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Comment: Truth About Sanctions

THERE is a controversial debate raging in and outside Zimbabwe about whether Western countries should lift existing sanctions —— some call them restrictive measures —— or keep them in place until the inclusive government initiates political and economic reforms.

The debate seems to be causing realignment of opinions, with Zanu PF and the MDC increasingly singing from the same hymn sheet and others, mainly in civil society, mobilising against any relaxation so long as repression persists.

Finance minister Tendai Biti fuelled the debate this week when he repeated his plea that Western countries must lift sanctions to facilitate economic recovery. The story was first carried in the foreign press and later picked up by the Herald. Biti had previously said the same thing after visiting Washington and London.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has urged Western countries to lift the “restrictive measures”. President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF ministers have for years been calling for the removal of the sanctions. To them, all problems in Zimbabwe were caused by sanctions.

Responding to a Herald story on Tuesday headlined “Sanctions hit local British pensioners”, the British embassy in Harare said the Herald continues to “peddle gross distortions and misinformation”.

The embassy said there are no UK or EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. It said the current “EU measures” are carefully targeted against 243 individuals and organisations responsible for the worst excesses of the previous regime with regard to human rights abuses, political violence, corruption, hate speech and undermining the rule of law. These measures have no adverse effect on ordinary people, it claimed.

“The economic collapse of Zimbabwe and its infrastructure is the result of the ruinous policies of the previous regime,” the embassy said.

It’s a problem of the politics of deception. Most of the major players in this issue have been battling each other on the basis of propaganda, lies and deception. First, Mugabe and his cronies have been claming sanctions caused the economic and social problems that Zimbabwe faces today.

Yet the facts speak for themselves. Zimbabwe’s current economic crisis (note: there were fundamental problems of a structural nature before) began in 1997, with the dramatic collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar after the government made huge unbudgeted payouts to war veterans. This was worsened by the DRC war in which Zimbabwe intervened from 1998 to 2002.

The political conflict attendant upon the constitutional reform process between 1999-2000 and the establishment of the MDC in 1999 also worsened the situation. This was aggravated by the land invasions which started in 2000 and persist up to this day. There were also company invasions and seizures. Underlying all this was Mugabe’s disastrous policy failures.

There is no straight line on such debates but in brief this should establish the context and genesis of the current economic crisis. By the time the EU imposed “targeted sanctions” in 2002 over the dispute over presidential election observers, the crisis was already very serious.

There were all sorts of shortages, mainly forex and thus impacting on critical imports such as fuel and drugs, and the economy was fast collapsing.

By 2002 when sanctions were imposed, Zimbabwe was no longer getting funding from the IMF and World Bank due to mounting arrears. Donors were pulling out over land reform. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki and counterparts had started to intervene in 2000 after realising the consequences of Mugabe’s ill-advised policies would be too ghastly for Zimbabwe and the region. In other words, the damage was already done.

The Zanu PF assertion that sanctions created the economic crisis is false.  The truth is there are targeted sanctions and these have worsened the crisis.

Tsvangirai and his followers have also been dishonest. Before they were in government, they argued there were no sanctions but now openly admit there are. The fact is the sanctions which the MDC initially downplayed have tentacles that spread to institutions such as IMF and World Bank.

The IMF recently admitted this. The measures closed funding and lines of credit for Zimbabwe. Local companies and individuals still can’t trade with the West. However, the sanctions are only limited. Zimbabwe is still able to export and import essentials even from the West.

Tsvangirai’s and Biti’s remarks on sanctions have exposed the duplicity of the MDC leaders. The other deception is that the EU has not imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. It has. The only difference is the scope of these measures. It doesn’t help for the British embassy to say there are no sanctions.

Going forward, it’s clear these sanctions must be removed. It has now been widely established that they don’t serve a useful purpose. Their negative impact clearly far outweighs their benefit. At the same time the repression which continues to stalk the land must be admitted and removed. Economic recovery is impossible so long as property rights are under threat and investors scared off.

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