Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Zimbabwe and western sanctions: motives and implications

Tongkeh Fowale
July 30, 2008

There is nothing as glorious in the history of resistance to colonial oppression as seeing one man being able to successfully combine the will to resist, the ability to resist and the opportunity to resist, to finally win independence for his country. This is how heroes are created in a scenario of upheaval. There is also nothing as devastating in the history of a flourishing country as seeing a hero fall from fame because of blind and unbridled love for power, and dragging along with him the life of the entire country and the fate of millions. These are the two worlds of Zimbabwe´s President Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

Mugabe has remained in the spotlight of the international media for a long time. He has divided public opinion, generated unprecedented debates, created friends and foes. He has made history for reasons that are both good and bad, and shown unimaginable defiance to outside pressure. He has displayed a remarkable ability to swim through hot water, once again reminding the world about a statement he once made that while a cat has nine lives, he has ten.

Regrettably, in this political charade, Mugabe has gone to extremes to keep power. Like his peers in Africa, he has shown again that brutality against defenseless masses is only an instrument of policy, upholding the Machiavellian doctrine that "the end justifies the means." To this, he has on many occasions alluded to the sacredness of his power from which "only God" can remove him. Power to Mugabe is not only a birth right but a divine right as well.

The story of Zimbabwe is the tale of a protracted struggle over land. When cut to size, it becomes the story of brutality and butchery short and simple. This circle of carnage has gone through two main phases. Before independence, it was cruelty and bestiality on blacks by whites. After independence (or precisely after the mid 19990s), it was "history reversed." Blacks also turned against blacks as the politics over the land became increasingly complicate. As Zimbabwe´s crisis continues to undulate, it becomes increasingly clear that the politics surrounding this country´s land and resources is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary mind.

The world has watched Zimbabwe burn. And it continues to do so. What aggravates the situation is the interlocking and overlapping interests of outside players involved in Zimbabwe. This clash of interest has reached the Security Council of the UN where a fine line has been drawn between the anti-Mugabe West and the pro-Mugabe east. The debate over Zimbabwe has evolved from theme to theme, the latest being the renewed call for sanctions against Mugabe by the West.

Prelude to sanctions: Key milestones

Many debates about Zimbabwe have been laced with lies. Others have been coated with ignorance and many others have been interest-driven. Many more have been overtly biased while some carry very racist connotations and go as far as deliberately distorting history in to justify claims that are false, economic or political. This debate has been picked up by the media which has played a significant role in shaping public opinion about Zimbabwe both positively and negatively. This falsehood exists at both ends of the Zimbabwe debate. While Mugabe uses the state media to justify his claims to power, the more powerful western media beamed on Zimbabwe paints him as a devil with a tail and two horns. History along has the truth about Zimbabwe.

From the 11th of February 1880, when John Cecil Rhodes duped the Ndebele King, Lobengula, to affix his signature on a document that deprived him of his land and authority, to independence on 17th April 1980, the history of Southern Rhodesia centered around land excision by successive white governments. After independence, it was a mixture of stories – independence, reconciliation, prosperity, constitutional amendments, land restoration, economic collapse, political unrest, regime change and then sanctions.

Before it came to sanctions, all was quite rosy between Mugabe and the West especially when the Zimbabwean President showed readiness to respect the Lancaster Constitution, the supreme document that defined the way forward for the new Zimbabwe. The "willing-seller, willing-buyer" clause of this constitution had restricted the government´s ability to interfere with private land. This clause was to run for ten interrupted years. Because of Mugabe´s compliance, he received friendly responses from the West. He was hailed as a good example of leadership in Africa and the West showed readiness to support land reforms. The U.S and Britain had earlier made very firm commitments to provide financial assistance at the Lancaster Conference. Added to these praises, mugade was showered and adorned with honorary degrees and awards from British and American Universities. With this came his knighthood in 1994.

When the ten year period of Lancaster elapsed, Mugabe came under increasing pressure to respect his promise of restoring land to blacks. This period marked the beginning of trouble as Mugabe was caught between satisfying white land owners to ensure the support of western aid donors and meeting the demands of dispossessed blacks. Many other misfortunes added to this pressure. In 1991-1992, a catastrophic drought almost totally ravaged maize production. Another dry period followed in 1994-1995. Western sanctions started creeping in in 1998 and for the first time in his political life, Mugabe saw the birth of an opposition party the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) in 1999.

