Sanctions: Time to bury pride on the altar of magnanimity

The purpose of this article is to try to resurrect the real issues from the debris of spin, thereby raising a few moral questions that Harare and Washington may want to ponder. Later, we will re-bury the issues alongside Homer.

By Taruvinga Magwiroto ONE of the most polarising issues in Zimbabwean agriculture today is Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), the US law that spells sanctions against Zimbabwe.

The existence, magnitude and impact of the sanctions has been so hotly contested that real truth around sanctions lies deeply buried in the debris of spin.

The purpose of this article is to try to resurrect the real issues from the debris of spin, thereby raising a few moral questions that Harare and Washington may want to ponder. Later, we will re-bury the issues alongside Homer.

First off, sanctions are for real; they exist. Information on Zidera, the piece of legislation detailing the sanctions, is freely accessible on the internet.

Now we get into the real thorns. Zidera sanctions are “targeted” at certain individuals and institutions deemed major culprits against the tenets of democracy.

But these individuals and institutions are so deeply embedded in Zimbabwe’s political economy that sanctioning them is tantamount to sanctioning the whole country by default.

The “targeting” is all but academic.

The impact of sanctions is ubiquitous to Zimbabwean society, no matter how much ink is spilled in counterargument. As sanctions naturally impact more on the most vulnerable among our society, the collateral damage is disproportionately huge. So much for “targeting”.

People may want to know: why sanctions in the first place? The Americans insist it was due to Harare breaking its own laws during the fast track land reform process (also known as jambanja).

It must be stressed here that jambanja was both process and outcome, and therein lies the fiercest contention. Harare insists the sanctions are punishment for taking back land, which had been historically expropriated by white colonialists.

Washington insists that at stake here are the rule of law, democracy, and respect of the constitution, not the mere fact of taking land. Harare scoffs at this, arguing about the significance of the timing of sanctions. They effectively question: “We (along with many others) have been playing fast and loose with the tenets of democracy for so long (and others are worse)… but nothing happened. Why now? It must be about the land!”

Effectively the Americans are saying, “do what you want with your land, within the confines of your own laws. While taking back your land, you disregarded your constitution wholesale, violating the core tenets of democracy”.

Multiple questions arise out of this contest. But first, it would help to understand the nature of sanctions. Sanctions reflect an exasperation between governments; a falling out between ruling regimes, just as war is. In fact sanctions are a form of war, in this case one elite group versus another.

This leads us to another contradiction. Washington insists that sanctions are there to “help” or nudge Zimbabwe back to democracy.

But sanctions are war. How does war ever help anyone, except the one declaring it? Who judges that indeed now Zimbabwe is back on democratic footing?

There is certain arrogance there, certain condescension behind the glib assumption that democracy is what America says it is. Of course sanctions are never meant to be an all-out war. Sanctions are more of “surgical warfare”, the logical outcome of which is regime change.

It is an all-round terrible situation, is it not? Sanctions, like war, are never the right tools to help your “friends”.

You cannot claim to love the people of Zimbabwe yet you sanction their leaders. It is oxymoronic. If Americans love Zimbabwean people as much as they claim to do, then there must be better ways to express that affection.  Everyone needs to think harder. For Washington, now is the time to rescue something out of the ashes. America has badly ceded geopolitical ground to China in this part of the world, leaving Beijing to gleefully snap up strategic minerals, markets and other raw materials without competition.

For Harare, sanctions have put effective brakes on the momentum of the single most consequential empowerment programme since independence: the land reform. By denying Zimbabwe access to global financial resources and markets necessary to leverage its land-based resources, sanctions contribute to food insecurity that has dogged Zimbabwe ever since jambanja.

It is an all-round terrible situation. This lose-lose war of attrition cannot go on; it is unwinnable, unnecessary and wasteful.  What is the price of pride?

Sanctions have to go; it is a no brainer.

I started off this article with a resurrection of truth; now allow me to conclude it with the burial of pride. It is indeed time to bury pride at the altar of magnanimity.

“What began with jambanja must end with compensation!”

  • Magwiroto is a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.