Sanctions inimical to democratic transition

TO many Africans on the continent and even beyond, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is a hero.

Charles Mangongera

Excited crowds greet him every time he graces African Union and Sadc summits. And when he gives his annual “history lecture” at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, many on the African continent and the global south in general look at him in awe and secretly admire his courage for standing up to “Uncle Sam”.

By excoriating former United States president George W Bush and ex-British prime minister Tony Blair for warmongering in Iraq and Afghanistan and telling Blair to “keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe” Mugabe was presenting himself as a strong leader with the courage to challenge Western hegemony.

Mugabe is revered not only because to many he fought and helped defeat colonial domination, he is also admired because he is a clever orator who has carefully crafted an anti-imperialism narrative that has found resonance with African leaders who revile the West for asking pesky questions about human rights and democracy.

Many African leaders would rather just get the much-needed aid and not be asked irritating questions about their governance record. This explains why China’s “no questions asked” approach has found many takers.

So when Mugabe tells the West to go hang, he is saying the things that many talk about in private, but would dare not say publicly lest they lose that much-coveted budgetary support which Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo calls “dead aid”.

But behind the aura of heroism is a cunning dictator with an insatiable thirst for power and on whose watch one of Africa’s most promising African countries has been ravaged by conflict and poverty.

In 2000 when his decades-long stranglehold on Zimbabwean politics came under threat from the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mugabe unleashed a violent pogrom that left hundreds murdered and thousands more dismembered. He used a similar strategy to liquidate Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu in the early 1980s when it stood in the way of his one-party state agenda.

A North Korean-trained military crack team was dispatched to the southwestern part of the country and its operations left 20 000 ethnic Ndebeles dead.

The international community paid a blind eye, as Mugabe was still their darling, having charmed them with his British-style chivalrous demeanor and flawless mastery of the English language.

The European Union, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada slapped Mugabe and his coterie with travel restrictions and an asset freeze after bloody elections in 2000 and 2002. But looking back it is almost as if the restrictions were a godsend for Mugabe and his party.

Faced with growing opposition internally and externally, he set out to craft an anti-imperialism narrative whose central message was that the West was out to get him and sanctions were a “regime change” strategy.

While the travel ban and asset freeze did not create a rally-around-the-flag effect, Mugabe has carefully manipulated them to portray himself as a victim of Western conspiracy. His regime-change refrain has struck a cord with many on the continent who have a cynical view of the West and doubt its sincerity in helping Africa overcome extreme poverty and deprivation.

Mugabe and his henchmen have couched the sanctions narrative in the language of colonial injustices and invariably the land issue, emotive as it is, has become the centre of the debate.

They have advanced a very compelling argument that the West wants to punish Mugabe because he has dared to smash colonial vestiges by redistributing land to black people. African leaders have fallen for it.

They have looked the other way as Mugabe has thrown away the democracy rulebook to stay in power by hook and by crook.

After Mugabe lost the 2008 presidential election to the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai, African leaders in Sadc led by then South African president Thabo Mbeki, forced Tsvangirai to a re-run. Mugabe launched a violent run-off campaign, which forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the race.

In a sham one-man poll Mugabe declared himself the winner and again Sadc leaders looked the other way. They then stitched a political agreement in which the two would co-govern, but strangely, Tsvangirai was made the junior partner as prime minister in spite of having won the first round of elections.

For four years following the consummation of the power-sharing government Mugabe openly defied Sadc, refusing to fully implement the terms of the political pact that gave birth to the coalition government. He then unilaterally declared an election in July 2013, which he allegedly rigged.

Not surprisingly, Sadc gave the election a clean bill of health in spite of glaring irregularities that included a shambolic voter register, outright manipulation of the public media and intimidation of voters. When the opposition complained to Sadc’s election observer mission head, Tanzania Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe, told them they would never win an election “in a hundred years as long as sanctions remained in place”.

