Yesterday, Thursday 15 September 2022, the United States announced that they had made some changes to the list of sanctioned Zimbabwean individuals. The list of individuals who are sanctioned by the United States is known as the Specially Designated Nationals List or SDN List which is managed by the U.S Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control otherwise known as OFAC. According to the U.S, they removed 11 individuals from the list and add one individual to it.

The 11 individuals being removed from the SDN list are either deceased or have been deemed to no longer undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions.

Each year, the U.S. Government removes hundreds of individuals and entities from the SDN List. Each removal is based on a thorough review.

The OFAC statement announcing the changes to the list.

The person who was added to the list is the ZRP’s Deputy Commissioner for Administration, Stephen Mutamba. OFAC accused Mutamba of playing a role in undermining Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions.

Over the past two years, Mutamba has taken actions that threaten and undermine legitimate political parties that oppose the policies of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

In 2020, Mutamba supported Zimbabwe security services’ use of pressure and intimidation on prominent opposition figures.

Also in 2020, Mutamba supported the uneven enforcement of a COVID-related curfew, encouraging security forces to limit opposition activities and did not allow for foreign national officials located in Zimbabwe to meet with Zimbabwean opposition parties or civil society groups.

In 2021, Mutamba advocated that vote tallies not be displayed outside polling locations and that international observers should not be allowed to monitor the 2023 elections.

The OFAC statement explaining why Mutamba was added to the sanctions list

So what happens after one is put on the sanctions list? Well, all of Mutamba’s properties and assets, if any, in the United States are frozen and he is blocked from accessing them. U.S entities and individuals are banned from doing business with Mutamba unless they are specifically exempted by OFAC.

The controversy of sanctions

OFAC was at pains to say that sanctions target individuals and not the country as they are targeted at those individuals on the list. That is sadly hardly ever the case. You see the law says U.S entities are not allowed to do business with sanctioned individuals. This means that U.S-affiliated entities have to, at their own cost, make sure they stay clear of sanctioned individuals or face steep fines from the U.S Justice Department as happened to Standard Chartered Bank in Zimbabwe not so long ago.

Like with all things businesses end up weighing the risk against potential profits. They ask themselves questions like how much does it cost to make sure that we do not fall foul of the OFAC rules? How much do we make by operating in Zimbabwe? Unfortunately, because the Zimbabwean economy is small and not in good shape a lot of big entities simply decide not to serve Zimbabwe at all. Why run the risk of incurring a huge fine when there is little profit to be made?

One area of sanctions that has particularly affected us is the payments issue. Payment processors like Flutterwave which serves a lot of countries have told us point blank that they cannot do business with us because we live in what is basically a sanctioned country. Sanctions are like those targeted bombs that superpowers like to boast about. They come with collateral damage they rarely and grudgingly admit to.