For the past twenty years, we the people of Zimbabwe have endured untold economic and political suffering – unprecedented ever since we attained independence from British colonial rule in 1980 -characterised by the shortage of nearly everything that sustains human life – ranging from foreign currency, our own local currency, fuel, vital medications in our public hospitals, books in our schools – and prices of basic commodities that keep skyrocketing on a daily basis, out of the reach of the majority.
For the past twenty years, we the people of Zimbabwe have endured untold economic and political suffering – unprecedented ever since we attained independence from British colonial rule in 1980 -characterised by the shortage of nearly everything that sustains human life – ranging from foreign currency, our own local currency, fuel, vital medications in our public hospitals, books in our schools – and prices of basic commodities that keep skyrocketing on a daily basis, out of the reach of the majority.Understandably, various sections of our nation have proffered varied reasons for this unbearable existence – with the government and its allies blaming so-called Western-imposed sanctions, saboteurs and even transitional austerity measures, whilst the opposition and a large section of the population have placed the blame squarely on the government’s doorstep – citing gross economic incompetence, corruption, political instability and human right abuses.
Of late, however, the Zimbabwe government has been emboldened in its case by the unquestioned support and lifeline it has been awarded by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU), who have embarked on an ‘anti-sanctions’ drive – taking the message to the recently held United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York – culminating in solidarity demonstrations throughout regional countries on 25 October 2019.
Needless to say, Zimbabwe authorities are on the proverbial ‘Cloud Nine’ as they have found willing allies in their crusade in defending their economic and political performance over the past 40 years in the southern African country.
However, before anyone starts printing ‘Remove Zimbabwe Sanctions’ t-shirts, we need to take a sober and in depth analysis of these sanctions, as well as exactly what impact they have had on our daily lives as Zimbabweans.
How precisely have these sanctions caused untold suffering?
Firstly, the question that everyone in the SADC and AU would be asking is: “What led to the imposition of these sanctions, in the first place?”
After the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999 – in the wake of the genesis of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis – the ZANU PF government went into panic mode, especially after losing a referendum in its year 2000 bid to introduce a new constitution. With critical parliamentary elections slated in only a few months, the ruling party could see an eminent defeat, and thus, embarked on a very violent land reform program – in which, scores of white commercial farmers and their workers were brutally murdered, numerous more forcibly kicked off the land.
This violent campaign was touted as a program to ‘correct historical imbalances’, in which a very few white commercial farmers owned vast tracts of land, whilst the majority of indigenous people were crowded in infertile communal areas. However, this turned out to be nothing more than a well-calculated move to cut off perceived funding from white farners to the MDC, as well as a means to intimidate any opposition supporters. Furthermore, the land reform program ended up benefiting only a few party bigwigs with the best multiple farms, and token resettlement of party faithfuls.
Although, ZANU PF narrowly won the 2000 parliamentary elections, the brutal crackdown on the opposition intensified barely two years later, with the advent of the presidential election – pitting the then president Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the MDC’s Morgan Richard Tsvangirai – which were largely regarded as having been rigged in favor of the incumbent.
This period was characterised by widespread intimidation of opposition supporters, with the climax being the beating up of perceived opponents, burning of their homes, and reported killings.
This is when the so-called sanctions were imposed by Western countries, mainly the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA).
These sanctions were largely travel bans and the freezing of any overseas investments for a targeted group of senior ZANU PF and government officials, and their interests – and had absolutely nothing to do with the ordinary people.
However, despite these seemingly punitive measures, ZANU PF atrocities reached boiling point after the 2008 harmonised elections, in which Tsvangirai narrowly beat Mugabe in the first round – though, officially failing to attain an outright majority to declare him the winner. The subsequent wave of violence was unparallelled ever since the 1980s genocidal massacre of over 20,000 innocent men, women and children in the Matebeleland and Midlands provinces.
This ultimately led to Tsvangirai pulling out of the run-off presidential elections, in protest at the violence – culminating in the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) spearheaded by SADC through South African president Thabo Mbeki.
In fact, over the preceding years, although human rights abuses continued unabated – targeted sanctions, especially by the EU were substantially watered down – subesequently, leaving only Mugabe and his wife Grace – such that, currently, due to Mugabe’s recent death, there are virtually no EU sanctions to talk about.
