Comment

Fresh ideas needed to move Mugabe


THE EU’s visa ban, assets freeze and other punitive measures against President Mugabe and his top aides imposed in 2002 are due for renewal in February. European states are reportedly busy scrambling for a consens

us that will see the EU Common Position renewed but perhaps for a shorter time-span.


The targeted sanctions on Mugabe, his wife and lieutenants are likely to stir controversy in the powerful trade bloc as there is no unanimity on the measures designed to express disapproval of Zanu PF’s “reign of terror”.


Last year France’s decision to invite Mugabe to the Franco-African Summit in Paris caused consternation in London.


French Foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said then France wanted to discuss democracy and human rights with Mugabe, hence the sanctions regime had to be interpreted “flexibly”.


Britain’s disapproval of the French action was marked by a formal reservation echoed by Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

France, backed occasionally by Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy, has repeatedly pointed out that sanctions are not achieving their stated aim of regime reform. The British, Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians respond that the Quai d’Orsay’s diplomacy has been equally ineffective and that in any case a message should be sent in line with the Cotonou convention that electoral manipulation and political violence are unacceptable.


The United States and the Commonwealth support this view. There have been calls in the UK and US to tighten the sanctions because the situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated rather than improved. France argues that the sanctions make dialogue with Mugabe impossible and that their quiet diplomacy is in line with regional approaches to resolving the Zimbabwean crisis.

The efficacy of targeted sanctions has always been a contentious issue. Two years down the line, many doubt the effectiveness of the measures.


The EU’s Common Position was taken as a belated attempt to pressure the belligerent Mugabe to
allow free and fair elections in March 2002 and to let international monitors observe the election process. Yet, as they were imposed just three weeks prior to the elections, there was inadequate time for them to bring any real pressure on Mugabe and his associates. Hence, they were ineffective as an instrument of coercion, whatever their moral suasion.

It was hoped that the international community would cooperate in the period after the election to put pressure on Mugabe to hold a fresh poll. This did not happen.


However, the targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe are noteworthy in that they reflect many of the lessons learned from previous sanctions. The EU ruled out comprehensive sanctions precisely to avoid inflicting further hardship on Zimbabwe’s vulnerable people. The EU’s suspension of economic development funds contained exceptions for projects that directly supported the population.


Sanctions were thus targeted to avoid humanitarian consequences and to impact on Mugabe and his associates who were implicated in violence or electoral rigging. Their scope was limited to senior government officials in the hope that they would reform their ways.

The sanctions were adopted long after influential lobby groups had called on the international community to do something about Zimbabwe. The UN Human Rights Commissioner had expressed deep concern over the government’s behaviour, as had the Commonwealth and the US Secretary of State.


The international community did not take concrete action, however, until very late in the day. This certainly vitiated the potential for the measures to impact on Mugabe’s decision-making.

So Mugabe has appeared to weather the storm with support from regional “friends” who have refused to censure him. Regional collusion has clearly been an important factor in shielding the regime from international pressure to improve its record.


The same was true in Afghanistan in the late 1990s when regional support for the Taliban undermined UN sanctions against that regime.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the most powerful state in the region, South Africa, has supported President Mugabe and objected to international sanctions against his regime. It claims it is working for “leadership renewal” in Harare in a quiet and unobtrusive way. The Mauritius principles are held up as evidence of the success of this approach.


In Afghanistan, Pakistan’s co-operation with the international community was to prove vital in undermining support for the Taliban regime. The current raft of international measures against Mugabe’s regime is bound to fail as long as our rulers’ iniquities are shielded by Mbeki’s inaudible diplomacy.

Thus, while the smart sanctions present the stick (Mugabe admitted at his recent party congress that they were working) they lack the carrot — the crucial ingredient of reaching out to our obdurate octogenarian ruler. Mbeki’s approach offers the carrot but there is no stick.

As long as quiet diplomacy fails to complement the smart sanctions, the EU and US measures are not likely to move the road block.


There is need to give serious consideration to diplomatic initiatives that could be used to gain the co-operation of states that can directly influence Mugabe’s behaviour.


Neither targeted sanctions alone nor Mbeki’s behind-the-scenes scheming have managed to nudge Mugabe to end his repression and autocratic behaviour. It is time for fresh ideas.