HomeOpinionWill Sanctions Produce The Desired Outcome?

Will Sanctions Produce The Desired Outcome?

ON Friday, July 25 2008, while the representatives of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party and the opposition were in the midst of negotiations facilitated by South African President Mbeki,


United States President George Bush signed an executive order to expand sanctions against individuals and organisations in Zimbabwe associated with what he calls the “illegitimate” regime of Mugabe.

After 28 years of Independence, a precedent that many never thought possible in post-colonial Zimbabwe has been set whereby the outcome of an electoral process does not count for much other than to reduce the will of the people to a negotiating room with six individuals tasked with making decisions for about 13 million citizens.

The role of the international community in promoting or undermining democracy in Zimbabwe will continue to occupy the minds of many people not only in Zimbabwe but throughout the world.

After 28 years of Independence, Zimbabwe’s standing in the world has significantly diminished under the watch of Mugabe.

By global standards, Zimbabwe is too insignificant to attract the attention of the world and yet its crisis continues to occupy the minds of not only the G-8 countries but the entire United Nations.

This unprecedented spotlight on Zimbabwe has assisted Mugabe in making the case that the political and economic crisis is a direct result of the land dispossession of white Zimbabweans and the threat of the so-called 100% black economic empowerment thrust.

What is the causal link between the targeted sanctions and the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe? Is it correct to conclude that were it not for the imposition of economic sanctions, the prospects of the economy would be brighter? Would an agreement on the political questions between the negotiating parties be sufficient to incentivise the West to lift sanctions?

In announcing the new raft of sanctions, Bush said that the action was meant to send a strong message that the US will not permit individuals closely linked to Mugabe to operate in its financial markets.

A view shared by many and confirmed by Mugabe during the elections is that the will of the people of Zimbabwe does not matter and the calls by the international community for the restoration of the rule of law and respect for property rights can be ignored with no consequences.

The March 29 elections were held in an atmosphere that cannot be regarded as free and fair and yet the message from the people was that they wanted a change of direction and leadership.

While it can be legitimately argued that the results of the March election largely reflected the will of the people, it cannot be denied that the outcome could have been substantially different in favour of the opposition had the state been under the control of a neutral person.

The March presidential election did not produce a conclusive outcome, leading to the controversial run-off election whose timing and legality will continue to occupy legal and political minds for years to come.

However, the vote that has been condemned by the West and boycotted by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai produced an outcome that now gives Mugabe a locus standi in the Sadc-facilitated negotiations that have now been elevated to party talks rather than focusing solely on the presidential question.

By putting the screws on Tsvangirai and using the state machinery to deny him any media, financial and logistical support, the outcome of the run-off was as predictable as the agenda for the Sadc-mediated talks.

What does the EU and US governments know about the current talks that are not in the public domain? Why would they impose sanctions when the talks seem to be on track? What is it about Mugabe that makes the West suspicious of the outcome?

If the sanctions are targeted at stopping politically motivated violence, why would they take the form of an assets freeze? What is so special about the 17 enterprises that have now been included in the targeted list?

One of the principal reasons that motivated Tsvangirai to withdraw from the run-off elections was the violence that polluted the electoral atmosphere and environment.

The mere fact that the new sanctions are linked to the violence issue suggests that the West’s agenda is no more than trying to assist helpless Zimbabweans against state-sponsored violence.

However, it is not at all clear how targeted financial sanctions will incentivise the state to stop using violence and intimidation as a weapon to whip people into line.

In response to the humiliation of March, Mugabe whose intelligence must have told him about the causal link between the activities of the NGOs and the electoral success of the MDC, stopped suspected NGOs from being involved in providing humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable people of Zimbabwe.

What the EU and US governments are not saying is that they have come to the inescapable conclusion that Mugabe represents values, principles and morality that is inimical to the West’s shared values.

Unless the talks can produce an outcome that will remove Mugabe, it is clear that no change will take place in the approach of the West to the Zimbabwean crisis.

By giving an ambiguous position, as quoted below, on what is at stake in the current Zimbabwean crisis, Bush is setting himself up to an embarrassing and untenable position in the event that Tsvangirai agrees to serve in Mugabe’s cabinet:

“Should ongoing talks in South Africa between Mugabe’s regime and the Movement of Democratic Change result in a new government that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people, the United States stands ready to provide a substantial assistance package, development aid, and normalisation with international financial institutions.”

What precisely is meant by the will of the Zimbabwean people? Should the Zimbabwean people through the three negotiating parties agree to form a government of national unity (GNU) just like South Africa’s former apartheid government agreed with the African National Congress (ANC) and others to an interim constitution providing for a GNU, what would be the position of the EU and the US? Should sanctions not automatically be lifted?

How do targeted sanctions assist the cause of freedom for the suffering Zimbabwean masses? It is evident that the West has been pushed into a corner from which it is difficult to argue that were it not for the onslaught on white property rights by the Mugabe regime, the West would not have a case to stand on.

Surely, Africa has many examples of violent elections that have not produced the same outrage from the West leading many to question the motives behind the sanctions thrust.

Will the sanctions produce the desired outcomes? What really are the outcomes sought?

It should be sufficient for the West to make the case that the views held by Mugabe about the role of the state in nation-building are offensive to their own values and principles without seeking to hide behind the violence issue that has been taken up by Tsvangirai in the face of brutal attacks by a partisan state.

To what extent are the views held by Mugabe different from those held by the labour movement from whose womb Tsvangirai emerged?

At the core of the land reform programme is a belief, strongly held by Mugabe and his colleagues, that it is an appropriate role of the state to become an active participant in resource allocation and productive activities.

The contestation for political power is really between the labour movement and intellectuals with the business community taking the role of spectators.

The business community is obviously silent because the risks inherent in challenging the political elites in government and the opposition are too significant.

Having been one of the most significant black victims of undemocratic processes using state institutions, I find myself with no choice but to support the view that unless the rule of law is restored and property rights are respected, the West is justified in maintaining pressure on the negotiators to focus on what the country requires to move forward.

Last Friday, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 17 entities, including Zimre Holdings Ltd, an investment and reinsurance entity that was mine until the promulgation of decrees and laws that allowed Mugabe’s government to expropriate my shareholding in the company with no compensation.

I challenged the actions of the government of Zimbabwe in the Zimbabwean courts and regrettably Justice Rita Makarau ruled that a specified person has no constitutional right to challenge the state from enjoying the benefits of its own actions.

As at September 6, 2004 when a state-appointed administrator took control of all my Zimbabwean companies as a consequence of the operation of the State Indebted Insolvent Companies Act, I was the controlling shareholder of Zimre with a combined stake of 46,6%.

In January 2005, Zimre proceeded to hold a rights issue whose effect was to allow the government to follow the rights of my companies resulting in the government becoming the largest shareholder.

I do hope that by targeting Zimre, a window exists to expose the true nature of the operations of the government of Zimbabwe in undermining the rule of law.

*By Mutumwa Mawere : Zimbabwean-born businessman based in SA.

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