Tanzania, the new chair of the South African Development Community (SADC), is already pledging to push Western powers to ease sanctions against Zimbabwe, which is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade.
The sanctions, imposed over alleged human-rights abuses during the reign of former president Robert Mugabe, who was removed from power in 2017, are still in place despite a democratic change of leadership.
This past week, Tanzania’s Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi, who now heads the SADC Council of Ministers, said that the country, in its capacity as chair of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest regional blocs, will prioritise efforts to push the international community to lift the sanctions against Zimbabwe so that trade barriers are removed from the landlocked country and its current economic crisis can be alleviated.
Mr Kabudi made the pledge after taking over from Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Relations Minister Netumbo Ndaitwah, ahead of the SADC heads of state summit to be held in Dar es Salaam this weekend.
The European Union imposed the sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002, citing issues like harassment of independent media and intimidation of political opponents. The sanctions include an international arms embargo, wide-ranging assets freeze and a travel ban on Mugabe-era government officials to EU countries.
The sanctions affect most leaders of the ZANU-PF ruling party, top military figures and some government-owned firms.
The EU’s decision later received the backing of the US, and earlier this year President Donald Trump extended them by another year despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa taking over as leader of Zimbabwe.
Although President Mnangagwa took over from Mr Mugabe in a bloodless coup in November 2017, the Trump administration says the policies of the new administration continue to pose an “unusual and extraordinary” threat to US foreign policy.
Tanzania’s intervention may be seen as controversial, given that its own human-rights record is in the spotlight over allegations of a government crackdown on opposition, squeezing of the political space, and passing of controversial laws over the past two years.
The country has recently been accused by the US and some EU nations of high-handedness, especially after the arrest and detention of journalists, most recently Erick Kabendera, on what some say are politically motivated charges. Mr Kabendera was arraigned for alleged money laundering, among other charges.
Zimbabwe is low in cash reserves, and is battling severe fuel shortages. In January, the government announced a 150 per cent increase in fuel prices, which led to widespread social discontent and violent demonstrations.
The Council of Ministers’ meeting came up with 107 recommendations to be tabled before the 16 heads of State for consideration.
Other tasks high on President John Magufuli’s agenda are to increase trade volumes within the bloc.
Tanzania also intends to establish Kiswahili as one of the bloc’s official languages on the basis that it was the main language used during liberation struggles led by Tanzania for Southern African countries such as Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Currently the official languages are English, French and Portuguese.
Tanzania will also supervise the implementation of a sustainable SADC industrial development programme introduced by founders of the community, and push for serious discussion of Burundi’s application for SADC membership.