Zimbabwe entered the 3rd millennium with a series of economic misfortunes. Britain and other aid donors including the IMF and World Bank had stopped aid to Zimbabwe. The MDC with the support of land owners vigorously challenged Mugabe in a referendum on the new constitution in 2000. If approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. After loosing constitutional support for his reform program, Mugabe resorted to radicalism. Following a fierce wrangling with the judiciary, he made it clear that no court ruling would stop him from implementing his reforms because the issue was political and could only be solved through political means. Such developments culminated in the March 2000 invasions of white farms by war veterans under Mugabe´s watchful eyes. Mugabe initiated his farm seizures with a passionate appeal to history and posterity. "If there be trouble with the Zimbabwe land redistribution policy, let it be my day so that future generations of Zimbabwe may live in peace." Till this day, Zimbabwe has not known peace.

The road to sanctions

Sanctions against Mugabe were unleashed in waves, depending on the depth of radicalism. The IMF, under the instigation of Britain and the U.S, imposed unpublicized sanctions against Zimbabwe in November 1998. These sanctions were imposed despite an earlier commitment made by this institution to support land reforms at a Donor´s Conference on Land Reform and Rehabilitation Phase 11 (LRRP 11) in Harare, 1998. The IMF embarked on an anti-Mugabe propaganda, warned off potential investors, froze desperately needed loans to Zimbabwe and refused to negotiate Zimbabwe´s debt.

The sanctions diplomacy took a higher gear in September 1999 when the IMF completely suspended its support for economic adjustment and reform in Zimbabwe. This move was followed by the International Development Association (IDA). This multilateral development bank suspended all structural adjustment loans to Zimbabwe. In May 2000, it suspended all other forms of lending, leaving Zimbabwe desperate for badly needed funds. With these strings on Mugabe´s neck, the western press started predicting his imminent collapse. .

When Mugabe refused to fall as soon as was predicted, America rushed to the forefront of sanctions. In March 2000, the U.S Senate passed the Zimbabwe Democracy Bill (ZDB). This bill called for a travel ban and the freezing of assets belonging to President Mugabe, his family and other top government officials. The ZDB sought to deny Zimbabwe access to international loans and credits. It called on Zimbabwe to respect existing ownership titles to property. This bill further aimed to support opposition groups within Zimbabwe and to fund projects aimed at undermining ZANU-PF. It also called on Zimbabwe to withdraw its forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since the beginning of farm seizures in 2000, America has engaged Zimbabwe in a bitter diplomatic row, characterized by sanctions, threats and verbal exchanges. This period has also been very sensitive in American diplomacy, notably after the September 11 2001 attacks on America. In this bitter state of relations, President Bush ranked Mugabe´s Zimbabwe among the "six outposts of tyranny" in the world. In 2003, his government froze the assets of 77 Zimbabwe government officials including Mugabe. In 2005, Bush signed an "Executive Order" expanding the number of those affected by the U.S sanctions and 33 institutions whose assets where frozen in America. This sanctions list was further widened after the current election upheavals in 2008.

American hatred for Zimbabwe is equal to, or rivaled only by that of Britain. Ancestral home to majority of Rhodesian settlers, Britain stands at the center of Zimbabwe´s crisis. Britain stopped funding land reforms in 1997 on grounds that the land went to Mugabe´s cronies. And since then, there have been more excuses linked to political and human rights issues in Zimbabwe. In April 2001, Britain canceled an aid package to Zimbabwe worth $US 5million. The American-initiated ZDB received the complete blessings of Britain, especially its support for opposition activities. Unwilling to see Mugabe basking in the glory of the knighthood, the Queen stripped him of this title in June 2008.

In the British scheme of things, Zimbabwe will only know peace with Mugabe out of power. "We are likely going to be in for many more years of this kind of tyranny until Preisident Mugabe moves away," said Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary. When Straw tried in vain to whip African leaders into joining his anti-Mugabe campaign, he labeled the African attitude "a conspiracy of silence." With this intransigence from African leaders, Britain relied on pressure from the U.S, EU and other European countries. British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, nodded with satisfaction when Zimbabwe was expelled from the Commonwealth in 2003, saying it was important for the Commonwealth to send "a strong signal to Zimbabwe."

