Dec 15, 2011 | 13:07 GMT

4 mins read

U.S. Sanctions Zimbabwean Diamond Companies

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The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control added two Zimbabwean diamond companies to a sanctions list Dec. 9. The move is likely less out of concern for alleged human rights abuses in Zimbabwean diamond mines and more a way to gain leverage over Harare, particularly Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, the leading candidate to succeed President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe's leading Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front now must attempt to find a successor to Mugabe who both appeases the West and guarantees the security and financial well-being of the ruling elite.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control on Dec. 9 added two Zimbabwean diamond companies, Marange Resources Ltd. and Mbada Diamonds Ltd., to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, prohibiting any U.S. entity from purchasing diamonds from these companies. The European Union will likely follow with similar sanctions.

The U.S. move likely comes less out of concern over alleged human rights abuses in diamond mines in Zimbabwe's Marange region and more as a way of gaining leverage over the government in Harare. Strained relations between Western governments and Zimbabwe have led Harare to look east for international backing and economic assistance, particularly to China; the U.S. sanctions move is an attempt to steer Zimbabwe toward a more accommodative relationship with the West.

The primary beneficiaries of the sanctioned companies — and Marange diamond operations in general — are elites in the country's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Foremost among these is Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a leading candidate to succeed President Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa moved into his current post after the death of powerful ZANU-PF figure Solomon Mujuru, who had been backing his wife, Vice President Joyce Mujuru, as Mnangagwa's chief rival. ZANU-PF endorsed Mugabe as its presidential candidate in a leadership congress Dec. 10 in Bulawayo, but the United States is looking to shape the government that will follow Mugabe.

That ZANU-PF endorsed Mugabe as the candidate was not a surprise. The question within ZANU-PF is how to manage Mugabe's exit. ZANU-PF calculates that Mugabe, as a known and proven leader — though a controversial one — gives the party its best chance at securing an elections victory. Mnangagwa, on the other hand, is unproven as a national electoral candidate. Once Mugabe secures an electoral victory, the party can move to appoint his successor. The Zimbabwean Constitution permits the political party that holds the presidency to retain it for the remainder of the elected term, even if something happens to the incumbent. In other words, should the 87-year-old Mugabe finally succumb to his ill health, ZANU-PF can appoint his successor to serve out the remainder of the term. ZANU-PF would make that move after Mugabe wins a fresh five-year term, rather than before.

The U.S. sanctions are designed to let ZANU-PF know that the West opposes Mnangagwa as the next Zimbabwean leader. The ZANU-PF ruling elite thus face a dilemma. They were able to win the 2008 election against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change through intimidation and a security crackdown, even in the face of international outcry. According to the Zimbabwean Constitution, the next elections must be held by mid-2013, and there will be heavy international pressure on ZANU-PF not to repeat the tactics it used in 2008. The government cannot fully estimate the scope of this pressure but is well-aware of the U.S. backing for opposition movements that dislodged incumbent governments in Ivory Coast and Libya.

The party elite thus must decide whether to normalize relations with the West or face renewed and likely intensified U.S. antagonism — but it is not simply a matter of choosing a more Western-friendly president to succeed Mugabe. ZANU-PF leaders fear that an opposition grouping will take over that will not ensure them security and financial guarantees — essentially, amnesty for any acts carried out during their rule. The Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change is one such grouping, and ZANU-PF leaders' fears have only been reinforced by the sight of leaders such as former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo being handed over to the International Criminal Court.

ZANU-PF must find a prospective leader who will both appease the West and guarantee the security and financial well-being of the elite. It is unclear who this will be, but this person certainly will not be put forth as Mugabe's successor without the confidence of the ZANU-PF elite.

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