The Sanctions Debate on Zimbabwe

via The Sanctions Debate on Zimbabwe | The Zimbabwean 12.04.14 by Solidarity Peace Trust

In the early 2000’s a series of ‘targeted measures’ were introduced by the EU, US, and later Australia, New Zealand and Canada, against the movement and assets of particular individuals in the Mugabe regime.

The measures were introduced as a response to serious electoral irregularities and human rights abuses in the Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2000 and 2002 respectively. It was also clear that these interventions were a response to the state-led land acquisition process that unfolded for much of the 2000’s, which radically transformed the property ownership structure on the land in favour of small scale farming.

The contestation over the meaning of the ‘targeted measures’ has marked the political discourse in the country from the early years of the new millennium until the present. For the opposition MDC, the civic movement and Western countries these measures were a just response to the repressive and authoritarian politics of the Mugabe regime and the violence and irregularities that marred most of the plebiscites in the decade of the 2000’s. During this period the measures played an important role in keeping a focus on the abuses of the Mugabe state, and provided some measure of accountability for the gross violations of human rights carried out by the state in this period.

For Zanu PF the measures were not targeted but amounted to a broader regime of sanctions that affected not only particular individuals in the ruling party but the economy and the Zimbabwean populace more generally. This argument was based on the fact that these punitive measures from the West not only restricted the supply of military equipment to the Mugabe government but, aside from the provision of humanitarian assistance, prevented any substantive new investments from entering the country.

Moreover as the terms of the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act 2001 set out, the US opposed any new loan, credit facilities or debt reduction initiatives being carried out by the International Financial Institutions. These measures effectively added to the investment pressures that had built up in Zimbabwe since the Zimbabwean Government’s fall out with the International Financial Institutions in the late 1990’s.

Throughout the period of the Zimbabwean Crisis in the 2000’s the Mugabe regime incorporated the sanctions issue into its anti-imperialist and Pan Africanist discourse, and made it a key component of the ‘patriotic history’ through which it crafted its political project. This strategy worked effectively in mobilising the support of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU). It was also damaging in casting the opposition as part of a Western intervention strategy in Zimbabwe designed to undermine the sovereignty of the country and the goals of the liberation struggle.

Thus, by the time of the signing of the SADC facilitated Global Political Agreement (GPA) between Zanu PF and the two MDC’s in 2008, Zanu PF’s rhetoric on the sanctions issue had already found considerable resonance in the Southern African region and the African continent, where the deployment of Mugabe’s anti-imperialist position gained effective political traction.

Article IV of the GPA committed parties to the lifting of all forms of measures and sanctions against Zimbabwe, and to a re-engagement with the international community. This agreement gave even greater credence to the Zanu PF position on sanctions and forced the MDCs to publically renounce any further commitment to these measures, notwithstanding the ambiguous position that the opposition was taking on this issue behind closed doors. Moreover once the GPA was signed, with the position on sanctions repeatedly endorsed by SADC at various summits thereafter, the persistence of these measures by the West became increasingly counter-productive and placed the MDCs in a permanently defensive position on this issue.

In response to the GPA the EU began a process of gradually moving away from the ‘targeted measures’ and at different stages removed various Zanu PF figures and entities from the punitive list. This process continued until after the July 2013 elections, when the EU removed all names from the targeted list except Mugabe and his wife, with the restrictions on military cooperation also remaining in place.

While the EU maintained that there were serious problems with the elections, a combination of the overwhelming election ‘loss’ by the MDC, Belgium’s interests in Zimbabwe’s diamonds, and increasing divisions over the Zimbabwe question, pushed the organisation into a continuing rapprochement with Zimbabwe. It is fair to predict that when the EU meet on the Zimbabwe issue in November 2014, the remainder of the sanctions are likely to be removed, barring any new round of serious human rights abuses by the Zimbabwe government.

The US on the other hand have retained their position on the sanctions maintaining that the serious irregularities in the 2013 elections have provided no incentive to change its stance. In truth the US is able to maintain its tough posture on Zimbabwe because, in the calculation of global US interests, Zimbabwe represents an issue of little significance. Therefore the US loses very little through its current stand.

In the meantime the Mugabe government has continued to use its ‘Look East’ policy with China in particular to bargain in its re-engagement strategy with the West. As the Zimbabwean economy continues to face serious challenges in the post-election period, the need for new investments, beyond the interventions of the Chinese in selected sectors such as mineral resources, agricultural sub-contracting, and the defence sector, remains urgent.

This is particularly the case in the massively de-industrialised manufacturing sector. The current ‘anti-corruption’ drive of the Mugabe government may not only be related to the succession battle within the ruling party, but may also be an indicator of its need to present a reform face to the West. There are still many contradictory signals coming out of the Zimbabwean government, not the least of which is the confusion over its Indigenisation Policy. Nevertheless at the moment the movement towards a more comprehensive re-engagement between the EU and Zimbabwe appears to be on course.

In conclusion it is clear that whatever the merits of the sanctions up to the mid 2000’s, once the GPA was signed they became counter-productive. In the face of the agreed GPA position on the removal of sanctions and the SADC and AU opposition to the measures, the continued Western insistence on the latter gave the appearance of yet another example of Western arrogance towards an African initiative. In the new political context of the post 2013 election, continuation of the sanctions serves little purpose besides bolstering continental support for the Mugabe regime and exposing the ambiguity of the MDCs and the civic movement on this issue.

