Zimbabwe has a long way to go before sanctions are lifted

15th July 2009 By: Idasa, an African Democracy Institute

The African Union (AU), SADC and the Zimbabwean Government of National Unity (GNU), have recently begun to take it in turns to call for the removal of the targeted sanctions against certain individuals and organizations linked to Zimbabwe, arguing that it is the only way for the new government to work. For the past seven years, Zanu PF has maintained that western economic sanctions are responsible for the suffering and hardship of Zimbabweans. In addition, Zanu PF argues that the targeted sanctions introduced by the US, Australia, Canada, and the EU after the promulgation of the US Zimbabwe Democracy Recovery Act (ZIIDERA) in 2001 effectively severed the much needed credit lines to Zimbabwe and are designed to bring about regime change.

In fact, since 2003 the United States, Britain, the EU, Australia and New Zealand to name but a few, have maintained targeted sanctions on a select group of Zimbabwe's elite. The current range of targeted measures is specifically directed against approximately 178 individuals and organizations responsible for or linked through funding to the excesses of the Zanu PF regime, in terms of human rights abuse, corruption and undermining the rule of law. These sanctions are designed to isolate the political leadership from the privileges they have amassed and to prevent further profiteering and abuse of national assets. The Australian government had gone a step further and extended the punitive measures to include beneficiaries of the listed individuals. At a media conference on the 28th of August 2007, the Australian Foreign Minister announced that children of Zanu PF party officials would have their student visas revoked and would be expelled from the country.

On the 4th of March 2009 U.S President Obama extended the targeted sanctions saying, "I am continuing for one year the national emergency with respect to the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe". This development came at a time when there has been a growing chorus from SADC, the African Union and other bodies including COMESA and the Non Aligned Movement for the world to support Zimbabwe and remove the targeted sanctions. The question is, does the success of the inclusive government hinge on the unblocking of the economic lines of credit or should the focus be on resolving outstanding issues related to the Global Political Agreement? That is, if this new government cannot demonstrate that there has been a mentality shift and it can work sincerely as a unit, it will be difficult to convince western countries to lift sanctions.

The targeted sanctions are not direct or in the form of a trade embargo against the state. They are diplomatic sanctions meant to persuade the political leadership of a nation that there are consequences to a disregard for human rights norms. Travel bans and restrictions were instituted to inhibit full participation of the listed individuals in international fora such as the United Nations. In the case of US sanctions, the proscribed individuals are not permitted to travel to the US and are not allowed to own assets or move funds through American financial institutions. In addition, certain countries have frozen the assets of these individuals and organizations. This freezing of assets entails the withholding of bank funds in the name of the nominated beneficiaries in countries that have endorsed the list. Some of these sanctions are annually renewable, such as the ban on travel that includes Robert Mugabe and leading members of Zanu PF.

In reality then, Zanu PF has been deliberately shying away from the truth. When it comes to lines of credit, some of which have been reopened more recently, it is important to note that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended credit to Zimbabwe because the Mugabe government defaulted on its debt servicing payments. The country has outstanding arrears with the IMF and its voting rights were suspended in 2003. Other potential lenders have taken a similar view of the regime's credit worthiness. Yet, Zanu PF continues to argue that the country is going to struggle to recover when lines of international credit and balance of payments support continue to be blocked by countries like the U.S. Mugabe believes the MDC, which enjoys a fair amount of goodwill within the international community, will leverage the eventual lifting of the sanctions.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in his first address to parliament after joining the new government urged the international community to take note of the power sharing agreement and loosen sanctions. Tsvangirai has however refused to condemn sanctions primarily targeted at Mugabe and his inner circle. Arthur Mutambara leader of the smaller faction of the MDC maintains that the U.S should lift its financial sanctions. In a press interview on April 17, he stated that he had told the American Ambassador to Zimbabwe not to deny the GNU credit lines and investment as by so doing they will be playing into the hands of those undermining the unity government and intent on seeing it collapse. Tsvangirai and Mutambara, both MDC leaders, are in tune with Zanu PF in calling for the unblocking of credit lines as a remedy for cash flow to sustain the country and to make the unity government work.

The new Finance Minister, Tendai Biti of the MDC, has also been lobbying for access to loans from western governments. In Biti's interview with SW Radio Africa's Violet Gonda on the 1st of May 2009, he stated that he met with people involved with mothering ZIDERA and made it clear to them that it would be very difficult for the interim government to move when the Act is in place. "We cannot normalize our relations with the IMF because of the voting power..., people who represent America on that board cannot vote differently because of ZIDERA, so it is critical". After meetings with Tendai Biti, the U.S gave no indication that it was going to change course in its Zimbabwe policy. U.S State department spokesman Robert Wood told Reuters ``we want to see how the government is making progress on democratic reforms, economic reforms and then we will make a decision on whether we want to provide significant development assistance.''

Lodewijk Briet the European Union ambassador to South Africa said, on the 5th of March 2009, "we consider calls of immediate lifting of the EUs targeted measures to be premature and would first encourage all parties to comply fully with the terms of the power sharing agreement''. The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband acknowledged that Biti's economic policies are a good basis for progress. However, he maintained that the basis for the re-engagement of the international community depends on politics, "Politics holds the key-whether Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his colleagues are able to exercise the power for which the Zimbabwean people voted, and which the agreement to a transitional government's guidelines provides." The Government of National Unity (GNU) has of late received millions of dollars in credit from African countries and the World Bank and the IMF have been shuttling in and out of Harare to assess the relative merits of re-engagement.

Sanctions should only be lifted if there is measurable and meaningful progress by the unity government on its pledges as enshrined in the Global Political Agreement signed last September. Those who attracted sanctions in their individual capacities ought to work hard to earn their removal from the list.

Written by: Tichafara Rhys, Zimbabwe Exiles Forum