HomeCommentRemove Zim sanctions in the interests of democracy

Editor’s Memo: Get it right once and for all!

FOR almost a decade, the US, EU, UK, Canada and Australia have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. On April 21, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will travel to Brussels to ask the EU to lift the sanctions it has imposed on his country.

If the west is truly concerned with supporting democracy in Zimbabwe, it must heed Tsvangirai’s request.

The EU sanctions date back to February 2002 when during the first election campaign to pit Tsvangirai against President Robert Mugabe, it argued that “serious violations of human rights” prevented the vote from being free and fair. The sanctions banned dozens of top-ranking members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF from entering the EU, froze their assets and forbade the export of arms to Zimbabwe.

The US first targeted Zimbabwe in 2001, in the midst of the chaotic land reform that saw thousands of white-owned farms invaded and occupied. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act directed that the US government should oppose the granting of any loan or financial assistance to Zimbabwe. In 2003, President George Bush expanded the sanctions by declaring a national emergency to deal with the Zimbabwean threat.

Since 2008, Zimbabwe has been moving in a more democratic direction. The long struggle by Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), together with international pressure, meant that in the aftermath of a violent election campaign, an isolated Zanu-PF was forced to enter into negotiations for a government of national unity.

The power-sharing government took office in February 2009. Tsvangirai became prime minister, and cabinet posts were split among the MDC, Zanu-PF and a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara. Mugabe remained president. For the first time since Independence in 1980, Mugabe and his party did not have a monopoly on state power.

The unity government’s greatest achievement has been to return Zimbabwe’s economy to growth after economic collapse and disastrous hyperinflation. This success means that in spite of uneven progress implementing the terms of the agreement that brought the coalition about, polls show that a majority of Zimbabweans still support their new government.

Tsvangirai has earned the right to criticise the Mugabe government. In his political career he has been arrested, beaten, and seen his supporters killed. Yet ever since he became prime minister, he has called for an end to the West’s restrictive measures. Mutambara, another former opposition politician, has also been very vocal in his belief that the sanctions have no value whatsoever.

The West’s restrictive measures are opposed in the wider region. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has consistently argued that the sanctions must be lifted to allow the unity government to “function to its full capacity”. The 15 states that make up the Southern African Development Community have also been unanimous in their opposition to continued sanctions on Zimbabwe.

The opposition and the old regime have joined together to move Zimbabwe forward. The government of national unity enjoys the support of Zimbabweans and the friendship of its neighbours. Why then does the West refuse to accept the legitimacy of the new government and treat it as an equal?

Is it because the 2008 elections were too bloody? Violence after Kenya’s disputed election in 2007 claimed more than 1 000 lives, but a power-sharing deal very similar to Zimbabwe’s restored peace and normality. This cannot be the reason.

Is it because the 2008 elections were rigged? Many Western allies retain power through fraudulent elections. For example, the government of Egypt, Africa’s single largest recipient of US aid.

Or is it simply because Mugabe’s regime has violated human rights? This cannot be denied, but the West is happy to do business with many other exploitative regimes, such as Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. Why no sanctions on them?

The Western fixation on Mugabe’s removal is impractical. Mugabe’s most important political asset is the credibility he gained as a dedicated fighter against colonialism in southern Africa. By unfairly singling Mugabe out, Western governments play into his hands.

The essence of democracy is that political power comes from the people. If the goal of the EU and US is to build democracy in Zimbabwe, they must remove the sanctions that Zimbabweans do not want. The MDC-Zanu-PF government must be given a fair chance to chart a new way. If the West cannot accept that, by what right do they criticise Zimbabwe? — The Guardian— UK.


By Marc Lizoain

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