THE decision by the United States government to extend sanctions on Zimbabwe by another year bears testimony to the futility of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s anti-sanctions crusade and associated protests, street marches, diplomatic offensives and costly public relations (PR) engagements without critical political and economic reforms central to the sanctions removal discourse.
Government, in the last quarter of 2019, went all-out to criticise the US, the European Union (EU) and other Western countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe — which the West refers to as targeted or smart embargoes.
The African Union and Sadc joined in, with the current chair of the southern African regional bloc, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, leading the call for the lifting of sanctions, saying “they have crippled the brotherly and sisterly country” at a heads of state summit in Dar es Salaam in September last year. Regional leaders then agreed to set October 25, 2019 as the day they would rally behind Zimbabwe in calling for the lifting of the sanctions.
In Harare, Mnangagwa personally led an anti-sanctions campaign which was, however, characterised by a low turnout, while other Sadc countries issued solidarity messages. The march gobbled an estimated ZW$4 million.
Concurrently, the embassies of the US, EU and several Western countries ran a massive social media campaign rubbishing Mnangagwa’s pleas.
Besides the march, government had previously hired four PR consultancy firms to lobby for the scrapping of US sanctions, which again proved to be a waste of money as Washington insisted the real solution lies in implementing political and economic reforms.
On February 13, 2019 the Zimbabwean government signed a contract with an American consulting firm, Ballard Partners Inc, in a desperate move to charm President Donald Trump’s administration. Harare committed to paying the company an annual fee of US$500 000 for the services for two years.
Mnangagwa’s administration has also engaged London-based BTP Advisers, United States-based Mercury International Limited and Avenue Strategies in a futile quest to help Zimbabwe return to the community of nations after decades of isolation.
In a notice issued by Trump last week, the White House said it was extending its restrictions against Mnangagwa’s administration by another year. In extending the sanctions, Washington said regardless of Zimbabwe declaring a new dispensation, there were no tangible reforms and the new government continued to pose threats to democracy and US foreign policy. The conditions for the removal of the sanctions include restoration of the rule of law, free and fair elections, equitable, legal and transparent land reform and a military and national police surbodinate to government.
Earlier, the EU had also extended sanctions, albeit excluding individuals such as former first lady Grace Mugabe, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri and Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda from the list.
The bloc, like the US and others, is consistent in its demands for the restoration of the rule of law, the respect for human and property rights, among other things as conditions for their removal. For example, the EU called for members of the armed forces who shot and killed six civilians in Harare’s central business district to be brought to book in line with the Motlanthe Commission recommendations.
“Unfortunately, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has yet to signal credible political will to implement such reforms. Indeed, the Zimbabwean government has arguably accelerated its persecution of critics and economic mismanagement in the past year, during which security forces have conducted extrajudicial killings, rapes, and alleged abductions of numerous dissidents,” Trump said in a notice announcing the extension last week.
“The actions and policies of these persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.”
He added: “I am continuing for (one) year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288.”
In response, Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo declared: “We have noted with disappointment, but without surprise, the extension of US sanctions against Zimbabwe by a further 12 months. We disagree strongly with the assertion that our government has not demonstrated the political will to effect major reform.”
There is a general consensus among political and economic analysts that unless there are proper economic and political reforms, sanctions will remain.
Public policy expert Tawanda Zinyama says rather than whining about sanctions, government should come up with structural mechanisms to improve the economy.
“I believe that proper structure mechanisms by government will reduce the sanctions (effect) to a bare minimum. There is need to ensure accountability in the way we handle state activities. We have overplayed the sanctions mantra to the detriment of initiative and creativity as a nation. Sanctions have become the midwife to mediocrity, lack of accountability and general impunity in the state mechanism,” Zinyama said.
Leading economist Tony Hawkins said instead of concentrating on the blame game, government must work to improve its economic systems.
“I have said that in actual terms, the impact of sanctions has not been very great. The country has a terrible track record with creditors and has been in debt for 20 years, and yet they are engaging in new commitments like compensation of former farmers. Exports have tumbled and the debt situation is not getting any better,” Hwakins said.
“I have been saying that the solution has to have a political dimension acceptable to the international community and this would lead to a debt solution which will help the country access new loans.”
The apt summation of this argument is that whatever else government does, which is not about reforming the country’s political and economic system, will not bear any fruit in terms of re-engaging with the western world.