The role of donors in Zimbabwe crisis
However, I thought I would contribute to the debate by offering a slightly different point of view to Mashingaidze. It might not be different but it could be a view that I thought suffered stillbirth in his article as he only mentioned it in the beginning but did not include it in his autopsy. Whether this was deliberate or not, only Mashingaidze knows but I thought it would only be fair to offer this other view if we really need to understand why the Zimbabwean crisis is still continuing.
My point of view stems from realising how sacrosanct the donor and international community has become, so much that the global academic, political and journalistic perception has been skewed to make it as if the Zimbabwe crisis is only centred on the Government.
However, I am of the opinion that the donor and International community are equally to blame for the Zimbabwe crisis as is the government. In this article, I will specifically look at how non-state actors, the donors, have played and/or are playing a part in shaping this complex emergency which we all know as the Zimbabwe crisis. However, at this point I will not mention other actors like the UN, SADC, South Africa and AU, but they are also playing a significant role in shaping the crisis.
Donor and International Response to the Zimbabwean Crisis
The central issue which makes the Zimbabwe crisis stand distinct from the other nations is the different divisions between the government and international community on critical policy priority area. With the world’s attention turned to more strategically important places such as Iraq, the Zimbabwe complex emergency has been marred by much international donor apathy, with appeal targets (particularly those relating to longer-term aid) far from satisfied. Zimbabwe’s emergency has been selected and moulded into shape to suit the pre-determined expectations and limitations of international donors and aid agencies. Its depiction has been about failed crops and food aid (followed by some medium-term livelihoods assistance to hard-hit farming communities), neither about a crumbling economy nor the urgent need for a revived democracy. This has meant that, on top of suffering the consequences of the food scarcity, livelihood deterioration and reduced access to basic social services, Zimbabwe has been unable to access the combination of medium and long term support that would be needed to reverse current trends.
As summarised below, Box 6 shows the ways in which the donors have used the impasse between them and the government to restrict assistance; Ways in which the Donors have Restricted Assistance to Zimbabwe Source: (ACF, 2006). Zimbabwe’s emergency has been constructed on the basis of some needs that are inflated and others that are ignored. Some international organisations deliberately inflate the food needs and overstate the severity and the extent of the malnutrition.
In another clear politically motivated selective intervention, in 2005, newly resettled farmers in A1 were excluded from the DFID/USAID funded food aid programmes despite them being the most vulnerable. This was on the vague pretext that the population in the ‘fast-track’ farms were more fluid and difficult to target for distribution of food aid. On the contrary, more fluid populations in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, which are reasonably difficult to target, are receiving air drops of food aid. Which risk is then easier to take, the risk of feeding Saddam guerrillas, or the risk of feeding victims of a government’s over ambitious redistribution project?
Comparing to other food aid programmes in the region that have since turned into recovery programmes, in Zimbabwe, donors have been pressing and explicitly showing a preference for general free food aid rations than sustainable and development oriented programmes like food for work, food for assets and ‘monetisation’ programmes.
Despite general free rations being known to cause dependency and also reports from commercial farmers that the rations have acted as a disincentive to farm casual labour, the programmes have remained relief oriented. This has acted as a disservice to the benefits of land redistribution. The donors vaguely argue that despite being in a crisis, Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is far more developed than its regional neighbours like Malawi and Zambia and thus they cannot spend more money on the logistically demanding development oriented programmes.
The creation of parallel structures to the traditional government structures or even dismantling of the existing government structures has been another cause for mistrust between the NGOs and the government. This has been fuelled by the channelling of all aid by donors through NGOs thus rendering the government of Zimbabwe a mere spectator in the aid programme in the country. Look at South Africa for example all the aid comes via the government and the state allocates the funds to NGOs according to needy.
The result of this in Zimbabwe has been the stiffening of the government which led to the birth of the controversial NGO Bill in 2004 to monitor and control use of funds in the country programmes run by NGOs.
Conditionality and Smart Sanctions: EU and USA response to the Zimbabwean Crisis
Another controversial issue has been the imposition of the so-called ‘targeted sanctions’ against the so-called Zanu PF elite. In February 2002, the United States government imposed “smart sanctions” against the Zimbabwean government that included a travel ban on government officials and a freezing of their assets. Similar sanctions were imposed by the European Union in March 2002. The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe in 2002, immediately following the March presidential elections.
In 2002 just after the imposition of the sanctions, there was a wave of excitement with optimists of the smart sanctions thinking that barring Grace Mugabe from Harrods was a magic bullet to Zimbabwe’s crisis. Others thought that precision guided sanctions that lock down the money and prevent the travel of a few hundred officials will not cause humanitarian hardship, but they may result in substantial political gain.
In the Zimbabwe Democracy Act (2001) imposed by the US, the statement of the policy reads; “It is the policy of the United States to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law.”
The US and the EU argue that they have imposed travel restrictions and trade restrictions to people who are directly responsible for the breakdown of democracy in Zimbabwe.
This, they say, will not harm the ordinary people in Zimbabwe. However, ironically, it is this enactment that blocks Zimbabwe’s access to the multilateral financial lending agencies, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, among others. Imposing travel restrictions to the governor of the central bank cannot justifiably be in the interest of the common man in Zimbabwe. Despite all this optimism with the sanctions, they have proved more harmful to the poor than good for the Zimbabweans. History has shown that sanctions tend to fail as a diplomatic tool for the same reason aerial bombing usually fails.
People who live in hermit states like North Korea, Burma, and Cuba already suffer from global isolation. Fed on a diet of half-truths, they are misinformed of what is happening inside their borders or outside of them. By increasing their isolation, sanctions make it easier for dictators to blame external enemies for a country's suffering. Because sanctions make a country's material deprivation significantly worse, they paradoxically make it less likely that the oppressed will throw off their chains. On another note, interestingly, one wonders if the people who are imposing sanctions are not the same people who refused to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
Bob Geldof's initiative for debt cancelling has also not spared Zimbabwe despite it being equally, if not more deserving than its northern neighbour, Zambia. One argument is that debt cancellation is only on condition that the country meets certain conditions related to good governance. Zimbabwe is considered to be far from good governance because of its violation of human rights and a bad record on respect of property rights.
However, to follow such an argument would lead to more controversies, which are beyond the scope of this instalment, regarding defining ‘good governance.’ What is ‘good governance?’ Who defines ‘good governance?’
Against which standard is ‘good governance’ measured? Contrary to their intentions the smart sanctions have not been so smart and it has not been the elite who have lost, nor has it been the US and EU but rather the same people who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the smart sanctions.
Against this backdrop, the Zimbabwe humanitarian emergency has resonated in the Western imagination, in part because it highlights the failure not only of past political projects but also of contemporary politics that finds it difficult to do more than manage the present suffering.
Moreover, the politicisation of the Zimbabwe CE turns the vulnerable into modern morality plays for Western audiences. Regrettably, political and economic realities portray some victims more deserving than others, signifying that some weakened or disrupted states that are considered economically important and geopolitically vital by developed governments will be favoured as recipients for development assistance and disaster relief.
Perseverence Ganga is a student at the University of Reading. You can contact him at: email@example.com
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