HomeCommentEric Bloch: Perplexing Sanctions Puzzle

Candid Comment: What next after Zimplats’ ‘indigenisation’?

FOR almost a decade the subject of sanctions has been highly topical in the context of Zimbabwe.

Initially, the sanctions imposed by sections of the international community upon Zimbabwe were specifically targeted at named individuals who constituted the political hierarchy of Zimbabwe, and others closely associated with such individuals.

The sanctions barred such persons from travelling to, and in, the imposing countries, from operating banking accounts therein, and from being possessed of any investment in those countries.

The intent was to demonstrate the magnitude of those countries’ opposition to the policies and actions of those subjected to the sanctions, and in particular the contempt for the abuse of the fundamental principles of democracy, and for the precepts of respect for human and property rights, and for just
implementation and preservation of law and order.

The second phase of sanctions was the promulgation by the US of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, enacted for motives of a like nature to the subjects of the targeted sanctions.

The issue of greatest substance in that Act was that until such time as genuine restoration of democracy in Zimbabwe occurred, and Zimbabwe conformed with internationally-recognised norms of human and property rights, and of wholly equitable application of law and order, the US would not support funding being accorded Zimbabwe by the Bretton Woods’ institutions (IMF and World Bank).

It would exercise veto power to bar Zimbabwe access to such funding.  Although apparently a very substantive sanction, it was in reality nothing but a corroboration of a prevailing situation, for the constitution and policies of those international institutions preclude funding to debt servicing defaulters with debt repayment arrears.  This has been Zimbabwe’s circumstance for many years.

Sanctions against Zimbabwe subsequently intensified when the European Union and some other countries resolved that none in such countries should provide any funding, goods or services to the Zimbabwe government, to any entities with which it was directly associated (including parastatals such as Zesa, TelOne, Air Zimbabwe, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Grain Marketing Board, and the like, including the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe).

Any interaction of such countries with the Zimbabwe government and underlying entities, if of a direct or indirect financial nature, was limited to critical humanitarian aid. Concurrently, there was a progressive extension of the number of individuals subjected to the targeted sanctions.

At all times, the key intent of those applying sanctions was to motivate a Zimbabwean transformation.

Although with petulant, endless diatribes, the Zimbabwe government vitriolically and speciously alleged that the motivation for the sanctions was in order to bring about a “recolonisation” and domination of Zimbabwe, the realities were diametrically different.

It was wholly unacceptable to the majority of the international community that the Zimbabwe government endlessly dispossessed thousands of their legitimately-owned properties, compounding such actions by not providing compensation, and by blatant disregard for numerous Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements to which Zimbabwe was a signatory.

It was even more unacceptable that such property dispossessions were very frequently effected with recourse to unlawful violence, in total contemptuous disregard for human rights and for tenets of law, with government not only doing nothing to contain such violence, but tacitly supporting it.

Relations with the international community were worsened also by the frequent politically motivated arrests, without valid grounds, incarceration of individuals for prolonged periods of time without being brought to trial, and frequent subjugation of those arrested to unjustified beatings and torture.

In such circumstances, it is little wonder that almost all countries (other than those with like demonic policies) found it necessary to distance themselves from Zimbabwe and its government, and to seek ways of provoking a Zimbabwean transformation to acceptable international norms.

Unfortunately, however, the consequences of their actions were wholly the opposite of the sought after results. Essentially, all that the sanctions achieved was that:

  • Government could deflect culpability for Zimbabwe’s ills by alleging that they were wholly due to the sanctions imposed, notwithstanding that to a significant extent such allegations were without foundation, save and except for the impacts of deteriorating parastatal services delivery;
  • Government progressively became more and more resistant to change, perceiving that any changes would be perceived as surrender, and of loss of authority;
  • In order to demonstrate its contempt for the international actions, government vigorously pursued intensified relationships with those countries of like dictatorial, non-democratic, unjust policies; and
  • The Zimbabwean economic decline intensified, due to the continuous deterioration in parastatal services, collapsing infrastructure and mass exodus of skilled Zimbabweans to more viable economic regions, resulting in  intensified poverty, suffering and hardships for most Zimbabweans.

Thus, no matter how sound the motivations, objectives and intents of those imposing the sanctions, those sanctions were counterproductive to a very great degree, and most injurious to the very people that the sanctions were intended to aid.

With the coming into being of the Global Political Agreement and the so-called “inclusive government”, there has been recurrent demand, by those that formerly exclusively constituted the Zimbabwean government, that the new governmental partners use their influence to motivate a lifting of sanctions.

The international community would be well advised, in the interests of the masses of the Zimbabwean population, to yield to the urging that the sanctions be lifted, insofar as such sanctions have negative economic effects.

Doing so does not in any manner necessitate that they also lift the targeted sanctions, for it is not only their perfect right to demonstrate their opposition to dictatorial, oppressively unjust and non-democratic philosophies, policies and actions.

It is also the absolute right of any country to determine who may enter their countries, may invest therein, and so forth, and if countries wish to continue to bar those whom they consider unacceptable, it is their right to do so.

But continuance of economic sanctions, of barriers to interactions with parastatals, with companies in which government is a shareholder, and of constraints upon economic recovery, are sanctions against an innocent populace, and a major contributor to suffering.

The perplexing sanctions puzzle would be equitably resolved by a discontinuance of economic sanctions, whilst targeted sanctions upon individuals deserving thereof remain of force and effect.


Eric Bloch


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