Mugabe has also used the sanctions narrative to mask his atrocious governance record. When his chaotic land grab plunged the once self-sufficient country into hunger and starvation, he blamed it on sanctions.

In 2008 Zimbabwe became the poster country for economic collapse with record hyperinflation of 200 million percent. Mugabe blamed it on sanctions. He claimed that the economic collapse was a result of sanctions that had precluded his government from accessing credit from multilateral funding institutions.

What he has not told his supporters is that, in fact, Zimbabwe lost its borrowing rights because of its poor repayment record. Zimbabwe started defaulting on its payments to the International Monetary Fund in 1998, way before the imposition of restrictive measures in 2002.

But the biggest lie Mugabe and his propagandists have repeated is that Zimbabwe is under a blanket economic embargo. Nothing can be further from the truth. The travel and asset freeze has targeted less than 200 individuals.

To be fair, a handful of corporations that are seen as undermining democratic transition in Zimbabwe have also been targeted. But unlike the UN-backed sanctions on Rhodesia after Ian Smith’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Zimbabwe is still able to trade with virtually every country in the world.

Unlike Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Smith’s Rhodesia (as colonial Zimbabwe was known) was isolated both politically and economically, forcing him to pursue import substitution industrialisation and other sanctions-busting strategies. Rhodesia became self-sufficient and Smith was able to build a robust manufacturing sector whose contribution to GDP would have matched that of today’s advanced economies because Smith could not import or export to any country.

The truth of the matter is that Zimbabwe is not under a trade embargo as Mugabe and Zanu PF allege. A quick glance at Zimbabwe’s trade data shows that the European Union is still one of Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partners and that the country still does good business with the US.

In fact, there is more trade between Harare and Brussels than there is between Harare and Beijing, in spite of Mugabe’s “Look East” rhetoric. In addition, over the last 10 years, the same Western countries Mugabe maligns have poured in humanitarian aid worth billions of dollars to support food aid, health care, education, water and sanitation among other things.

Perhaps it is time for a strategic reconsideration on the restrictive measures by the West. I posit the point that they have been inimical to democratic transition as Mugabe has manipulated them to his political advantage and maybe it is time the West called Mugabe’s bluff and removed them.

He is desperate for legitimacy and is prepared to broker a deal with them. He has a legitimacy crisis and is also desperate for financial aid. His charm offensive to civil society, the media and business is part of a grand strategy to re-engage with his former adversaries. He has also kept the door open for negotiation with international financial institutions, signalling that he wants to negotiate.

However, the relaxation of the travel ban and asset freeze must be calibrated in response to institutionalisation of genuine reforms by the regime. Mugabe must fully implement the constitution, including the establishment of a devolved state in line with new constitutional provisions. Legislative reform must be undertaken, the electronic media must be freed up and the voter register must be cleaned up before the next election. This is the only way to ensure a genuinely free and fair election that produces a legitimate government in Zimbabwe.

Mangongera is a Zimbabwean researcher. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC in the United States. He writes in his personal capacity.

29 thoughts on “Sanctions inimical to democratic transition”

  1. BobZim says:

    Rubish as usual ………….. This is tired!

    1. Thomas Martin says:

      This is a well researched article with all the truth about how our uncle Bob has ruined the Jewel he inherited from Ian Smith. It is only those who are benefiting from the status quo who regard this article as rubbish like BobZim. He has gained a lot from the chaos created by uncle Bob.

      1. Dziva says:

        @ Thomas Martin. The surprising thing is that we have some who are not even benefiting from the status quo, who are unemployed,did not participate in the land grabs, etc who still regard this article as rubbish. Its crazy, isn’t it?

  2. Muchenjeri says:

    This is a great piece. One of the delusions Mugabe’s worshippers have is that he actually “stands up” to the west. There is a difference between trash talk and actually standing up to someone. He is a master of rhetoric to be sure, but he will mostly be remembered as a dictator with no respect for human rights and freedom.

