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The record of human right abuses from the time of Independence to the time of imposition of sanctions in 2002 is diabolic to say the least. The sanctions — which were triggered by the refusal to accredit EU observers for the 2002 presidential election — were therefore probably a necessary measure and part of the global efforts to contain the rogue regime.

In fact, it was a necessary tool and measure to try and protect the people of Zimbabwe from the monster that was prepared to swallow any one just to stay in power. The effects of the sanctions were there for all to see, they hit below the belt but the regime survived due to all sorts of machinations, especially the questionable methods of the Governor of the Reserve Bank who used all unorthodox means to become master of the casino economy.

The crippling of the whole economy did not deter the regime as it ignored everyone’s well-being and concentrated on its own survival. If the situation had continued everything would have closed down but the regime would still have refused to go. They remain very afraid of what might happen to them given that the world is now more eager than before to deal with those that criminally abuse their citizens’ rights.

But the critical question that begs for an urgent answer is whether the sanctions remain relevant given the amount of positive developments in the country as a result of the inclusive government. It is time the European Union (EU) reconsiders its stance on sanctions.

The resumption of talks between the EUand the Zimbabwean government mark yet another milestone for the Government of National Unity (GNU) because the issue of sanctions has remained a big hindrance to attainment of some of the key things that the GNU set out to achieve. The resumption of talks has seen the government delegation consisting of ministers Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Patrick Chinamasa and Elton Mangoma go to Brussels for talks with the European Commission leadership.

The continuation of the talks is important for both the EU and Zimbabwe because the sanctions, or restrictive measures as some would like to call them, have outlived their usefulness and are not in any way assisting the country move forward. Equally, maintaining sanctions does not add value to the foreign policy interests of EU as a regional block or EU countries as individual member states. If anything the interests of those countries are best served with no restrictions in trade, investment and other economic partnerships in relationship to Zimbabwe.

There is doubt that there are many EU individual member states who badly want to do business with Zimbabwe. It is also my contention that a number of them never wanted the imposition of sanctions in the first place while others want them removed as of yesterday. But it is obviously the solidarity with those who feel strongly about the sanctions that some of the countries continue endorsing the continuation of the embargo.

However, what the EU is not realising is that the sanctions issue has remained the only tangible and sensible argument that Zanu PF continues to have to justify refusal to adopt reforms, while scuttling some of the key Global Political Agreement (GPA) issues.

If the sanctions are removed, Zanu PF will be at sixes and sevens in terms of which way to go because sanctions is now their main argument to justify blocking change. There are many within Zanu PF ranks who would rather have the sanctions continue as that assures them of political capital and a viable campaign platform. Removing sanctions would be like pulling the rug under their feet. In fact, it will scuttle their election strategy.

Also one of the key deliverables of the GPA, which is important for democratisation of the political playing field, is a sound revival of the economy.  In the absence of a sound economy those who have monopolised resources will continue to use them for political expedience. It is important to ensure macro-economic stability and sustained economic recovery and that is where the removal of sanctions becomes critical as it would unlock lines of credit for the traditional bilateral and multilateral lenders, including global financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Paris Club, to come back.

While arguments can be raised that Zimbabwe’s failure to pay its debts with these financiers made it difficult for them to continue lending, the truth of the matter is that there is also an intrinsic link between the sanctions and Zimbabwe’s failure to access lines of credit. The situation has been made worse by the decision by the US to impose sanctions as well.

State entities working with companies expected to contribute US$600 million to support this year’s US$4 billion are under sanctions. Unfortunately this has led to the justification of dubious means of diamond trade in which leakages and looting are rampant. Sanctions are being used to justify theft and raiding of diamond revenues by corrupt individuals pursuing self-enrichment.

Even the calls to transform the country into a developmental state by allowing it to be at the forefront of the diamond mining cannot work given that a number of companies that provide ancillary services to the diamond sector are embargoed from trade with Europe. The net effect is that ironically the sanctions are propping up Zanu PF, instead of hurting it. They have allowed the party to regroup, reorganise and justify financing themselves from the national wealth in the name of fighting sanctions.

Given all these and many other compelling reasons, it is clearly time for the EU to start considering a policy shift and comprehensive lifting of the sanctions.
The other point is those who were targets of sanctions caused the problem but at the same time they are part of the solution, hence the GNU. The GNU has shown significant willingness by the three parties in government to engage seriously to resolve problems facing the country and thus it means collective and holistic action in tackling Zimbabwe’s problems is critical.

Important institutions like the EU should be part of the solution and not the problem. While it is true that there are still strong attitudes by hardliners resisting change, the EU can outmanoeuvre them by removing sanctions and becoming part of the solution.

Moyo  is the former Organising Secretary and now Director of Policy and Research Coordination in the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube. He is also a lecturer at Nust.