By JOHN CHIMUNHU
Now Daily Special Report
United States president Donald Trump is expected to impose tougher sanctions on Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and hundreds of his top henchmen and women, including military generals, when he signs an executive order targeting the dictator this month, high-level sources told Now Daily.
The harsher penalties will be part of efforts to force Mugabe to leave office after a 37 year reign of terror in which millions have been murdered by state agents, driven into poverty or forced to flee the country. The measures are meant to pave way for democracy in the southern African country wracked by targeted political killings, corruption and state-sponsored lawlessness. Described by former president George W. Bush as an “outpost of tyranny”, alongside North Korea, Burma, Vietnam and Belarus, Zimbabwe is teetering on the brink of economic collapse and civil war.
An executive order targeting Mugabe has been signed each February by successive US presidents since 2001 when Bush banned the despot from travelling to the United States, buying weapons, doing business with Americans or owning property there. However, the measures have not gone far enough to remove Mugabe, who has become more brutal against domestic critics since they were introduced, analysts say.
Trump declared during his election campaign in 2016 that he would use his powers if elected US president to take action on African dictators including Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda as well as Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. Dos Santos, the longest-serving reigning head of state in the world has announced that he will be leaving office in August 2017 after 38 years at the helm.
“Zimbabweans must take President Trump seriously and literally on this. Mugabe is a sore point on the world’s conscience and should go,” a senior US administration official told Now Daily.
Trump’s statement has emboldened Zimbabwe’s fragmented pro-democracy movement, battered by nearly four decades of Mugabe terror marked by political murder, corruption and misrule. Activists are calling for tougher diplomatic and economic sanctions by the United States, which provides the largest number of foreign tourists visiting Zimbabwe. Most of the wildlife sanctuaries popular with rich American tourists, including Malilangwe which was visited by Bill Gates in 2013, have been taken over by Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe and senior regime figures.
“We expect that President Trump will sign the order extending sanctions on dictator Mugabe, his sympathisers and the state enterprises that he uses to spirit money out of the country and buy weapons to terrorize the population,” said activist group Consumer Action, which is campaigning for a ban on trophy hunting in Zimbabwe by Americans to deprive the regime of revenue. “We implore Mr Trump to fulfil his election promises. Time has come for Washington to show its muscle and close the loopholes that Mugabe has used to loot US aid and hide money stolen from the Zimbabwean treasury abroad. We also urge Mr Trump to impose a ban on American hunters visiting Zimbabwe and demand prosecution for previous offenders and violators of United States sanctions.”
Mugabe is on the US blacklist since 2001 and is banned from travelling to the United States but still goes shopping in New York with his shopaholic wife Grace Mugabe during the annual United Nations general assembly. He is also officially banned from doing business with Americans, although the dictator has found a way around this by going through rogue intermediaries and sanctions busters. A senior US government official was jailed after receiving millions of dollars in bribes to lobby former president Barack Obama on behalf of Mugabe.
Mugabe was first sanctioned by George W. Bush in 2001 as punishment for a campaign of violence, election rigging and lawlessness that accompanied racially-inspired seizure of white-owned properties by Zanu PF militias.
However, Mugabe got welcome relief when Barack Obama came to power in 2008 and softened Washington’s stance on Harare on the “wrong” advice of discredited opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who had formed an ill-fated coalition government with the dictator. Obama extended $1 billion in ‘humanitarian assistance’ to Mugabe in 2009 and allowed the country to use the United States dollar as its functional currency following the collapse of the Zimdollar due to hyperinflation. Much of the aid was stolen by Mugabe supporters. Diplomats who raised questions were threatened. A court case against Zanu PF militants who looted a warehouse of US government relief food was abandoned.
American foreign policy on Zimbabwe is confusing, however, experts say. While Washington mandarins are making all the right noises, diplomats on the ground have no qualms about dishing out American taxpayers’ funds to Mugabe through corrupt United Nations agencies, bogus opposition movements, liberal European partners, local NGOs connected to the regime and business fronts acting as suppliers of goods and services.