  3. Mandi says:

    The fact that the M.D.C leadership went around the globe and the neighbouring S.A demanding those sanctions remained a stigma to them.ZAPU’S leadership never did that becouse they knew one day they also want to rule.They shot themselves on the leg truth.

  4. Gutter Poet says:

    A readable piece..just that!

  5. Musona says:

    Let me correct some issues mentioned by Mangongera.
    (1) – You state “Mugabe is revered not only because to many he fought and helped defeat colonial domination…” – Mugabe was not fighting colonialism: he was fighting to be the first black leader against other black politicians like Nkomo. Nobody ever defeated what you call “colonial domination” – black rule was negotiated from 1978 by Muzorewa, James Chikerema, George Nyandoro, Ndabaningi Sithole, Silas Mundawarara, Ernest Bule, Simpson Mtambanengwe, Nelson Samkange (former ZanuPF Governor who died yesterday), Olivia Muchena (now minister in ZanuPF), Prof Stanlake Samkange, Kesiwe malindi, Enock Dumbutshena (former Chief Justice), Noel Mukono, David Zamchiya, Dennis Nyamutsva, Chief Chirawu, Chief Ndiweni and others. Muzorewa was the first black prime minister. I was one of the millions who voted Zanu into power in 1980.
    Mugabe’s education was sponsored by the white colonialists – he is what he is today because of colonialism – he benefited from colonialism. Therefore, it does not make sense that he pretends to hate colonialism which nurtured or mothered him just because he wants power.

    1. MaraMechavio says:

      Shoul have voted for Muzorewa or smith.There was always going to be enough of us to give ZANUPF an landslide proportional to its military efforts.

      1. Musona says:

        @MaraMechavio – idiot – Gullible, brainwashed and of low intellect.

      2. Musona says:

        @Mara… – Mugabe’s education was sponsored by the white colonialists – he is what he is today because of colonialism – he benefited from colonialism. Therefore, it does not make sense that he pretends to hate colonialism which nurtured or mothered him just because he wants power.

    2. Dziva says:

      Musona, you have apoint my dear.

  6. Musona says:

    (2) – Mangongera goes onto to say, “…he is a clever orator who has carefully crafted an anti-imperialism narrative…” – Mugabe is stuck in time warp. His oratory is infantile, hollow and archaic: it does not serve any purpose. The West has not asked to rule in Zimbabwe – all they have requested is civilised behaviour from ZanuPF which is not too much to ask. His oratory is not original but copied from Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana where he went to copy Nkrumah.

    1. G Tichatonga says:

      Dream on

    2. MaraMechavio says:

      Am not surprised there are those of us who decide to deliberately suspend the process of thinking,like you.

  7. Terry M says:

    Good piece……..

  8. Musona says:

    (3) Mangongera is obsessed with “oratory” and “flawless English” – Jacob Zuma, ex-teaboy, but he is running Africa’s biggest economy very well and Mugabe has made a mess of the country despite your so-called oratory. The oratory is not much help in creating jobs and running a successful economy as proved by Mugabe. In your view the better the English the better the leader? Utter nonsense. Even semi-literate Idi Amin didn’t make such a mess in Uganda as Mugabe has done with his so-called “flawless English”.

  9. Musona says:

    (4) – Sanctions are the biggest red herring in Zimbabwe. At no point did we ever hear Ian Smith moaning about UN sanctions – in fact, Rh*desia prospered under sanctions so why should you say sanctions should be lifted? What you have said is preposterous because you want those who rig*ed the election to be rewarded by lifting of sancti*ns. Zimbabwe is centuries away from democracy. ZanuPF wants sanctions lifted so that they can send their kids to schools in the West. That is the only reason why they are always talking of sanctions.

