The African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community are pushing for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe to save the country’s economy from collapsing.
But amid the push, Western countries who imposed the restrictions nearly 20 years ago say Harare should blame itself for not taming graft and guaranteeing civil liberties.
In a series of dispatches, both the African Union and SADC said the removal of sanctions will discourage the mass emigration of Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries and put the country in good stead of international lenders for loans to stabilise the economy.
Meeting in Dar es Salaam on October 25, the 16-member bloc representatives from southern Africa, including Zimbabwe and chaired by Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, called for removal of all sanctions on Zimbabwe to pave way for socio-economic transformation.
“The removal of sanctions will benefit Zimbabweans and the SADC Region, as well as, enhance co-operation of SADC with the European Union and the United States of America,” the representative resolved.
The EU, one of the sanctioning bodies, said the earliest removal of sanctions can be considered is after December when the Union could discuss the matter.
The EU accused SADC of exaggerating the impact of sanctions, saying they were targeting specified entities.
“Besides the arms embargo, the only EU restrictive measure in force is limited to the former first lady Grace Mugabe and Zimbabwe Defense Industry, a company which is no longer active in the defense sector,” said Emilio Rossetti, the EU deputy head of delegation.
It argued that the measures cannot affect the broader economy or foreign direct investment.
“None of the restrictive measures is impacting the privileged, tariff and quota free, access to the EU market granted by the Economic and Partnership Agreement ratified in 2012,” he said.
But Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, the SADC executive secretary argued that the sanctions, initially imposed to target key political figures for violating human rights, have in fact punished ordinary citizens who have to buy basic amenities at inflated prices.
“The sanctions have proved to be directly affecting entities beyond the so-called targeted individuals, and have a negative impact on the credibility of Zimbabwe. They have serious trickle-down effects on the economy and people of Zimbabwe, and by extension, the SADC Region.
She said the “unlawful” restrictions on multilateral financing and business dealings with US companies had hurt the strategic economic sectors of Zimbabwe and erected barriers to innovation, investment and growth.
SADC had voiced the same concerns before, only that this time the dispatch after the 39th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Dar es Salaam was immediately endorsed by the AU.
Moussa Faki, the chairperson of the AU Commission said President Emerson Mnangangwa’s efforts to revive the economy could amount to nought if the country was blocked from accessing global markets.
“Economic sanctions imposed by the international community, continue to have negative impact on the economy and the people of Zimbabwe,” Ebba Kalondo, Mr Faki’s spokesperson said, pledging that AU organs would continue to mobilise support for the country’s recovery efforts.
Zimbabwe, which changed presidents for the first time in 2017 following the ouster of Robert Mugabe, has been under sanctions since 2001 when the US and the EU to push Zimbabwe to improve its human rights record and open up the democratic space.
The sanctions also aimed to force key government and political leaders to initiate actions that would see the return of farms seized or expropriated by Mugabe’s regime.
“None of these have been achieved, except for recent elections, which many still considered to be off the mark,” said Dr Mustafa Ali, chairman of the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies in Nairobi, referring to the August 2018 election, which Mnangagwa won.
Dr Ali argued that countries like Zimbabwe could in fact attract US rivals like China and Russia.
In 2001, the US enacted a law that restricted its companies from doing business with Harare. US executives and multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and IMF were barred from voting for any financial package for Zimbabwe.
The sanctions were tightened the following year when Mugabe won a controversial presidential election against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
The EU, Canada, Australia and New Zealand cited alleged electoral fraud and human rights violations when they imposed wide ranging sanctions against Mugabe’s regime.
A list of individuals that included Mugabe and his family were barred from visiting western countries and their assets abroad were frozen.
Harare, however, insisted that it was being punished for seizing productive commercial farms from white farmers, for redistribution to landless black Zimbabweans.
Mugabe unsuccessfully used various international platforms to campaign for the removal of the sanction.
“Isolation is hindering Zimbabwe’s transformation. Lifting sanctions and increasing international investment will speed up reforms and actually enhance protection of human rights,” said Abdiwahab Abdisamad of SouthLink Consultants in Nairobi and a commentator on continental issues.
A third of Zimbabwe’s population (5.7 million people) is considered extremely poor by the World Bank. Inflation rates reached 230 per cent in July this year and food prices increased by 319 per cent, the bank reported.
Mnangangwa’s government has hired at least five public relations firms from the US and Britain to lobby for the removal of sanctions which Western diplomats in Harare say are being used as an excuse for Zimbabwe’s failure to reverse economic collapse and clampdown on corruption.
“Blaming sanctions is a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from the real reasons behind Zimbabwe’s economic challenges—corruption, economic mismanagement, and failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law,” Brian Nichols, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe said.
He said there are only 141 Zimbabwean people and companies on the US sanctions’ list and there was no US trade embargo against Zimbabwe.
He said investors were turning to other promising opportunities in the region, waiting for Zimbabwe to embrace political and economic reforms that would make it a more attractive destination.
“American companies are interested in investing in Zimbabwe but are deterred by the massive levels of corruption, economic uncertainty, and weak rule of law,” Mr Nichols said. Zimbabwe is ranked 160 out of 175 nations on Transparency International’s corruption list.
It is estimated it loses $1 billion per year, about four per cent of the $26 billion economy, to corruption every year.
“The country is losing large sums of money due to corruption and poor economic policies, not sanctions imposed to its officials,” US Assistant Secretary in the State Department Bureau for African Affairs said.
—Reported by Aggrey Mutambo, Chris Kidanka, Apolinari Tairo and Kholwani Nyathi