American humanitarian aid is distributed along party lines to regime agents and members of the ruling Zanu PF party while the diplomats turn a blind eye to safeguard their own positions. Mugabe is known to target individual officers, accusing zealous ones of being Central Intelligence Agency spies and exposing them to danger. Vocal former ambassador James McGee was arrested in a park by junior police officers after Mugabe accused him of spying, triggering a diplomatic standoff. Others choose to keep a low profile, endorsing government programmes and funding them from state coffers.
In 2000, US senator Jesse Helms introduced a motion which led to passage of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which was said by its promoters to offer a “carrot and stick” for democratic governance. The stick, in the form of targeted sanctions is considered a flop as Mugabe moved his money to Asia and strengthened ties with the Chinese Red Army and Russia to obtain weapons to terrorize the population. The carrot, in the form of assistance for regime opponents under attack has been hijacked by militants loyal to the despot.
For example, media NGOs entrusted with funds to bail out journalists facing danger have been taken over by characters with strong secret ties to the regime. The Voice of America introduced special broadcasts to Zimbabwe but these have not been effective as some of the key staffers are known members of Mugabe’s private army, the Central Intelligence Organization as well as operatives and informants from Mugabe’s propaganda outfits, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and New Ziana news agency. Besides, many democrats were sceptical and thought there was a trap when the people who were spewing propaganda for Mugabe suddenly turned up in Washington claiming to be champions of freedom and democracy.
A major stumbling block is seen as the absence of truly democratic leaders in the main opposition parties. The Movement for Democratic Change, founded amid much promise as a coalition of trade unions, churches, student unions and the poor has split into several parties. Founding MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube publicly stated that Tsvangirai, a former Zanu PF chairman was a CIO mole. Tsvangirai has refused to leave the helm of the opposition party despite being trounced by Mugabe several times in elections that were neither free nor fair. Former United States ambassador Tom Mcdonald said Tsvangirai, a former mine labourer with little formal education, was not a democrat and would need close “hand-holding”, like Poland’s Lech Walesa, if he came to power.
Tsvangirai, a perennial flip flopper, has alienated many MDC coalition partners through sex and corruption scandals and open ties with Mugabe. He married the daughter of a top Zanu PF official who is reputed to be a CIO operative planted to destroy the opposition. He also received a multi-million dollar state mansion as a reward for his work for Mugabe, MDC members say. Zanu PF politburo member Saviour Kasukuwere said Tsvangirai was still working for Mugabe and was a Zanu PF ‘political commissar’. This was after the opposition leader expelled 21 MDC MPs from parliament in 2015, allowing Mugabe’s party to get an outright majority.
Some American strategists are looking inside Zanu PF for anyone who can depose Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president is said to be a favourite with the Americans because of his liberal views on trade and diplomacy but this has brought him into conflict with his boss, who now accuses him of ‘selling out’. Mnangagwa, a lawyer who has the support of key military generals and the intelligence services however carries the deadweight of the 1980s murders of 50 000 Ndebeles and moderate Shonas opposed to Mugabe while he was state security minister during an army operation described as ‘genocide’ by human rights groups. The Americans are also accused of funding Joice Mujuru, a war veteran who was recently sacked as Mugabe’s deputy and has now formed an opposition party, Zimbabwe People First.
Ford Rangers Militias
Whether or not the US sanctions against Mugabe have worked is a matter for conjecture. In fact, it depends on who you are listening to. Mugabe, who called George W. Bush “evil”, regularly lectures his subjects in long, rumbling Fidel Castro-type speeches dismissing the sanctions as a failed neo-colonialist plot. Many of his brainwashed followers think he is right because the sanctions have failed to bring down the government in the last 16 years.
Mugabe says he has no need to travel to the United States. He can still shop for American luxury goods in Dubai and Singapore, where he has a holiday palace and gets specialist medical treatment following the collapse of health services in Zimbabwe due to corruption and mismanagement. His eldest son, Robert Mugabe Junior, who has tattooed teeth, dresses like a rap star and avidly follows NBA basketball on satellite television, attends the American University in Dubai, mixing with children of US diplomats.