  10. G Tichatonga says:

    Absolute rubbish. Tsvangirai was never forced into the second round. He simply didnt get enough votes. l suppose you will Mugabe denied a condom when he impregnanted a Ndebele gal whose face he couldnt remember

  11. Roodr says:

    Africans are incapable of gd leadershp.We’v said it & ‘ll say it again.Show me any black country wch hs made it.Nigeria:54 yrs of indpendence bt nothng 2 show of it,Niger:The pooret country on Earth,SA is declining at an alarming rate,Zim lies in ruins,Moza is sliding back in2 civil war,Haiti:……

  12. King Tubby says:

    @mandi, for not shooting itself in the foot, did ZAPU win?

    1. Mandi says:

      We are saying the M.D.C is not clever enough to topple ZANU-PF.Land Reform 300,000 African families resettled.The M.D.C what offering is there?.People they dont want hear the truth.

  13. King Tubby says:

    You contradict yourself Mr Mangongera. You suggest the West should remove the sanctions. Yet you conclude by noting that the regime needs to uphold democracy and human rights. In light of the last paragraph of your article, why should the sanctions be removed when the conditions for their imposition are still in place? Mugabe is benefitting from the sanctions mantra because confused writers like you have failed to counter state propaganda and falsehoods.

    1. MaraMechavio says:

      State propaganda versus foreign propaganda.Which one should a patriotic Zimbabwean go for?The former, at the expense of foreign interests, or the later,at the expense of national interests?

  14. TM says:

    A clever orator on the backdrop of 2.2 million very hungry Zimbabweans. Most leaders of other African countries are in awe of such foolishness but they can not say it openly.

  15. MaraMechavio says:

    Mangongera,legitimacy is not given by NGOs or by foreign powers with foreign agendas and interests.Political legitimacy is the singular prerogative of the electorate in any gviven sovereign country,Zimbabwe included.That said,your seizure with democracy and human rights are basically,if not intrinsically flawed.How do we,as Africans (having been wantonly persecuted by the same preachers of democracy and human rights today,through,1-slavery,which itself amounted to nearly wiping Africa of its inhabitants [or genocide] for forced slave labour for hundreds of years, 2-colonialism,whose ugly structural head is seen particularly in SA and African continent in general today),want to calibrate our own progress on the values of the same people,who today,we should justifiably be up in arms with in order to compensate us for the clearly and well documented wrongs they have visited upon us for so long.Why do we want human rights and democracy that does not make us enjoy the very humanising and poverty-eradicating profits from our natural resources.Why are our Mangongeras not equally seized with the need to agitate for the democracy preaching nations’ multi-national corporations to be more benevolent enough to live enough of their huge annual profits for the poor African governments,so they can create jobs for the jobless?
    Chastise him as you can,Mugabe is the only one Third World country leader who has taken the original objectives of all liberation struggles against imperialist colonial powers to their near conclusion.Even Europeans rever him for his principles and astuteness.
    To all the mangongeras amongst us,you do not have long to go.Your trojan horseMDC-Tsvangirai and his party are dead,to be followed by their coterie of praise singers of the manogngera type.Their is certain drowning for you all at the very deep end as propheside by Morgan Tsvangirai himself.
    Look,our truly embedded mangongera denies sanctions against us.But only soon after July31 Belgium was raising a stink about same sanctions at the EU which our very wise mangngera deliberately denies.And the anti-sanctions Belgian Stink led to the removal from the sanctions list of the ZMDC and all Marange diamond miners,which culminated in a high powered deligation to Zimbabwe by executives of the Antiwerp (Belgium) based World Diamond Centre,the same time our mad former PM (but current open-mouth-shut-mind,like our mangongeras) Morgan Tsvangirai was “Diamond Lecturing” at Oxford.Even goes to show how esteemed institutions get desperate to advance their countries’ selfish foreign interests at the expense of helping genuine democracy develop in Africa,thereby building their own record of disrepute.
    Yes,mangongera,go on.Sing for your super.And a human rights and democracy gong without economic rights for Africans.
    Sing Mangongera
    For sure Uncle Tom will pay.
    And pay you handsomely too,
    While your fellow Africans
    Eat Human Rights
    And Democracy
    Economic Rights!

