The United States has imposed travel sanctions and a freeze on the financial assets of President Mugabe, his family and closest political aides; a freeze on all non-humanitarian government-to-government aid; and a freeze on any transfer of defense-related items and services to protest a disputed presidential election and human rights abuses by President Mugabe’s government, the White House said in a message to Congress on March 1. The European Union has also imposed targeted sanctions on the country.
“I am continuing for one year the national emergency with respect to the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions,” Obama said.
“The crisis constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions has not been resolved,” Obama said.
Former President George W. Bush imposed the original sanctions with the declaration of a national emergency in 2003, saying that the actions by the Zanu PF regime had “contributed to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Zimbabwe.” There are no trade sanctions against Zimbabwe and the country does not qualify to participate in the U.S.-sponsored African Growth and Opportunity Act because of poor economic management and human rights abuses.
According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the United States froze the financial assets held in the United States of 75 high-ranking Zimbabwe officials and President Mugabe’s wife, Grace. Nine companies and farms were added in 2004, and the list was further expanded in November 2005 to block the assets of 128 individuals and 33 entities. And more names were added to the list in December 2007 and again in November 2008, the CRS report said.
President Mugabe has ruled the country since its independence in 1980. But after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the majority of Parliamentary seats in the March 2008 election, tensions began rising. Mugabe’s re-election as president in a June runoff was regarded as illegitimate by the United States and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In September 2008, after weeks of negotiations, Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing arrangement aimed at resolving the political standoff. Tsvangirai had won more votes for president than Mugabe, but not more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
Tsvangirai became the prime minister of a new coalition government following the power-sharing arrangement, and Cabinet positions have been filled among the nation’s political parties.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed Prime Minister Tsvangirai to Washington in June 2009, praising the progress made “in very difficult circumstance” since he joined the unity government with political rival Mugabe. Speaking after their meeting, Obama said Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement “shows promise” and the United States is looking for ways to help Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwean people improve the country’s democratic and economic future.