Mugabe’s massive financial empire, estimated to run into billions of dollars, is managed by shady characters like Sam Pa, a notorious former Chinese Red Army officer and dealer with offices on Wall Street in New York, and Jimmy Zerenie, a Singaporean lawyer who helped the dictator offload ‘blood diamonds’ worth billions of dollars onto the international market. Both men were slapped with US sanctions only in 2016, after years of secretly channelling billions of dollars to Mugabe through their connections in the global financial system.
The favourite truck for use by Mugabe’s murderous militias and the CIO is the Ford Ranger and there is an endless supply of the latest models through South Africa. The militants keep large amounts of US dollars authorised for use in the country by Obama, and their kids speak with American accents.
However, the apparent failure of US sanctions to deliver instant results has led many Zimbabweans to lose interest in politics and those with the means are simply leaving the country. To be fair, the sanctions have weakened Mugabe and created deep divisions within Zanu PF and the military, setting the stage for more rebellion among the population. Former broadcasting minister Jonathan Moyo told a secret meeting of state media editors in 2004 that while the regime’s top brass could still get American luxury goods from Dubai and buy weapons from China, their greatest problem was getting a good education for their children.
“Who would want to send their child to school in China? What would they learn there?” said Moyo, who recently sent a group of Zimbabwean students to Silicon Valley for a tour of technology firms including Google and Facebook, favourites among local anti-Mugabe activists.
In the circumstances, Mugabe was forced to send his eldest daughter Bona to university in Hong Kong, considered to be an embarrassment for the dictator who previously boasted about his strong Western ties.
Zimbabwe is not very important to the US, both for trade or military purposes. It is a small landlocked country of 15 million, whose business deals with America don’t amount to much. Mobil won a tender to mine oil in the northern Kariba basin but extraction has not happened for two decades not only because the deposits are small and uneconomic but especially because of Mugabe’s anti-American politics. The Rex Tillerson, Trump’s new secretary of state was a senior Mobil executive when the firm won the Zimbabwe oil mining tender. He is familiar with southern Africa’s geo-politics, though from an oilman’s point of view. But who knows, he might take more than a passing interest in the activities of a man described by the US’s Foreign Policy magazine as the world’s second most brutal dictator after the late Kim Jong Il of North Korea, whose troops trained Zimbabwe’s genocidal 5th Brigade which massacred 50 000.
The country also has massive deposits of diamonds but these still get to America, the world’s largest market for the gemstones even though contracts to mine them are in the hands of Russians and the Chinese Red Army. Plans to mine uranium are stalled because the regime has prevaricated between selling the concessions to Iran or Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, both enemies of the USA.
However, Mugabe has carved his own diplomatic niche by playing the big global powers against each other.
In the 1980s, at the height of communism, Mugabe made friends with the Soviet Union, obtaining Russian tanks and other military hardware in abundance from Moscow and its allies, including Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Cuba and Poland. But Mugabe was always a double agent. While he was publicly aligning himself with the eastern bloc, he was also secretly dealing with the West and was knighted by the British queen Elizabeth II in 1986 on the advice of conservative prime minister John Major. Mugabe was hoodwinking his anti-capitalist Zanu PF colleagues while building a secret personal army, the CIO, with the training assistance of Western intelligence services including the CIA, the UK’s MI5, West Germany’s BND, BOSS of apartheid-era South Africa and the Israeli Mossad.
After the fall of communism, Mugabe turned decisively to China, another of Washington’s rivals. The departure of the British military trainers after the dictator’s human rights abuses escalated paved the way for the Chinese Red Army, which is now in charge of training and supplying the Zimbabwean army.
Mugabe has also gone out of his way to befriend and get economic benefits out of each of America’s enemies, including Iran, North Korea, Libya under Kaddafi and Belarus. These partnerships have cushioned him personally and given him access to weapons, technology and possible safe havens if he gets out of power. However, without loans from the US and the multi-lateral institutions that it controls such as the IMF and World Bank, the Zimbabwean economy has sunk to disastrous levels, rendering Zimbabweans among the poorest people in the world.
Even within Zanu PF, they are secretly yearning for a leader who can talk to America and open new lines of friendship to rescue the ailing economy. For that reason, many of Mugabe’s closest aides, including army officers are secretly meeting with US diplomats, selling the dictator’s darkest secrets at the risk of being expelled from both party and government or being killed if they are ever found out.
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