    1. Musona says:

      @Mara… – what a load of crap.

  16. Musona says:

    (5) – Mangongera votre analyse ne peut pas être prise au sérieux – vous utilisez le Z * Langue nuPF dans certaines de vos phrases et je peux facilement trouver des failles dans votre compte d’événements . La question foncière n’est pas « émotive », mais « émotion » a été fabriqué par les nationalistes noirs pour leurs propres fins. Avant noirs colonialisme n’a jamais eu l’idée de posséder des terres de vente de terrains ou d’acheter des terres ou ayant des frontières ou limites – cela a été provoqué par les colonialistes . Le Nd * BELES simplement migré du Zululand en Afrique du S et s’installe dans une zone vide du sud- ouest de l’actuel Zimbabwe . Ils ne paient pas un centime pour cette terre car personne détenue et il n’y avait pas d’ État-nation . C’est fait pas mon opinion . Les hommes politiques comme Robert Mug * être , Jonathan Moyo , Joshua Nkomo , Simon Khaya Moyo sont – Nd * b * le et leurs racines sont en Afrique S comment terres loin Mutoko ne soit ” émotive ” pour ces politiciens dont les racines sont en Afrique S (M * g * être le père venait de Mat * b * Leland ) ? Comment les Noirs peuvent dire qu’ils ont «libéré le pays ” où il n’y avait pas d’ Etat-nation avant le colonialisme ? Sans les colonialistes n’y aurait pas de pays pour parler . Rhodésie devenue Zimbabwe , qui a été formé par les colonialistes ! Bushm * n peintures partout dans le pays montrer le Bushm * n étaient les habitants originels pas le Z * Zuru . Comment alors la terre peut être « émotif » lorsque le Zez * ru ne sont pas les premiers habitants de l’Etat formés par les blancs ? L’histoire africaine au Zimbabwe est pleine de mensonges et d’omissions délibérées soigneusement pavées ensemble pour galvaniser la population noire et obtenir ces nationalistes au pouvoir.
    Il ya seulement moins de 300 000 villageois vivant dans des grappes à l’intérieur des frontières créées par les Blancs en 1902. Avant 1890, il y avait pas un seul bœuf charrue tirée dans ce pays, l’agriculture de subsistance brut a été fait en utilisant la main – houes arrière -garde . Combien d’acres ces villageois pourrait faire avec la main houes ?
    C’est illogique , scientifique et montre une très faible intelligence de dire qu’il y avait un état avant l’arrivée des Blancs. Seul moyen de déplacement des sections locales marchait et puis il y avait des animaux prédateurs sauvages qui signifiait que les habitants ont été limités dans leur mouvement , ils ne pouvaient pas aller plus loin comment pourraient-ils définir les frontières ou de savoir qui vivait à 200 kilomètres de leur village? Comment alors les gens peuvent dire qu’ils se battaient colonialistes qui ont fait leur faciliter la vie ? Les gens ont été trompés par les politiciens avides de pouvoir . Tous les nationalistes ont été parrainés par les blancs dans leur éducation, mais quand ils ont fini l’école et la puissance voulaient ils ont commencé à dire les blancs qui avaient parrainé entre eux étaient des diables ! Comment peuvent-ils dire colonialisme était mauvaise lorsque les blancs introduits éducation dans un endroit où il n’y avait pas une seule école?

  17. Bongaah says:

    Mangongera narrative is a huge conudrum, ambigous, rhetoric… etc, its totally perspectiveless a true reflection of intrinsic handcaps many of our brothers have out there but the naked truth is the majority of Zimbabweans did speak on July 31 and that language was very crystal clear that we as bonafide Zimbos will not worship ground that Americans and there allies walk more over submit to raucous, relative give and take of American democracy!

    1. Dziva says:

      You must be among thse who are benefitting directly from the chaos in Zim or you could be among the harnessed borowdale horses that are programmed to see only one direction.

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