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Zimbabwe FM Moyo: Sanctions are 'weapon of mass destruction'

Alan MacKenzie
July 16, 2020

It promised reform but Zimbabwe's government has failed to calm international worries over corruption and human rights, while millions face poverty and a dire economy. Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo was on Conflict Zone.

Sibusiso Moyo bei einer Pressekonferenz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Shcherbak/TASS

Zimbabwe FM Sibusiso Moyo on Conflict Zone

Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Sibusiso Moyo, says international sanctions are a "weapon of mass destruction" and causing "untold sufferings" to the population, rather than its leadership.

On DW's Conflict Zone, host Sarah Kelly challenged the foreign minister that blaming sanctions for Zimbabwe's woes was a scapegoat for its own economic mismanagement, which Moyo rejected.

"The whole gamut of sanctions to this country has caused serious and unintended consequences," he said, including by deterring investors.

Earlier this year, the US extended its longstanding sanctions against Zimbabwe, while the EU renewed its arms embargo.

Medical personnel at hospital
The UN says the COVID-19 pandemic could have 'disastrous' consequences for ZimbabweImage: Reuters/P. Bulawayo

'Economic catastrophe'

In a leaked letter sent in April to the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions, the country's finance minister requested high-level talks to avoid "a health and economic catastrophe" and admitted "recent policy missteps."

As people face food and fuel shortages, what hope is there in Zimbabwe right now?

"There was hope and there's still hope because we have got to take painful decisions to rectify the economy from where it was and that these pitiful decisions are the ones which appear as if they are making people lose hope. But in reality, they are getting things right," the foreign minister said.

"This economy has got very strong fundamentals. In fact, stronger fundamentals than what was there before," he went on to say.

A joint report released in April by the European Union and international aid groups anticipated food insecurity for millions of Zimbabweans caused by several factors, including hyperinflation and currency shortages.

Shallow phrases on corruption?

Citing President Mnangagwa's repeated promises to tackle corruption since 2017 – and repeated again in recent days with the launch of a national anti-corruption strategy – host Sarah Kelly asked why the international community and Zimbabweans should believe them. Were these any more than shallow phrases?

"These are not just phrases," insisted Moyo. "Corruption is something which we are acting on and not just something which is theoretical."

The foreign minister said this was the first time corruption was being "handled head on" in Zimbabwe.

Corruption in Zimbabwe is endemic, according to Freedom House, and "past revelations of large-scale graft have not been followed by successful prosecutions."

In June, the country's health minister was arrested over allegations of corruption and released on bail. The case was "testimony" of the government's "anti-corruption drive," Foreign Minister Moyo said.

President Mnangagwa being sworn into office
President Mnangagwa was sworn into office following victory in a disputed election in 2018Image: Reuters/P. Bulawayo

But President Mnangagwa himself has acknowledged the existence of a "catch-and-release syndrome." Would this be the case for the health minister?

"No," said Moyo, "there's justice in this country. He's going to appear in court and every evidence is going to be presented. And then it will be up to the judiciary either to convict him or not. But that's not the responsibility of the executive.”

Human rights

The government's responsibility for human rights, however, has drawn further international concern and condemnation.

An EU memo from November 2019 said that arrests and abductions of political activists "reinforced the impression that the democratic space is being curtained again," while in March 2020, the White House said Mnangagwa's administration had "yet to signal credible political will to implement such reforms" and "arguably accelerated its persecution of critics" in the past year.

Kelly confronted the foreign minister over violence documented by Human Rights Watch during protests in early 2019, where security forces were accused of "lethal force, killing at least 17 people, raping at least 17 women, shooting and injuring 81 people, and arresting over 1,000 suspected protesters during door-to-door raids."

Protesters fleeing from tear gas in Harare Change
Anti-government protests in 2019 were met with violence by police as people demonstrated in spite of a court banImage: Reuters/P. Bulawayo

"This government and the constitution of this country clearly articulates all the right threads of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the freedom of religion and so on. And besides that, there's been quite a lot of emphasis in terms of embedding these rights among the people," Moyo said.

"But there is no freedom in the constitution of violence at demonstrations."

In May, three opposition activists, including one member of parliament, were abducted from police custody after they were detained while heading to an anti-government rally. The women were found and hospitalized 48 hours later and said they had been tortured and sexually assaulted.

They have since been arrested again and charged with lying about their abduction, according to the country's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Moyo said the case was being investigated and a preliminary report had already been prepared by the home affairs minister.

In June, UN human rights experts cited the case of the three women and called on Zimbabwe to "immediately end a reported pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent."

And Human Rights Watch told DW that "Zimbabwe's failure to decisively deal with cases of abductions, disappearances and torture severely undermines the standing of the country within the international community."

Sarah Kelly asked how the international community could be convinced Zimbabwe was open for business when assessments on its human rights were so damning.

"You must understand exactly where these are being propagated from and where they're coming from. Mainly, the opposition in this country has got this strategy of attracting attention by stage-managing events which should attract the international community's eyes and concern and, in reality, when there's not been any of such an abduction."

"But I can assure you that we have made reforms and these reforms are taking place," he told Conflict Zone.