Sanctions aren’t always the answer: Robert Mugabe is using them to his advantage
Sanctions on Zimbabwe have become more of a helpful tool for Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party than a hindrance. And if this once-bountiful country is to turn a corner, the West should seriously consider suspending them.
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Whether a change of policy on sanctions would have the desired effect will depend partly on whether they are permanently lifted or just suspended. Lifting sanctions altogether is the most dramatic step but it leaves little room for review and reapplication, and could be too hard for Western countries to swallow.Skip to next paragraph
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Suspending sanctions until specific goals, such as the passing of the new Zimbabwe constitution or fresh elections, are met, is probably the better option, as it might allay the unease among donor countries’ domestic constituents.
Conditional suspension would be all the more credible if it were underwritten by South Africa and other power brokers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who could pledge to support the reinstitution of sanctions if the Zimbabwean government didn’t fulfil its side of the bargain.
Key to the success: depersonalization.
Donors now largely accept that the demonization of Mugabe, and calls for regime change, have gotten them nowhere. Manichean rhetoric has been replaced by an emphasis on the gradual narrowing of differences between ZANU and officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
As a result of the Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008, these two once-fierce enemies now share power in Zimbabwe’s coalition government. Until recently, it appeared that the MDC stood to gain the most from the seemingly open-ended and prolonged transition to democracy, as ZANU’s ageing leaders would inevitably be supplanted by MDC’s younger cadre of officials.
But with ZANU’s coffers now being replenished through diamond sales from the Marange fields and the rich pickings in prospect via the mooted “indigenization” of Zimbabwean business (shorthand for the partial seizure of principally white-owned assets), the political balance is shifting.
The bad blood between ZANU and Britain’s Labour Party poisoned relations between Harare and its former colonial master, London. On that score, the fact that the Labour Party is out is a good thing. Gordon Brown’s boycott of the European Union-Africa Summit in 2007 over Mugabe’s attendance drew stinging criticism.
Former British Foreign Secretary David Milliband’s remark earlier this year that sanctions against Zimbabwe should remain in place until MDC head Morgan Tsvangirai personally advocated for them to be lifted were described as “unhelpful” by Tsvangirai himself and were a gift to the ZANU leader.
The international community should use the changing of power in Britain as a way to change direction on sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Will the removal of sanctions help Zimbabweans and the major donors tackle the country’s big economic problems, promote the rule of law and reform the security services? Will it attract investment and skills back to Zimbabwe, and help pave the way to free and fair elections?
Of course there is no way to know for sure unless we try. There will be challenges in the removal of sanctions. But at no time since they were first imposed have sanctions seemed more counterproductive. It’s time to revisit their value.