THE long-awaited holding of a constitutional referendum, peacefully as expected, appears to have afforded the European Union the grounds it needed to lift “restrictive measures” (sanctions) against much of President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle.
Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
This is the third time the EU has eased so-called targeted restrictions on Zimbabwe in the past 13 months.
In a statement on Monday, the EU said the suspension of the assets freeze and visa ban against 81 Zimbabweans and eight Zimbabwe-based companies and organisations was in response to a “peaceful, successful and credible” referendum on a new constitution. However, Mugabe and nine others remain on the blacklist, including his wife, party leaders and security chiefs.
That the EU would reward Zanu PF for a constitutional referendum whose credibility was never remotely in doubt suggests the bloc concedes the measures have woefully failed to deliver.
In terms of contestation the referendum was a non-event: the Global Political Agreement (GPA) trio –– Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC –– were united in campaigning for the “Yes” vote since the draft was a product of their political horse-trading.
While the EU and the United States were justified and well within their rights to slap sanctions on an obdurate Mugabe regime in 2002 in response to widespread political repression, economic mismanagement as well as to register their displeasure at the chaotic, violent land grab which dispossessed their kith and kin, in the long run the measures have been ultimately futile and counterproductive.
Indeed Zanu PF deserved robust censure and action for, among others, its subversion of the will of the people through poll rigging and habitual resort to intimidation and violence to cow the electorate but, as the law of unintended consequences would have it, the measures unwittingly played into the hands of the crafty party.
After the formation of the Government of National Unity in 2009 as a result of the sham presidential run-off thanks to another chilling installment of Zanu PF’s electoral skullduggery, Sadc –– guarantors of the GPA –– were quick to call for the lifting of all of the sanctions.
They reasoned this would be a major incentive for Zanu PF to observe the letter and spirit of the accord. But the West, wary that a cornered but recalcitrant Zanu PF would merely use the unity government as time-out to reorganise, insisted on a carrot and stick strategy where the party would be rewarded for fully implementing reforms outlined in the GPA.
Far from forcing Zanu PF to change its devious ways, the sanctions became the one-size-fits-all excuse the party required for its monumental failures that including running a once thriving economy into the ground.
The measures have among others become the convenient reason why Zanu PF could not implement GPA reforms as they tilted the playing ground in the MDCs’ favour; they are the reason for the country’s economic decline and lack of foreign investment; they have prevented the government from getting fair prices for diamonds on the international market and forced it into covert trade.
It is all politically expedient baloney, of course. It is common cause that reasons for the country’s durable economic morass include the war vets payout of 1997, the DRC war adventure in 1998-2002, land invasions and populist policies. And it is on record that despite full UN sanctions Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) flourished through various sanctions-busting measures to the extent that its currency was even stronger than that of the US.
The debate over the efficacy of sanctions has been extensive and will continue. But evidence suggests, as is the case with Zimbabwe, such measures end up hurting the common man more than the intended targets.
Meanwhile it is business as usual for state-machinery-backed Zanu PF; there are increasingly frequent patrols by armed police in intimidating vehicles while the crackdown on civil society and dissent is being ratcheted up.
The imminent, crucial polls will be a different ball game altogether.