Zimbabwe President Emerson Mnangagwa and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta this week toasted to new deals and newfound closer diplomatic ties between their countries.
The two presidents signed seven memoranda of understanding on diplomatic consultations; tourism and wildlife conservation; and civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents investigations. Others were on women empowerment and community development; youth affairs; co-operatives; and sports and recreation activities
But beneath the veneer of government discussions, the Zimbabwean leader was in Nairobi for much weightier matters such as lobbying Kenya — a member of the UN Security Council — to help counter the crippling international sanctions on Harare and the matter of Kenya being a safe haven for Zimbabwean opposition politicians.
Back home, the president is accused of political high-handedness and this trip to Kenya was also to address “emerging threats” to the region. But as he spoke in Nairobi, Zimbabwe was being debated in the UK parliament for political violence.
Opposition in crosshairs
Lord Jonny Oates, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe demanded that the UK government, and the international community in general, hold Zimbabwe to account. Of concern is the future of opposition Citizen Coalition for Change leaders led by Constantino Chiwenga, whose rallies have recently been brutally dispersed.
Sources have told The EastAfrican that President Mnangagwa’s trip to Nairobi was to seek assurance that Zimbabwean opposition groups will not receive subtle help from Kenya. One man in the president’s crosshairs is Prof Jonathan Moyo, a political scientist and former ruling party strategist, who has been living in Nairobi since the fall of the Robert Mugabe regime in 2017.
Sources in Harare told The EastAfrican that President Mnangagwa requested Prof Moyo’s extradition but since Nairobi and Harare do not have an extradition agreement, the freshly signed MoU on political consultations is being seen as the first step towards regularising that.
Prof Moyo, a Mugabe loyalist, is accused of various crimes committed while serving as Information minister.
President Mnangagwa’s concern is the alleged Moyo’s hand in recent public protests that police violently crushed.
Zimbabwe previously tried to extradite Prof Moyo to face fraud charges, but Kenya rejected the request.
Prof Moyo is married to a Kenyan and has told Kenyan authorities that his life would be in danger if he returned home.
Fears for Prof Moyo’s safety heightened last year when suspected Zimbabwean state security agents took a picture of him walking in his hideout in Kenya and circulated it on social media.
In another incident, they allegedly called him on his mobile phone while he was addressing a meeting at a Nairobi hotel and told him they knew his location.
A popular cleric Walter Magaya, who visited Kenya last month, had his Harare house raided by the army and police allegedly searching for illegal firearms.
Government insiders claimed that they suspected that Mr Magaya had met Prof Moyo to plot against the government. The government repeatedly accuses him of plotting to topple the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Zimbabwe has been fighting to have the economic sanctions and arms embargo lifted. Earlier in the year, Harare had secured a joint statement at the African Union in support of the lifting of sanctions.
Speaking at a joint press conference at State House, Nairobi on Wednesday President Kenyatta called the sanctions illegal, and assured Zimbabwe of Kenya's continued advocacy and support to have them lifted. He also called them sources of “undue problems, issues and trouble for the people of Zimbabwe.”
“And this we consider to be unfair for these hardships were artificially created and we continue to call on the international community to remove these illegal sanctions,” President Kenyatta said.
“My visit to Kenya is to consolidate our relations by refocusing co-operation to increase bilateral trade, investment, tourism, transport, science and technology and innovation among other aspects such as defense and security matters,” President Mnangawa told the press conference.
Western countries first imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 after Mugabe won a controversial presidential election.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, EU and the US cited gross human rights violations, electoral fraud and corruption for the embargoes against Harare.
Two decades later, the EU and the US still have active embargoes against Zimbabwe while Britain introduced its own targeted restrictive measures against the country’s security chiefs last year after pulling out of the EU.
The US, which maintains the harshest targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe government officials and business entities, renewed its embargo nearly a fortnight ago citing worsening human rights violations and draconian laws being introduced by President Mnangagwa’s government.
Molly Mphee, the US State Department Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, said last week successive US administrations renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe because the “targeted members of the ruling elite continue to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions, commit human rights abuses related to repression, and engage in corruption.”
“Sadly, this year is no different,” Ambassador Phee said in a brief on the reasons behind the renewal of the sanctions against Zimbabwe.
On March 3, President Joe Biden renewed the sanctions for another year. But Zimbabwe blames the sanctions for its drawn out economic crisis that has reduced one of southern Africa’s strongest economies into a shadow of its former self.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube claimed that Zimbabwe’s economy has lost $42 billion because of the sanctions.
“The over $42 billion, which we have lost since 2002 is almost double our economy which stands at $25 billion, that’s a huge margin and people need to realise the effects of such a loss,” Prof Ncube said.
The current US sanctions regime involves 83 individuals and 37 entities designated under the Zimbabwe sanctions programme Washington says has nothing to do with Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
In renewing its set of sanctions last month, the EU said “the measures in place are targeted and very limited, therefore, they do not affect the people of Zimbabwe, its economy, foreign direct investments or trade.
“Zimbabwe continues to benefit from duty free and quota free access of its exports to the EU, while negotiations are ongoing to deepen the Eastern and Southern Africa Economic Partnership Agreement,” the EU added.