African leaders are using the ongoing United Nations General Assembly to push for an end to a two-decade-long Western embargo against Zimbabwe, arguing that the sanctions are hurting ordinary people and the region.
African Union (AU) chairperson and Senegalese President Macky Sall led the charge when he delivered his address at the UNGA 77th session on Tuesday, where he said the sanctions should be removed immediately to enable Zimbabwe to realise its full potential.
“The AU once again calls for the lifting of foreign sanctions against Zimbabwe,” President Sall said. “These harsh measures continue to inflict a sense of injustice against an entire people and aggravate their suffering in these times of deep crisis.”
Mr Sall’s impassioned plea was echoed by leaders from Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa in their addresses to the UNGA underway in New York.
DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi, the current chair of the Southern African Development Community, described the sanctions on Zimbabwe as “a crime against an innocent people.”
In his maiden UNGA address, Kenyan President William Ruto said: “Unilateral coercive actions, such as those imposed on Zimbabwe and Cuba, apart from undermining the sovereign equality of nations, also indiscriminately punish the general citizenry, reserving their bitterest sting for innocent hustlers and the vulnerable.”
South Africa’s Foreign Affairs minister Naledi Pandor, representing President Cyril Ramaphosa, also condemned the actions on the two countries.
“South Africa calls for an end to the embargo against Cuba, which continues to impede the right to development of her people,” Dr Pandor said.
“In the same vein, we call for an end to unilateral coercive measures against Zimbabwe, which have compounded the problems experienced by the people of Zimbabwe.”
President Ramaphosa last week used his meeting with United States President Joe Biden to call for an end to Washington’s sanctions against Zimbabwe, which he said were also negatively affecting neighbouring countries.
He said countries such as South Africa and Botswana were battling an influx of Zimbabwean immigrants running away from economic problems in their country, which he attributed to the sanctions.
Western countries, including the US, European Union member states, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, imposed different forms of targeted sanctions against the regime of the late Robert Mugabe following a disputed presidential election in 2002.
Mugabe’s regime was accused of human rights violations and electoral fraud, but Harare insisted it was being punished for a land reform programme that saw over 2000 white Zimbabweans losing their commercial farms without compensation.
The embargoes have remained in place nearly six years after Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruler was toppled in a military coup.
His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is accused of failing to honour his promises to implement reforms that were set as a precondition for lifting the sanctions.
The US, EU and the UK maintain that the sanctions do not affect ordinary people as they are targeted at government officials that are linked to human rights abuses.