Australia was among the several European countries to heed to Anglo-American calls for sanctions against Mugabe. Like the U.S, Australia widened its sanctions list to include 127 names, adding to an initial list of people in the Zimbabwe government banned from doing business with Australian firms. Together with New Zealand, Australia lobbied the UN Security Council to indict Mugabe in the International Criminal Court. This European consensus on sanctions culminated in an EU sanction package carrying a travel ban on Mugabe, business and trade restrictions and an arms embargo.

These sanctions as crippling as they are, have not succeeded in achieving the desired goal of regime change. With a thunderous media blitz on Zimbabwe, the West hoped to use the 2008 Parliamentary and Presidential elections to make a good case for what they call the "restoration of democracy" in Zimbabwe. Alluding to western conspiracy and support for the opposition, Mugabe resorted to outright violence and intimidation, forcing the opposition to back out of the run-off elections. This left Mugabe with a "landslide victory" in the one candidate poll. His information Minister, George Charamba baptized this victory with a message to the West to "go hang."

Though unable to kick Mugabe out of power, western propaganda paid off in the form of a crack that it inflicted on African sympathy and solidarity for Mugabe. A handful of African leaders raised concerns about the conduct of the elections, the violence involved and the credibility of the polls. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, qualified the situation in Zimbabwe as a "tragic failure of leadership." With this limited diplomatic breakthrough, the U.S, with the support of Britain and France, drafted a sanctions resolution which it carried to the UN.

The recent debate over Zimbabwe in the Security Council marks the height of the diplomatic row between the West and the East over Robert Mugabe´s Zimbabwe. Never before in the history of the UN has the internal affair of a sovereign country reached the Security Council. It is a replay of the cold war-era tussle by Great powers over Africa. "Has the Cold War after all arrived at the UN?" asked Thalif Deen in the Sunday Times. Events building up to this debate date back to Mugabe´s manipulated victory in the last presidential elections. The western powers raised the problem of Zimbabwe at the G8 Summit in Japan and blamed African leaders for not bringing enough pressure to bear on Mugabe. They joined the U.S in tabling a sanctions resolution at the Security Council which was vetoed by China and Russia. "China and Russia have stood with Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe," said Zalmay Kalilzad, U.S Ambassador to the UN declared.

The depth and implications of western sanctions

Western sanctions against Mugabe have always been presented as being "narrowly targeted" or "mild." Such words greatly conceal the full depth, scope and impact of these sanctions. It is true that Mugabe´s mismanagement of the economy, wrong policies and heavy-handedness have significantly contributed to Zimbabwe´s economic collapse. His huge and irrational "compensation" to war veterans, his costly venture into the DRC and the radical nature of his land reforms all struck a deadly blow at Zimbabwe´s once vibrant economy. Mugabe himself acknowledged this fact when he observed, "Having restored land to the people, we have learnt a host of lessons," Continued he, "Chief among these is that of engaging more scientific methods to ensure greater productivity of all the resettled land….

These failures on Mugabe´s part notwithstanding, any attempt to completely dissociate Zimbabwe´s economic woes from western sanctions is grossly misleading and only enhances the hypocrisy and double standards surrounding the sanctions debate. When the EU unleashed sanctions in 2002 following earlier sanctions by the IMF and U.S, the political adviser to former Nigerian President Olusenngun Obasanjo observed, "They seem to want Mugabe´s head delivered on a platter of gold." Six years on, the West will stop at nothing to get this head. The combined effects of western sanctions and Mugabe´s political and economic blunders have kept Zimbabwe crawling.

The full impact of western sanctions on Zimbabwe is conveyed in speech delivered to the U.S Congress in 2002 by Zimbabwe´s Ambassador to Congress in which he criticized western double standards in his country. "The campaign against my country has nothing to do with democracy, the rule of law or elections as they [the West] claim," he said. "They imposed informal sanctions on the country, including attempts to prevent oil deliveries from reaching Zimbabwe. This resulted in gasoline queues and the closure of some factories." He continued further, "They withheld spare parts for our machinery including spare parts for incubators and respirators for new-born babies." This is what the West calls narrowly targeted sanctions. The effects are quite visible today in the form of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe´s exchange rate stands today at 900 billion Zimbabwe dollars to 1 U.S dollar.

What goes by the name of sanctions on Zimbabwe is the twin brother of the "regime change" objective of the West. It is Mugabe´s punishment for standing on the way of the West in Zimbabwe. Howard W. French for example recounts a statement made by a former U.S Ambassador to Zimbabwe. "Everyone felt that they had invested something to the success of Zimbabwe, so when it all started unraveling, everyone felt personally disappointed." This historical statement betrays the hidden agenda of the West on Zimbabwe.