It is time for the move away from sanctions to be completed, in the context of a critical engagement with the Zimbabwe government over its capacity to deal with such an international re-engagement. This is particularly the case given the persistent evidence of corruption in the state and parastatal sectors, provided by elements within the ruling party itself. The Zimbabwean state cannot expect budgetary support in the face of such corruption and will have to deal with the broad implications of such lack of accountability in the state structures if it is to engage meaningfully with the wider international political spectrum.


  • comment-avatar
    Jono Austin 8 years ago

    Oh shut up! Keep the travel restrictions in place and isolate this regime of thieves, murderers and thugs. Mugabe does not want to deal with the west-he told them to go hang! Solidarity peace trust you can go ‘hang’

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    John Thomas 8 years ago

    ZANU have put sanctions on themselves by their own actions. We spend more time listening to these wretches than sympathizing for the thousands of ZANU victims. The sanctions debate is for the mentally enslaved. Normal people know that they are right.

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    Wilbert Mukori 8 years ago

    The many stories of rampant corruption, something Mugabe has denied throughout the years, has put to bed the debate of what is behind Zimbabwe’s economic melt-down. It is not the sanctions, it never was, it is rampant corruption that has caused the economic melt-down!

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    Clive Sutherland 8 years ago

    Tighten the targeted sanctions some more.

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    Jenandebvu 8 years ago

    Zanu pf can only respond if things are tight. Although the collape of the economy will not come soon, the pressure and failures of Chinamasa (bankrupt) and corruption (expposures) and death of khule due to old age will led to chaos. US Gvt may only coorperate in a new government

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    Gomogranny 8 years ago

    Tighten the noose on those ZANU individuals. They have run out of steam on their “Cry Sanctions” rhetoric…but nobody can deny that they used that bugle call with supreme effect. The British Politicians got more than they bargained for with Mugabe…the old fox made them look STUPID and INEPT.

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      Jono Austin 8 years ago

      Do you think the British Politicians give a damn about Zimbabwe beyond voting for travel restrictions?. Zimbabwe features in the British media about once a year on the third or fourth page of the newspapers. Just because the state media in Zimbabwe makes the British Politicians look ‘stupid and inept’ doesn’t mean that is reflected overseas. One supermarket’s profit in Britain is about Zimbabwe’s GDP so don’t think that they are worried that their economy will be damaged by the state of British businesses in Zimbabwe. Just because Mugabe rants on and on about the British doesn’t mean it worries them or is even noticed.

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      Angela Wigmore 8 years ago

      Most British politicians ARE stupid and inept. And shortsighted.

  • comment-avatar

    ZPF and Zimbabweans do not know that we are a nation of sinners. Where are the Christians in ZPF. Stand up and do what is right. Confess and ask God’s and the peoples forgiveness. The answers will be found only then. Stop carping on about sanctions. have you thought that may be God’s hand is on those sanctions. please grow up!

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    Will the Doctor 8 years ago

    Sanctions were put in place because the Mugabe regime is illegitimate. So why should they be removed?

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    Manyongori 8 years ago

    Actually I tend to agree with the writer as I didn’t see any benefits accrued from them besides giving old Bob the excuse of pointing his dirty finger on the west for everything from drought,corruption and every malady befalling zimbos as being a result of sanctions.We have been arguing for the west to call his bluff and remove them so that we could see what he was going to blame this time.

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    Brian 8 years ago

    Lift sanctions and Grace is free to spend Zim taxpayers’ $$$ in Europe! A scenario for which she would surely wish. Corruption, thy name is Zimbabwe.

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    Sanctions sustained Mugabe’s grip on Power.

    Undeclared state of emergency steps were taken because of sanctions which spoiled Opposition’s activities.

    Sanctions play very well in the hands of Zanu but have had such a horrendous effect on the innocent general populace who have also been taught how evil America and Britain are. Every average Zimbabwean now hates America and Britain that I have witnessed an old man who has called his 2 unruly dogs ‘Bush’ and ‘Blair’

  • comment-avatar

    Amazing piece of rubbish.

    What Zim government?
    There is no legit Zim gov. post the 1980 elections.

    ZANU has been in a de-facto coup-d’etat.
    They have lost every election since.

    Sad thing is that the zimbo doesn’t want to do anything about it.

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    Kubota Binga 8 years ago

    At long last Solidarity fellow you see some sense. I expected this realisation way back and if this represents the majority of opposition politicians and supporters, we are doomed. Guaging from the great number of followers you command, I am very much tempted to believe that ZANU PF will reign until they choose to go …that forever.

    Wake up everyone and see what benefits Zimbabwe irrespective of who is President! Our destiny should not be dictated by the WEST! What difference did it make in Iraq to ouster Sadam? Ask any Iraqi near you. The time we pride in ourselves is the time we will prosper as a nation.

  • comment-avatar

    What have the Airabs got to do with us in Zim?
    Today, the world is intertwined.
    China is growing because of, not inspite of, the West.
    What are we, in Zim, to be choosy?