That is where we find ourselves today. What sanctions are Zimbabwe government, SADC and the AU making so much noise about?
The only sanctions left are those imposed by the US – the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) – which were imposed only on 141 entities and senior officials in the Zimbabwe administration largely over violation of human rights, and economic mismanagement.
So, why would SADC and the AU stand in solidarity with Harare in calling for the lifting of these targeted measures? Have the conditions that invited the sanctions been addressed?
Ever since the 2017 military intervention that toppled Mugabe, ushering in his long time protégé Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa as president, both the human rights and economic record of this once envy of the African continent, has turned it into a shameful image of what being an African means.
As much as Mnangagwa’s so-called ‘new dispensation’ came into the fray with loud proclamations of the respect for human rights, and ‘heaven on earth’ economic growth, the situation on the ground over the past 2 years has been anything but rosy.
The 2018 post-election period was greeted by the gunning down of at least 6 unarmed people during protests in Harare, which the subsequently established commission of inquiry led by former South Africa president Kgalema Motlanthe concluded that security forces – deployed to quell these disturbances – were responsible, and that the culprits should be held accountable.
Zimbabwean authorities have done nothing in that regard.
Thereafter, in January 2019, more people were reportedly shot and killed during violent fuel price hike protests in the country’s major cities – with allegations of further intimidation, brutalisation and rape of innocent citizens in their residential areas by suspected state agents. Again, no one was held responsible – with only the alleged violent protestors being brought to book.
Furthermore, this year alone, there have been more than 50 reported cases of abductions of opposition and labour activists – with no one being prosecuted for these crimes.
The opposition MDC was barred by the police from conducting any marches or demonstrations throughout the country from their initial intended assembly in August 2019.
These incidents are also contained in the preliminary report by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom to peaceful assembly and association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule who visited the country recently to assess the human rights situation.
Thus, I pose the same question again – what conditions exist for the lifting of ZIDERA? SADC and the AU should explain to Zimbabweans, and the world at large.
We then need to take a closer look at the alleged negative effects of these targeted sanctions on us – the ordinary people of Zimbabwe.
Those who propagate this narrative have alluded to the lack of lines of credit to the country from global creditors. Well, first things first, according to the latest reports, the Zimbabwe government owes over US$16.9 billion, which it has not been paying back for over two decades – therefore, should there be any wonder why the country is not receiving any loans? Who, in their right mind, would continue giving money to someone who is notorious for not paying back?
This can certainly never be attributable to sanctions.
On the other hand, the country has vast resources, and as such, can not cry over the none availability of lines of credit for our lack of financial power – taking into account that last year Zimbabwe realised US$3.2 billion from minerals alone, and has so far made US$910 million – with a target of US$4.2 billion by the end of 2019.
Additionally, the government has recorded a budget surplus of ZW$863.6 million from January to June 2019.
SADC and the AU should ask the Zimbabwe authorities what they are doing with that money, instead of complaining of sanctions. Whilst still at it, they should also ask the government what they are doing to recover the allegedly stolen US$15 billion of diamond sales, which vanished into thin air a few years back.
In fact, that is where the crux of Zimbabwean problems lie.
Corruption, corruption, corruption.
Most Zimbabweans believe that we have more than enough resources as a country to improve our own lives, but the rampart and unfettered corruption within the corridors of power, and grossly misplaced priorities, are mostly to blame for our pathetic situation.
The yarn that we have not been receiving any donor support is to be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Actually, the US government alone has assisted the country with over US$3 billion in aid since 1980 – and has recently been at the forefront in the wake of food shortages, and the devastation of Cyclone Idai – something that even Mnangagwa boasted about.
SADC and the AU would be better off spending their time and resources teaching their allies in the Zimbabwe administration to stop whining, but immediately and seriously attend to the real issues bedevilling the nation – namely, human rights abuses, corruption and economic mismanagement.
Once those have been adequately addressed, then we will all unite in calling for the immediate removal of these targeted sanctions – but, as it is today, even Zimbabweans themselves are far from being convinced.
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on email: mbofana.tendairuben73@gmail.