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Mnangagwa Kenya tour: Did Uhuru close his eyes to injustice in Zimbabwe?

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Republic of Zimbabwe counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa at State House, Nairobi. [PSU]

With a wry smile, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe chooses his words carefully. Known at home as ‘ED’ or the crocodile, he is a tough nut whose easy appearance will deceive you that he is a political pushover.

He once lightened up a TV show when taken to task over his figurative nicknames. “I am not a crocodile, I am a human being,” Mnangagwa told a bemused interview host.  

The former ally of the late Robert ‘Bob’ Mugabe visited Kenya last week as Nairobi and Harare sought to shore up their unity of purpose. The high point of his trip was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s passionate appeal to the global community to lift “unfair” sanctions against Zimbabwe.

“These, we consider to be unfair as these hardships were artificially created and we continue to call on the international community to remove these illegal sanctions,” Uhuru said.

Admittedly, years of economic and travel sanctions have condemned the country to economic doldrums. As Barack Obama often said, no nation thrives with sanctions around its neck. Flash back tells us the restrictions enforced between 2000 and 2022 focused on Mugabe and his wife Grace — she of the Paris shopping fame. Some system allies too were targeted for asset freeze. EU and the US cited human rights abuses, economic ruin and electoral fraud.

Mugabe in some way made Zimbabwe everyone’s enemy. But his loyalists shielded him. Psychology Maziwisa, A Zanu-PF official, said at a forum I attended in Harare towards the end of Mugabe’s reign that indictments against the strongman were “far removed from our situation.” Sanctions must go, he declared.

In my view, Uhuru’s cry over Zimbabwe’s sanctions missed a key point. It is an open secret that President Mnangagwa represents the old order but is masked as a new progressive leader. His was part of Mugabe’s rot and held a big sway then. The two jelled like the moon and the stars. Mugabe did not mismanage the country alone. Those who aided wrongs during his time must take full responsibility for their actions before sanctions are revisited. Better delayed justice than none. The culprits are as free as birds despite milking the mineral-rich Zim dry.

Methinks the current administration must be seen to be doing things right even if it’s not. Mnangagwa is yet to demonstrate real departure from Mugabe’s bag of tricks — aversion to dissent, threats and all talk but zero effort to foster democracy. There were land laws that led to removal of white farmers. When opposition MDC gave Zanu-PF a run for its money at the 2009 polls, many were brutalised. Despite hue and cry, the new regime is yet to nail those who cheered Mugabe on during the dark days.

Yes, the removal of sanctions must be tempered by demands for justice. Let there be an assessment of reforms in Zimbabwe to gauge if there is enough incentive to lift restrictions. Zanu-PF and the post-Mugabe leadership can’t feign innocence and get away with it.

Moreover, nations faulting sanctions should ask themselves if they have the moral authority to rebuke the West. African countries have disgracefully failed to uphold accountability. In Swahili, they say a baboon never sees its backside.     

-The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter:@markoloo