President Ian Khama of Botswana has closed ranks with fellow Southern African Development Community leaders and called for the removal of Western sanctions targeting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and associates.
He said such a move is advisable to “motivate" the Harare unity government and demonstrate international goodwill.”
Mr. Khama was speaking to journalists in Pretoria after meeting President Jacob Zuma, mediator in Zimbabwe for the Southern African Development Community. President Khama was on a two day official visit to South Africa.
Expanding on his call, Mr. Khama said, "I think right now we are in a situation whereby those on who sanctions have been applied feel very strongly that this is a hindrance." He said there has been progress in Zimbabwe since the signature of the Global Political Agreement in 2008 and the launch of the unity government in February 2009.
Mr. Mugabe's longtime ruling ZANU-PF party entered into a so-called inclusive government former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, following bitterly disputed elections marked by deadly political violence.
"We have seen the economic situation improving and we are seeing the political situation improving. So we are saying sanctions as easy as they are imposed can also be removed," Mr. Khama said.
"We appeal to those who have put sanctions to remove them even if they have concerns. We all have concerns but lets remove them just to demonstrate good faith and see where we go from there."
Mr. Zuma, who has been lobbying internationally for the sanctions to be lifted, echoed Mr. Khama’s argument that this would be constructive. He added that he and Mr. Khama during their discussions in Pretoria went into "a lot of details" on what the two countries as Zimbabwean neighbors could do to help through the regional organization.
Mr. Zuma said the Zimbabwe sanctions issue "features prominently" in the African Union. "As SADC, we are appealing to global leaders who are applying sanctions that they should be lifted. They're not helping the situation in Zimbabwe. Instead of helping they are complicating," President Zuma said.
But the United States and Europe say there has not been enough progress on human rights to lift their sanctions.
Mr. Khama in his remarks cast doubt on the likelihood Zimbabwe will be able to hold elections next year as some have contemplated, noting the constitutional referendum which is looming. He said the Harare unity government might run for five years rather than just two as many anticipated when it was formed.
Political sources said Mr. Zuma is preparing to send facilitators back to Harare very shortly.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said Mr. Khama, though often critical of President Mugabe in the past, had no choice but to support his fellow African leaders in urging the lifting of sanctions.
Foreign relations expert David Monyae said the West must heed Africa’s call for an end to the sanctions. But political analyst Mqondobanzi Magonya said African leaders have a tall order convincing the West to shift policy without much in the way of tangible political and human rights reform to point to in Harare.