Sanctions a blunt foreign policy tool

HARARE - Few Robert Mugabe speeches over the past 10 years have failed to include some blazing rhetorical flourish against the West.

“Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies,” he declared at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

“Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources. Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country.”

It was hardly surprising that American diplomats walked out. What’s perhaps more striking, however, is that some of Africa’s more moderate voices have lately joined the Zimbabwean leader in denouncing the policies of the European Union and the United States toward his country.

Neither Thabo Mbeki nor Kenneth Kaunda fit the mould of the anti-Western polemicist.

Mbeki, South Africa’s president from 1999 to 2008, provided a steady hand after Nelson Mandela retired.

He is, if anything, a favourite target of leftist critics who say he hewed too closely to the neo-liberal economic policies favoured by the West.

Yet here is Mbeki railing in a speech in August against Western assertions that Mugabe’s overwhelming re-election in July was illegitimate: “We have a common responsibility as Africans to determine our destiny and are quite ready to stand up against anybody else who thinks that, ‘never mind what the thousand African observers say about elections in Zimbabwe, we sitting in Washington and London are wiser than they are.”’

Likewise, Kaunda, President of Zambia from 1964 until 1991, when he stepped aside after defeat in his country’s first multi-party elections in nearly three decades, also had harsh words. “The exploiters are now very hard on Zimbabwe because of the immense resources your country has,” he declared recently. “Let’s continue fighting for our interests in Africa.”

Still, it’s easy to see why both men have been harshly critical of the economic restrictions imposed by the European Union in 2002 and the United States the following year: The measures have neither brought down the Mugabe government nor influenced its behaviour.

Far from weakening the ruling Zanu PF party, they have only highlighted what a blunt foreign policy tool sanctions can be.

From North Korea to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, sanctions have hit repressive regimes where it hurts least.

In Zimbabwe, as elsewhere, ordinary citizens — not the cosseted elite — have suffered much from the collapse of government revenue over the last decade and the drying up of foreign investment.

Nothing better illustrates this utter failure then the staggering mass exodus of skilled and unskilled labour — at least three million Zimbabweans in a country of only 13 million have fled.

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has certainly kept a ruthless hold on Zimbabwe.

The implementation of his land reform programme, which sought to redress an odious system imposed under white minority rule, was marked by appalling human rights abuses and precipitous economic decline.

So too was the presidential election campaign of 2008, when violence and intimidation culminated in the forced withdrawal of the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the run-off even though he had won the first round of elections that year.

What angers many Africans, however, is that Mugabe’s overwhelming re-election this past July has done so little to change attitudes in the West.

Britain and the United States insist the election was rigged but offer no convincing evidence to show that flaws on voting day amounted to systematic tampering that would have changed the outcome.

African Union and Southern African Development Community observers declared the election valid.

Nor would Mugabe’s victory have surprised anyone who saw the findings of a Freedom House survey last year that found that support for Tsvangirai had fallen steeply among those Zimbabweans polled, to 20 percent from 38 percent, following his lacklustre stint as Prime minister in a unity government formed after the disputed 2008 election.

In fact, some analysts say the identification of the opposition with Western nations imposing harsh restrictions on Zimbabwe hurt Tsvangirai’s chances and did no harm to the ruling party’s electoral prospects.

Belgium, which has been a lone voice in calling for the lifting of sanctions and recently persuaded the European Union to allow trading with the main Zimbabwean diamond mining company, estimates that they cost Zimbabwe $400 million a year in lost revenue.

China, an increasingly assertive presence in Africa, has been quick to step into the breach left by banned Western businesses.

Chinese firms are taking an ever bigger role in the gold, coal and diamond-mining sector.

The broader message this sends to many Africans is that the European Union and the United States, in pursuing a rigid policy that carries a high cost to ordinary Zimbabweans, is not ready to engage the continent on equal terms.

Nor do they forget that the same Western powers once favoured a policy of “constructive engagement” with apartheid South Africa and imposed only limited sanctions on its racist government.

