President Biden’s move to renew the two-decade-old sanctions came a few days after the European Union (EU) decided to extend by another year its own arms embargo against the Southern African country.
In a message to the US Congress dated March 1, 2023, Biden said Zimbabwe had not made any reforms to warrant the lifting of the sanctions that were first imposed in 2003 for alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud.
“President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not made the necessary political and economic reforms that would warrant terminating the existing targeted sanctions programme,” President Biden wrote.
Biden said the Zimbabwean government’s security services throughout the year routinely intimidated and violently repressed citizens, including members of opposition political parties, union members and journalists.
“The absence of progress on the most fundamental reforms needed to ensure the rule of law, democratic governance and the protection of human rights leaves Zimbabweans vulnerable to on-going repression and presents a continuing threat to the peace and security in the region,” Biden said in a statement.
African leaders, including South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, last year used various forums to persuade the US to lift its sanctions against Zimbabwe.
President Ramaphosa used a visit to Washington last year to push for the lifting of the sanctions, which he said were affecting Zimbabwe’s neighbours who host millions of economic refugees from the troubled country.
Biden, however, said actions of certain members of President Mnangagwa’s government posed a threat to the US foreign policy.
“The actions and policies of certain members of the Zimbabwean government undermined Zimbabwe’s democratic process posing an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States foreign policy,” he added.
He said he had determined it was necessary to continue the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288, as amended with respect to Zimbabwe and to maintain in force sanctions in response to the threat.
Countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as members of the EU first imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium on allegations of human rights violations and electoral fraud.
After Brexit, the United Kingdom also introduced its own set of sanctions against Zimbabwe that targeted security chiefs accused of human rights violations.
International lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund stopped giving loans to the country because of its failure to repay.
Unable to secure financing from multilateral lenders for the past two decades due to the arrears, Zimbabwe has been forced to rely on Chinese loans.
There was optimism that the sanctions would be eased after long time ruler Robert Mugabe was toppled in a military coup, but his 80-year-old successor is accused of intensifying repression and being reluctant to introduce needed economic reforms.