This past weekend the SADC countries met in Malawi and one of the issues on the agenda was that of sanctions against Zimbabwe. Malawi’s President Joyce Banda urged the lifting of economic sanctions stating that Zimbabweans have suffered enough.
How did Zimbabwe get sanctioned in the first place? In 2002 sanctions were imposed on the government of President Mugabe because he was stifling political opposition, violating human rights and also because of his controversial land reform policy that targeted white commercial farmers.
The EU and USA imposed travel and economic sanctions which basically restricted Zimbabwe’s access to financing, debt relief, debt restructuring forcing the government to print money for most of its transactions resulting in record breaking inflation, eventually leading to the abandonment of the local currency in favor of a multi-currency system.
Lifting of the sanctions required meeting the following conditions:
- Restoration of the rule of law: including respect for property ownership, freedom of speech and association, and ending violence and intimidation sponsored, condoned by the ruling elite.
- Electoral Conditions: That Zimbabwe had to hold a presidential election that would be widely accepted as free and fair and the president-elect is free to assume the duties of the office
- Transparent Land Reform: a demonstrated commitment to an equitable, legal, and transparent land reform program as agreed upon at the 1998 Land Reform and Resettlement in Zimbabwe conference
- Ending involvement in the Congo.
- Military & Police: The Zimbabwean Armed Forces, the national police and any other security forces are responsible to, and should serve the elected civilian government.
So back to President Banda’s statement; yes, it is no secret that the people of Zimbabwe have indeed suffered enough. Inflation broke the Guinness book of world record, millions of its citizens are in the diaspora as economic refugees, and at home unemployment is at 95% and the manufacturing industry is barely alive.
Mugabe’s contentious relationship with the West is also no secret and the cause of his adopting a look East policy. So with China, Iran, Malaysia etc. as allies and business partners why does Zimbabwe and SADC care about US and EU sanctions, after all they are just targeted travel bans against Mugabe and select ZANU PF party members?.
Also, sanctions provide SADC & ZANU PF with a scapegoat for all of the country’s woes which pushes the suffering masses in to the arms of the administration. Without the economic wherewithal citizens are more concerned about where to get their next meal, than with fomenting rebellion making it less likely for them to over throw oppressors. Removal of sanctions will take away Mugabe’s ammunition of blaming the West for the country’s problems. He will be unable to blame the West without losing his credibility.
So has Zimbabwe met the stipulations required to lift the sanctions?
Restoration of law: Property rights are still being trampled on especially property rights on company owned property. Through its indigenization drive, the government is authorised to seize any companies that do have 51% indigenous ownership. Freedom of speech and association is still restricted with journalists and members of the opposition still routinely detained and harassed. Negative speech about the President can earn one a stint in the prison. This behavior is not unique to Mugabe, leaders such as Museveni, Biya, Jammeh, and Kagame are among those whose policies towards free speech are similar or worse off depending who you ask, however none have sanctions imposed against them. Is Zimbabwe’s track record more egregious than those of say, Saudi Arabia where people are beheaded for minor infractions?
Electoral Conditions: The recently passed presidential elections were hailed as peaceful but not fair, over half a million people were unable to cast their votes due to unfavorable conditions and other irregularities. The opposition contested the results and lodged a complaint with the constitutional court requesting nullification of the results. The petition was later withdrawn citing partiality of the court. Yes, the electoral conditions were not perfect but then what country has had perfect elections? Nigerian elections from 1999 & 2003, Kenya’s 2007 elections and Ivory Coast’s 2010 polls where characterized by bribery and violence however no sanctions were ever lobbied against any of these countries. In fact, Kenya currently gets $1billionin aid money annually from the US alone so why penalize Zimbabwe?
Transparent land reform: Land reform in Zimbabwe was a necessary evil. 70% of the fertile land was owned by a minority and equitable distribution was necessary. The fact of the matter is the land appropriated from white farmers under the land reform has not and will not be returned to them due to the fact the land has been distributed to black Zimbabweans so it’s a moot point. The redistribution of land among the local blacks was and still is less than transparent, with government officials and their families and close friends benefiting the most, receiving prime land allocations and in some cases getting allocated multiple farms. This is an issue that needs addressing within the country not something external forces can influence through sanctions.
Involvement in Congo war: In 1998, after falling out with Uganda and Rwanda, the first President Kabila sought military help to shore up his fragile government from various African allies including Zimbabwe. For five years, about 12,000 soldiers from Zimbabwe along with those from Namibia, Angola, Chad and Sudan helped out in DR Congo till 2002 when the warring parties agreed to end the war. Zimbabwe armed forces are no longer is Congo making this the one requirement that Zimbabwe has met, one out of six is not bad!
Military & police: All security forces are required to serve an elected civilian government. This has not been put to the test although all indications suggest it would not pass if tested. Zimbabwe is an environment where the security forces are neither neutral nor nonpartisan. The joint service chiefs have made clear that they will not support any government that is led by the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. During his tenure and Prime Minister in the coalition government, the service chiefs refused to salute him citing his lack of liberation credentials from the war that led to independence in 1980. This is a condition that has yet to be met and is unlikely to change as long as the armed forces are led by former guerrillas from the Rhodesian bush war.
President Banda is right; it is time to remove the sanctions against Zimbabwe as they serve no purpose. However, sanctions removal alone will have a marginal direct impact on the suffering masses in Zimbabwe. The basis for the sanctions is legitimate, yes, human rights abuses and suppression of free speech are not condoned, and however economic resuscitation is of more importance. Unless pro-investment policies are put in place the economy will continue on a downward trajectory. Without a sustainable economy, without manufacturing, investment in infrastructure, appropriate utilization of proceeds from the newly discovered diamonds, lifting sanctions will not change much of anything for ordinary Zimbabweans.
If human rights abuses were so off putting to potential investors then USA and Europe would not be doing business in China and Saudi Arabia. Using human rights abuse as reasons for imposing sanctions is disingenuous especially when countries with worse track records in human rights violations are welcomed as allies and trading partners.
Even Gaddafi, the poster boy for sanctions, was welcomed back in the fold after languishing in the sanctions wilderness for over 32 years. Why can’t the same be done for Zimbabwe? My conclusion is that the only reason for continued sanctions is the presence of Mugabe. He is polarizing figure, wrongly or rightly, loathed by the West, yet loved and revered by some Africans and the East. As long as he remains at the helm, the West will never be impartial in issues concerning Zimbabwe. We should remember this is not about Mugabe; it is about a people and country that has been brought to its knees and needs relief.