Sanctions: Government, West play blame game

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Zimbabwean State Security Minister Owen Ncube has now been added to the list of 141 individuals and 59 companies from Zimbabwe said to be under US and EU sanctions because of human rights abuses. Allegations stem from a recent spate of abductions and torture of civil rights activists by suspected state security agents.

More than 15 people, including a medical doctor who was later found again after disappearing for some days, have been abducted and, in some cases, left with severe injuries. No one has been arrested or prosecuted in connection with the cases.

The sanctions history

The debate on Zimbabwe sanctions has been ongoing for the past 20 years. They were imposed during the era of former President Robert Mugabe, but were reviewed earlier this year and have been extended until February 2020.

They target individuals, but the Harare government says they are affecting the economy much more than they were intended to.

The EU, for its part, says the sanctions are restrictive measures targeting individuals and companies.

Travel restrictions and a freeze on assets have been imposed, along with measures affecting the sale of military hardware and equipment.

The US’ sanctions largely target individuals who have allegedly engaged in the corruption and violation of human rights and undermined democratic institutions. “Our targeted sanctions are not responsible for Zimbabwe falling tragically short of its potential,” the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, said, adding that “the fault lies in catastrophic mismanagement by those in power and the government’s abuse of its citizens.”

Like the EU, Washington insists the sanctions do not prohibit trade between the US and Zimbabwe.

October 25, 2019, was declared a national holiday in Zimbabwe to allow a march to take place in protest at the Western sanctions. Judging by the turnout at the protest, however, there seems to be a general indifference regarding their effects.

Numbers were very low at the national event held in the capital, Harare, with several citizens saying that the march would not address the issue of biting economic depression, which they believe has been primarily caused by the state.

However, critics say Zimbabwe’s government is using the sanctions as an excuse after failing to address issues such as corruption and misgovernance.

But speaking to DW, one pro-government protester said: “Sanctions have caused us more harm. They have affected people, companies, schools in Zimbabwe, wherever we are in Zimbabwe. We are facing hardships because of Britain, America, and their allies. We are saying enough is enough.”

The economic backlash

Zimbabwe has, for the past 20 years, failed to access lines of credit from international monetary institutions. Some of the country’s banks are also restricted from trading with international financial institutions.

Under the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), American companies are not allowed to deal with Zimbabwean entities on the sanctions list.

Some companies associated with the state have had their money intercepted or blocked when they attempted to trade with international institutions. Companies have also found it challenging to move money into Zimbabwe because banks can be fined for dealing with sanctioned countries.

In April 2019, the US fined Standard Chartered bank $18 million for dealing with a sanctioned country. Some companies have been forced to close shop or scale down operations.

This has led to a loss of jobs. International investors have also shied away from investing in Zimbabwe. Those who could be keen to do so are playing it safe and only making promises.

Dealing with symptoms

Critics of the Harare government have urged the authorities to address issues they are responsible for themselves, such as bad governance and corruption.

“The question is: What is Zimbabwe’s problem?” says political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya.

The problem for Zimbabwe is not the question of sanctions; sanctions are, rather, a symptom of a problem,” he said, adding that “the problem is governance and legitimacy. Corruption is an internally induced sanction on the people of Zimbabwe. [The authorities] kill, steal and do not want to be accountable.”

Zimbabwe’s economy is continuing its downward spiral after the infamous soft coup that removed the late Robert Mugabe, the country’s long-time rule. Current President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Cabinet are struggling to inspire confidence in Zimbabweans.

The simultaneous dual political and economic crisis will require Zimbabweans to engage and converge to work for the better of the country.