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Call Robert Mugabe’s bluff

ONE of the most disheartening things about Zimbabwe is that its repellent leader, President Robert Mugabe, though loathed by many — probably most — people in his own country, is widely admired across Africa, including its most powerful country, South Africa.

One reason for this is that he has persuaded many Africans that the main cause of his country’s ruin is the wicked imposition of sanctions by the West, orchestrated by Britain, the evil former colonial power, and the United States.
This is rubbish! There are no general sanctions stopping trade or financial dealings with Zimbabwe, as there were against its forerunner, Rhodesia, when its white-supremacist leader, Ian Smith, refused to accept black-majority rule.
Rather, Mugabe and some 200 people in his ruling set are banned from travel to the United States, the European Union and a handful of other countries, and their assets in those places are frozen.
A congressional Act also stops America from financing Zimbabwean government bodies and companies deemed close to Mugabe’s ruling party through the World Bank and other institutions. But the overwhelming reason why banks are loath to lend to Zimbabwe is that Mugabe’s reckless policies, especially the confiscation of white-owned farms, have entirely destroyed Zimbabwe’s creditworthiness. The personal sanctions have little to do with the country’s economic plight and yet they hand Mugabe a populist excuse for it.
Nevertheless the West (and in particular Britain, which still steers Europe’s policy on Zimbabwe) should now change course and offer to lift the sanctions in return for a few critically important pledges by Mugabe.
Some 18 months ago a unity government took shape five months after a “global political agreement” had laid out a detailed formula under which Mugabe would remain president but share power with Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.
As leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Tsvangirai actually won a general election, against all odds, in March 2008. He also won the first round of a presidential contest and would have displaced Mugabe but for a campaign of terror against the MDC that forced its candidate to withdraw. Western governments say they will lift the sanctions only if Mugabe meets the terms of the global political agreement, which he continues brazenly to flout. It is a bargain that will not be struck.
But Mugabe’s recent declaration that an election must be held next year offers a fresh chance to break the deadlock. Britain and the West should offer to lift sanctions if Mugabe accepts unrestricted international election monitoring. In the past South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), a 15-country regional club, have laid out fine-sounding electoral guidelines that Mugabe has merrily ignored. This time, if sanctions are to go, it must be agreed that a wider range of monitors, including teams from the Commonwealth, the EU and the UN, are let in-and allowed to stay a month before and after the poll. South Africa and Sadc are still crucial. But they — and Mugabe — must be persuaded to let international bodies from outside Africa join the fray.
Mugabe has let it be known that he wants to re-engage with the new British government under David Cameron, whose Conservative predecessors he admires for brokering the 1980 Lancaster House accord that first put him in power. It is time to call his bluff. It is clearly a risk, as Mugabe has broken his word so many times. But if he does it again, the sanctions can always be reimposed. Tsvangirai agrees with this approach. And South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, is less prone than his misguided predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, to treat Tsvangirai like dirt. Muttering about the old colonial power throwing its weight around may be heard. But Cameron and Zuma must lance this boil together. Once they lock Mugabe into publicly accepting election conditions, the sanctions should be lifted. — Economist

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