“The Zimbabweans have been in the frontline in terms of defending our right as Africans to determine our future,” Mbeki said in the same speech, “and they are paying a price for that. I think it is our responsibility as African intellectuals to join them, the Zimbabweans, to say, No!”

Mugabe, who will turn 90 in February, will not be in power forever. With its current policies, the West is effectively surrendering a chance to influence Zimbabwe’s future, and ensuring that he is not succeeded by an even more radical authoritarian ruler.

*Murithi Mutiga is an editor at the Nation Media Group in Kenya.

Comments (8)

Why should africa, zimbabwe in particular allow one incompetent person to continue his dominion over the population causing untold suffering. If the west really hated him, then he should relinquish power for the "sake of this country's citizens" Why is there so much unchecked corruption and kleptomania in this country? I guess his principle is "steal, as long as you don't not challenge my presidency"

Zhong Tong - 9 November 2013

zimbabwe has not lost a cent because of targeted sanctions the problem is the money only goes in pockets of the connected

jack - 9 November 2013

Zhong Tong and jac - Your comments if truly done in good faith, lake maturity. I assume you are not 'teens. I do agree with the reporter writer. The negative stance taken by UK and apparently influence on its friends has not done any good for the West. The modern development in Zimbabwe is truly attributed to UK. Ir respect of our treble relationship because of colonization and racism, we had reached a stage were we must forget the past and look forward with good faith. In such a case UK would be part of us. UK would benefit immensely from Zimabwe's natural resources, also the British-Zimbabweans will take their rightful place in Zimbabwe. Her Mergest the crown has never supported the UK Government policies towards Zimbabwe. She is wise and age the UK Government to consult Her.

dungas - 9 November 2013

If they are blunt why talk about them!!!! Just pretend they don't exist. Just fly to China and pretend you have landed at Heathrow, fair enough if your imagination carries you so far away. At every opportunity,, funerals,weddings, virgin declaration ceremonies,toilet & market stall inauguration, he even tells his vegetable sister Beatrice about sanctions. it's like the Bermuda Triangle, if you have never been caught in it, you would not know the effect. Ask Mugabe , he feels it , he knows it.

Matuzvi Adona - 9 November 2013

If they are blunt why talk about them!!!! Just pretend they don't exist. Just fly to China and pretend you have landed at Heathrow, fair enough if your imagination carries you so far away. At every opportunity,, funerals,weddings, virgin declaration ceremonies,toilet & market stall inauguration, he even tells his vegetable sister Beatrice about sanctions. it's like the Bermuda Triangle, if you have never been caught in it, you would not know the effect. Ask Mugabe , he feels it , he knows it.

Matuzvi Adona - 9 November 2013

Mutiga is too far away in Kenya to recognise the damage caused by Mugabe. He does not appreciate the fact that Mugabe drove an estimated 4 million people out of the country because of his dictatorship - more than the white racist Ian Smith did. Mugabe murdered about 20 000 black Zimbabweans in Matabeleland and remains unrepentant. How can such a person be regarded as a hero? Whose hero? Heroism for massacres? Hero for stealing elections since the 1990s? Hero for overstaying in power? God. Millions of Zimbabweans are unemployed while Mugabe and his inner circle own the majority of land in Zimbabwe which was done by the minority white farmers. In what way is that heroism. More sanctions should be imposed on Mugabe and those who helped him steal elections on 31 July. These are smart sanctions and don't affect ordinary people unless someone is a victim of brainwashing by Zanu-PF Muruthi Mutiga is ill-informed about Zimbabwe and should shut up.

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri - 9 November 2013

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri you seem to be pouring out emotions for obvious hatred against the person of Mugabe, that much is obvious from your use of language. What I would like to say to you is that watch your emotions, fits of rage cloud reasoning power. You will wake up one day a foreigner & slave in your own country having sold your sovereignty in anger to fix your 'fellow brother'. At this time & hour when Biti of MDC is claiming that sanctions cost Zimbabwe a lot of money & you say 'they don't affect ordinary people', hey you frighten me.

observer - 11 November 2013

The sanctions we need removed are those that Mugabe put on us ordinary Zimbabweans.

Paradzai Tirivashoma - 11 November 2013

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