EXPLAINER | Are America’s sanctions gone? Here is what new US measures really mean

US switches one stick for another (pic: AFP)

The US has announced a new Zimbabwe sanctions regime, keeping measures on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies. America is also pulling out of talks for a debt relief deal for Zimbabwe.  

What does the new sanctions programme really say? Have sanctions been lifted? Have they gone a step up? Here, newZWire explains what has changed, and what has not.

Are sanctions gone?

Not quite. The US is simply using a different stick. The US President, Joe Biden, has scrapped the sanctions programme that the US has used to impose measures on Zimbabwe since 2003, called Executive Orders. But he has done so only to make way for a new regime of measures under a different programme, known as the Magnitsky sanctions. Targeted are three companies and 11 individuals. Among the listed are Mnangagwa, VP Constantino Chiwenga, businessman Kuda Tagwirei, and deputy security chief Walter Tapfumaneyi. The measures include travel bans and asset freezes, the same as under the previous regime of sanctions.

Tagwirei was already designated.

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The US is also maintaining the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), a separate set of sanctions that it imposed on Zimbabwe 2001, in response to land reform and rights abuses. Repealing this law would require legislation by US lawmakers.

What has changed? What happens to ‘old’ sanctions?

The previous sanctions regime, under Executive Orders, now falls away. This means individuals and companies that were listed are now no longer sanctioned.

According to the US government: “All persons blocked solely pursuant to E.O. 13288, E.O. 13391, or E.O. 13469 (the authorities of the Zimbabwe Sanctions Program) will be removed today from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List; All property and interests in property blocked solely pursuant to the Zimbabwe Sanctions Program will be unblocked today; and OFAC will remove the Zimbabwe Sanctions Regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations.”

Those off the list include VP Kembo Mohadi and Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr. Among the key state companies now no longer under sanctions are state mining firm ZMDC, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Defence Industries and Ziscosteel.

However, if someone was penalised for sanctions under the older orders, and the case is still pending, they still have to face the punishment. While the executive order falls away, and Western companies can transact with formerly sanctioned companies, they are likely to still consider in the risk of dealing with businesses from a country whose leader is under US measures.

So, who is sanctioned? And why?

A total of three companies and 11 people remain on the sanctions list. Mnangagwa is the only sitting president under the Magnitsky sanctions.

On Mnangagwa, the State Department says: “Mnangagwa provides a protective shield to smugglers to operate in Zimbabwe and has directed Zimbabwean officials to facilitate the sale of gold and diamonds in illicit markets, taking bribes in exchange for his services.”

First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is also now sanctioned. The US says: “The First Lady of Zimbabwe, Auxillia Mnangagwa, facilitates her husband’s corrupt activities.”

The US also sanctioned Tagwirei and his wife, Sandra, accusing her of being “instrumental in Tagwirei’s business activities.” Their company, Sakunda, is also sanctioned.

Also listed is Tagwirei’s business associate Obey Chimuka and his companies Fossil Agro and Fossil Contracting, one of the local companies currently working on government infrastructure projects such as the Beitbridge highway. The US says the Fossil group companies are being sanctioned because they “received Government of Zimbabwe contracts that have facilitated acts of corruption”. Fossil Agro was already listed in December 2022.

ALSO READ | One of the Zim govt’s biggest infrastructure contractors is now under American sanctions

Remaining under sanctions are government and security officials, including Chiwenga, Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri, Police Commissioner Godwin Matanga and his deputy Stephen Mutamba, Tapfumaneyi, plus Owen Ncube.

What other measures are there?

The US has also pulled out of talks, led by the African Development Bank and including the European Union and other creditors, for debt relief for Zimbabwe.

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To learn more about American sanctions, read our previous SPECIAL REPORT on this link | US sanctions on Zimbabwe: truths, history, and lies