South Africa has issued the latest appeal to the international community to lift longstanding sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in order to alleviate pressures contributing to its economic and political crises.
“Zimbabwe has been going through a challenging socioeconomic situation, which has inadvertently had an impact on South Africa. We have engaged the Government of Zimbabwe and have a clearer idea of the problem,” said foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu, during a parliamentary address on Wednesday. “We would like to express our strong support for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, in order to allow for economic development in the country.”
South Africa’s statement aligns with that of the Southern African Development Community, which issued a similar statement this week, and the positions of individual leaders including its President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Namibia’s President Hage Geingob.
“The government’s efforts to transform the economy and bring about prosperity to the people of Zimbabwe are negatively affected by the illegal sanctions that were imposed on the country since the early 2000s,” the SADC said in a statement issued by Geingob earlier this week. “SADC expresses its solidarity with the government and the people of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and calls upon the international community to unconditionally lift all sanctions imposed on the country.”
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe since February 2002, with the most recent review in February 2017. Those sanctions are again up for review and set to expire on February 19.
Europe’s Zimbabwe sanctions
Europe’s sanctions follow a long history of human rights violations in Zimbabwe under former president Robert Mugabe, resulting in restrictions on arms exports, travel bans, and the freezing of assets. They remain in force for both Robert and Grace Mugabe, his wife, as well as Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The latter is the state-owned defense firm based in Harare and aligned with the ruling Zanu PF party.
Yet the 2017 departure of the Mugabes from office leaves a logic twist in the implementation of EU sanctions, since the provisions remain suspended for five others associated with Zimbabwe’s security. They include Gen. Constantino Chwenga, who remains at the center of a security apparatus that in recent weeks has demonstrated its continued defiance of protections for Zimbabwean citizens, with the deaths of at least 13 people, another 600 injured and attacked, and more than 1,000 arrests.
In earlier years, the EU sanctions list also included current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is appealing for unity and national dialogue in a country that continues to suppress dissent and harass opposition politicians and their supporters.
“The irony should not be lost: the EU is currently subjecting two (albeit involuntarily) ‘retired’ private citizens to active measures, whereas it treats more leniently everybody currently serving in the Zimbabwean government and security sector,” writes Dr. Joe Devanny of King’s College London, in a recent opinion piece for the Mail & Guardian. “Therefore, the causal link between this posture and the EU’s presumed objective of shepherding the current government to less violent, more democratic behavior is, to be charitable, somewhat elusive.”
ZIDERA and the U.S. expectations for a ‘new Zimbabwe’
Last August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the latest iteration of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act (ZIDERA), which was first enacted in 2001. The new version, which added language for consultations with the SADC, African Union, Canada, Australia and the UK, also added election-related conditions to the existing legislation. ZIDERA broadens a framework based on compliance with the rule of law to include reconciliation, restoration and a rebuilding of Zimbabwe – specifically including names of Itai Dzamara and other Zimbabwean human rights activists who have disappeared.
The United States has said sanctions on Zimbabwe will remain in force until Mnangagwa and his administration implement meaningful reforms. In a statement issued Tuesday, the U.S. expressed concern over human rights violations during Zimbabwe’s most recent bout of unrest.
“The Government of Zimbabwe’s use of violence against civil society and imposition of undue internet restrictions betray promises to create a new Zimbabwe,” the U.S. Department of State said. Yet some have argued that the U.S. position hides an ulterior motive that hearkens back to the original version and its concern over Zimbabwean land reforms and redistribution, which is referenced in the new text.
“How much longer can Zimbabwe’s economic punishment be justified? If it is about property rights and land reform, will the new dispensation ever be recognized without the country being drawn further into debt?” asked Zimbabwean thought leaders Tendai Murisa and Shantha Bloemen, in a November 2018 piece for African Arguments. “If it is about the rule of law and politically related violence, then would not the likes of Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and many more warrant similar measures?”
Not everyone agrees that it’s the economic sanctions imposed by foreign governments that are crippling Zimbabwe’s economy and suppressing its recovery, while limiting its future horizons too. Internationally recognized journalist Hopewell Chin’ono made the case last month that Zimbabwe’s own dysfunctions are the real cause of its economic woes: “How much has been lost to the Zimbabwean economy through corruption, incompetence, grand theft and nepotism versus what has been lost through ZIDERA?”
While there may be less clarity on those financial “crimes” in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, there’s little equivocation on the country’s glaring human rights failures. There is compelling reason to carefully evaluate how and why sanctions against Zimbabwe might be lifted. Sadly, yet again, Zimbabwe’s violent crackdown has demonstrated plenty of cause to consider why sanctions must remain – and why they were imposed in the first place.