … security forces there are using draconian laws. Last week, President Trump went to Congress to extend sanctions.
“What is the government doing with the EU and the US to build a stronger alliance to force the sort of changes to which the noble Lord has alluded?
“Will the government also consider using their new powers under the Magnitsky Clause to try to target those responsible for these human rights abuses even more effectively?” Collins asked.
The Magnitsky Clause enables the UK to impose sanctions on people who commit gross human rights violations around the world.
In response, Curzon said Zimbabwe was currently one of the UK’s 30 human rights-priority countries.
“The noble Lord is absolutely right that we are seriously concerned about human rights in Zimbabwe. There are abductions, arrests and assaults on civil society and opposition activists.
“The country remains one of the UK’s 30 human rights-priority countries.
“We provide extensive financial and technical assistance to civil society organisations in their efforts to hold the State to account on issues related to human rights,” Curzon said.
Another MP, the Lord of Guildford Russelll Howell, weighed in inquiring if the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were not making the food situation in the country even worse for many innocent citizens.
“Could my noble friend say a little more about the workings of EU and American sanctions, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just pointed out, are being increased at the moment?
“I know the intention is that they should hit entities and officials, and maybe they are doing so, but there are suggestions that one outcome is that this is making the food situation even worse for many innocent people.
“Can he explain how sanctions are working and whether we are satisfied with how they are operating?” Howell asked.
Curzon said the UK would review its sanctions on Zimbabwe at the end of this year, while also revealing that the EU was currently divided on which direction to take with the targeted measures.
“We are not wholly in agreement with the EU on its approach to sanctions. During the EU’s annual review of its Zimbabwe sanctions regime, for example, it decided to suspend sanctions on Grace Mugabe.
“As I said, the UK remains aligned to the EU’s restrictive measures on Zimbabwe during the transition period. We did not agree with its decision to suspend sanctions on Grace Mugabe.
“We will review the whole sanctions regime at the end of the year … It is important to stress that our commitment to the people of Zimbabwe did not stem from being an EU member,” Curzon said.
Liberal Democrats’ Lord David Chidgey also asked about the measures the UK was taking to ensure that its aid was not abused by corrupt officials in Zimbabwe.
“My Lords, the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, has stated that the government must implement a market-based agricultural policy, fully liberalising the trade in grains and paying farmers on a par with the cost of imports.
“He added that the Grain Marketing Board was allocating subsidised grain to millers, who were selling it on the black market in neighbouring countries.
“This corruption costs the Zimbabweans in both food and treasure. What measures are the UK government taking to support the US plans for a market-based economy and to make sure that UK aid is not lost through corruption?” Chidgey asked.
Curzon said the UK’s aid operated under a strict funding policy, whereby no money passed through the government of Zimbabwe, but was availed to UN agencies, international NGOs and the private sector.
This comes as the United Nations recently warned that over eight million people in Zimbabwe are facing hunger due to the twin effects of climate change and the worsening economic crisis.
Late last year, the government also announced that it had removed subsidies on maize and other small grains, which resulted in the skyrocketing of mealie-meal prices.
The government later entered into an agreement with grain millers and introduced a targeted subsidy on roller-meal.
But instead of the subsidised roller-meal being sold in supermarkets, it has been diverted to the black market — where it is sold at prices beyond the reach of many long-suffering Zimbabweans.
Curzon said further that the UK government was aware of the seriousness of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and would continue offering aid, concentrating on the most vulnerable people.
Between 2018 and 2019, the UK provided £94 million of aid to Zimbabwe, to help vulnerable children, families and communities.
“We are disappointed that the staff-monitored programme agreed with the IMF has gone off-track. Our focus at the moment is on mitigating the worst impacts of the economic crisis and concentrating on the most vulnerable Zimbabweans,” Curzon said.
The US imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in December 2001 in a bid to nudge Harare towards a more democractic dispensation.
The EU followed suit in February 2002, also pressing Zimbabwe to implement political and economic reforms.