At a summit last week, southern African leaders called on western states to "remove all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe". They contend that Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal cannot be effectively implemented until sanctions are lifted. The EU and US say sanctions will not be lifted until the power-sharing agreement is appropriately observed.
Disagreement over the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe is not new. It goes back to 2002 when, at the request of Britain and some Zimbabwean civil society elements, the EU first imposed targeted sanctions on Robert Mugabe, Zanu-PF elites and companies associated with the Zanu-PF regime. African leaders’ reaction to sanctions at the time was typified by Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa’s remarks:
As you have heard about Zimbabwe and the EU’s decision to impose sanctions, it seems they want to divide Africa at Brussels in 2002 just as they did in Berlin in 1884. Africa must be prepared to say no!
Zanu-PF’s response was a determined propaganda effort to cast Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as "sell-outs" who campaigned for the imposition of unjustified sanctions that were "racist" and an interference in the country’s internal affairs. Since 2002 Zanu-PF has religiously circulated this message, depicting Tsvangirai’s MDC in cahoots with imperialist western states.
Today Tsvangirai’s MDC is asked to advocate the removal of sanctions because it instigated them, as if Zanu-PF’s human rights violations were never and are not real.
The problem is not necessarily targeted sanctions themselves, because Zanu-PF’s well-documented systematic human rights violations validated them. The trouble is that the west’s condemnations and targeted sanctions against Mugabe and Zanu-PF elites would command more authority if the same human rights standards were applied to every country evenly. This is a reality the high-level EU delegation visiting Zimbabwe this weekend must grapple with.
Sanctions have become a convenient scapegoat for Zanu-PF. Some white Zimbabwean farmers evicted from commercial farms were instructed by invading war veterans to "speak to your George Bush and tell him to drop the sanctions – once this is done you may have your farms back". The existence of sanctions allows Zanu-PF to argue that Zimbabwe’s breathtaking economic decline was not caused by Zanu-PF’s adoption of a disastrous Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) in the early 1990s, massive corruption by Zanu-PF elites, an ineptly implemented land reform programme and the country’s 1998 involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where, as the academic Norma Kriger writes, "in six months the government spent more money on the DRC military venture than it had spent on land purchases since 1980". Western sanctions that the Tsvangirai MDC canvassed for are the origin of Zimbabwe’s economic debility instead.
While the MDC denies that it ever campaigned for sanctions, its message on the sanctions issue has never been as coherent and consistent as that of Zanu-PF. After the 2000 parliamentary election, MDC MP David Coltart advanced the following rationale as one of the factors behind the MDC’s choice not to enlist civil disobedience to dispute the results of the controversial election:
The international community pleaded with us to hold off on the use of mass action, promising at the same time that if we backed off, they would do all they could to increase pressure on Mugabe
Such statements allowed Zanu-PF to infer that by "pressure" the MDC meant sanctions. Zanu-PF’s propaganda machinery publicised this conjecture as evidence that the Tsvangirai MDC was pro-sanctions. It did not help the MDC’s cause that some of its MPs such as Trudy Stevenson publicly boasted that "we [Tsvangirai’s MDC] have good contacts with the international community and Mugabe is going to have to negotiate with us".
If the EU ends its isolation of Zimbabwe and lifts targeted sanctions, it is left with reduced leverage in influencing Zanu-PF to fully implement the power-sharing agreement. To date Zanu-PF has flouted the terms of the agreement at will, with no significant reform occurring. However, maintaining targeted sanctions provides a fillip for Zanu-PF propaganda, which the Tsvangirai MDC has thus far failed to counter.
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