A Tuesday House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on the impact of US sanctions in Africa triggered a lobbying push by actors on both sides of the debate.
Mercury Public Affairs, which represents the government of Zimbabwe, shared a 2020 think tank piece with the Africa subcommittee on the humanitarian cost of sanctions. The firm was hired in 2019 by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (MFA) to help lift decades-old sanctions imposed under former President Robert Mugabe, who died in September 2019. Mercury disclosed $813,000 in fees and expenses for its Zimbabwe work in 2020.
“We have discussed the unintended consequences of broad sanctions previously,” Mercury lobbyist Deirdre Stach wrote in an email to Corey Holmes, the acting director of the subcommittee. “I am sure you already are aware, but just in case, wanted to bring the piece by Michael Greenwald of the Atlantic Council to your attention.”
Stach also shared a recent tweet from President Emmerson Mnangagwa extolling the independence of the judiciary after the country’s high court ruled against his move to extend the term of the court’s top judge.
Zimbabwe’s position received a sympathetic ear at the hearing, where lawmakers and witnesses alike argued that the current sanctions regime had remained unchanged for years and has had little impact. Zimbabwe is one of a handful of African states under US sanctions along with Burundi, Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
“We’ve had sanctions for more than 20 years, and I don’t know what we have accomplished,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
Sanctions critics argue that broad sanctions unfairly impact the general population while targeting local officials can prove of little use if they don’t travel to the United States and have no US assets that can be frozen. Witnesses instead urged multinational sanctions aimed at key people who move money around for corrupt regimes.
On that front, human rights activist and former former National Security Council director for African Affairs John Prendergast said action was expected within the next six months against US acolytes of Dan Gertler, an Israeli mining magnate sanctioned for his alleged role in spreading corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under former President Joseph Kabila. Gertler recently re-hired President Donald Trump‘s impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz for help with sanctions after the Joe Biden administration re-imposed sanctions lifted in the 11th hour of the Trump administration.
At least one group used the hearing to lobby in favor of more sanctions.
Von Batten-Montague-York, which represents the Virginia-based Tigray Center for Information and Communication, shared written testimony with the subcommittee calling for more targeted sanctions after the Biden administration announced travel restrictions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials over the weekend.
“The recent travel restrictions and economic sanctions levied by the Biden Administration against the Ethiopian government are steps in the right direction,” Shewit Woldu, a visiting research fellow with the firm’s Africa Initiative Project, wrote in testimony obtained by Foreign Lobby Report. “Nevertheless, the United States should follow the research evidence and coordinate these sanctions with the key members of the international community. Anything outside this may prove ineffective in achieving the Biden Administration’s goals in Ethiopia.”