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As Zimbabwe continues to collapse, most of the world’s attention has been on the cholera outbreak , a painful (and thoroughly avoidable) reminder of how far the once-thriving country has fallen. Cholera, which has reportedly killed at least 560 people so far (a number certain to grow) seems to have even grabbed attention among South African officials who have so far been satisfied to allow the problem to languish under the listless mediation of ex-President Thabo Mbeki.

Less noticed was a step by the US government to tighten the financial noose around President Robert Mugabe by adding new names and companies to the sanctions list.   Although only four additional people and 20 companies were designated (making it illegal for any American citizen or company to deal with them), these particular names could prove to be critical to pressuring Mugabe to actually live up to the terms of the power-sharing agreement signed back in September.   None of the four new names are in the ruling ZANU-PF or hold positions in the Zimbabwean government.  As the Treasury press release notes, each is a private business person who has been dealing with Mugabe insiders to help keep the regime afloat.   (Given the very high legal bar required by the US Treasury to add new names, the evidence must have been overwhelming.)  Even more interesting, two of the names are from outside the region, including Mugabe’s Malaysian doctor who “transacted secretly …to generate wealth for … regime officials and the Government of Zimbabwe” and

a Thai businesswoman who has facilitated a number of financial, real-estate, and gem-related transactions on behalf of [First Lady] Grace Mugabe, [Central Bank governor] Gideon Gono, and a number of other Zimbabwean Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs).  Ironically, Nalinee Taveesin has participated in a number of initiatives on corruption and growth challenges in Africa and Southeast Asia while secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa's most corrupt regimes.

Such sanctions -- especially targeted ones like those applied to Zimbabwe and Sudan -- remain powerful non-military foreign policy tools.  They are also a strong signal to the world that helping to enable Mugabe and his cronies to cling to power illegally will come at a high price.  And if Mugabe and Co. think things will get any easier with the new US administration, they should think again


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.