Mugabe may be a devil in the eyes of the West. But these same eyes are blind to, the atrocities of other devils in Africa. There is nothing Mugabe has done which is so strange in the continent. Plunder, torture, corruption, ethnic politics, mismanagement, election rigging and state brutality. Under normal room temperature and pressure, these are characteristics of Africa. These abuses thrive with the support of the same great powers of the West and East who cry foul over Zimabwe. That is why Mugabe recently challenged his "friends-turned-foes" in Africa to "point a finger" at him when some joined in the western chorus against him. As an individual, Mugabe remains firmly unshaken by sanctions as he barks left and right.

Arms embargoes have also helped to strengthen Mugabe´s "look east" policy especially towards China. "Clearly Zimbabwe is looking east," he said, "and there is no turning back." Besides its leverage on Zimbabwe´s land and minerals, China stands ready to turn in shiploads of weapons even at the heart of Zimbabwe´s election unrest. For these and other economic advantages, China is ready to veto any sanctions resolution against its proxy, Zimbabwe.

Among the several reasons advanced by the West for sanctioning Zimbabwe are talks about human rights abuses, torture and killing. It is rather unfortunate that these calls came at the wrong time. Not only are these evils common in Africa, but the West itself has its hands stained. The unjustified invasion of Iraq and the cruel hanging of its President in the eyes of the world have cast doubts on the credibility of Britain and the U.S as defenders of human rights and democracy. "Today in Iraq, with all their democracy, the oil pipelines are more secure than the women and children in the streets of Baghdad," says Yaya Jammeh, President of Gambia and admirer of Mugabe.

Western travel bans on Mugabe have also proven ineffective and counterproductive. In his diplomatic tours around the world (including the West), Mugabe has on several occasions received a hero´s welcome, using this opportunity to present himself as a victim of aggression by the mighty. A good example of how Mugabe has turned this to his advantage was at the last EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon. This summit had been planned since April 2003 but failed to hold because African leaders refused sitting down without Mugabe. The conference finally held in December 2007 with the unmistakable presence of Mugabe while Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister stayed away. Mugabe singled out a "gang of four" which he blamed for arrogance towards Africa. This European arrogance and finger wagging attitude is largely responsible for African solidarity towards Mugabe. "Telling Africans they will be judged by how they line up on Zimbabwe is counterproductive....The West´s constant search for African leaders to anoint or vilify is resented on the continent and its track record, moreover is riddled with spots," says Howard French.


In 2005, Tony Blair described Africa as a "scar on the conscience of the world." Zimbabwe today has deteriorated beyond the level of a mere scar. Zimbabwe is a palpitating ulcer that leaves the body without peace or rest. Of all things in this world, what Zimbabwe needs most is peace, and all other things in biblical terms "shall be added unto it." The ultimate lesson Zimbabwe has to learn from history, is the fact that peace in Zimbabwe will not, cannot come from outside. It has to be cultivated within Zimbabwe and nurtured by Zimbabweans. The evils of the Lancaster Constitution and its obnoxious "willing seller, willing-buyer" clause are enough indications that the West has a better agenda for Zimbabwe than peace. Also, China´s flourishing arms trade with Mugabe does not in any way walk the path of peace.

As the West continues to seek Mugabe´s head, there are very slim possibilities that it will tone down its rhetoric about sanctions even though this issue has hit a hard rock at the UN Security Council. China and Russia will seize this opportunity to dig deeper into Zimbabwe´s bowels for minerals and other economic advantages especially as Mugabe has vowed to look east.

This places the destiny of Zimbabwe squarely in the palms of Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangarai and South African President Thabo Mbeki who stands between them in the ongoing mediation efforts which many see as "a window of opportunity." Africa awaits a "triumph of reason" in these negotiations. There is no better way of telling the world that "African Renaissance" and "African solutions to African problems" are real manifestations of African independence. These attempts at negotiation will however amount to nothing if Mugabe and Tsvangarai cannot look beyond individual and party differences and unite against outside manipulation. Zimbabwe cannot survive without the outside world but it most choose its friends with care bearing in mind that peace will return to that country only when it works along the line which Mandela saw as being "... partnership with those who wish it well."

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