Sanctions: Righteousness or racist repertoire?

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THERE has been an intentional and dishonest narrative that Zimbabwe was under “targeted sanctions” and “travel bans” which target President Mugabe and his “cronies” and these distortions have deliberately misled the world over the plight of this nation. The existence of economic sanctions has been casually brushed off while the architects of the sanctions have not been sincere or morally upright to the suffering that befell the general populace in Zimbabwe. The unbearable hardships were blamed solely on the land reform programme and it seems convenient to justify such ruinous sanctions and disguise the real intention behind why they were inflicted in the first place.
The economic impact of the sanctions on the Zimbabwean economy must never be understated. They have been devastating to the most vulnerable groups in society who have had to bear the full brunt of it and have seen their livelihoods reduced to absolute destitution. There have been comparative arguments of the sanctions placed on Rhodesia and the Zimbabwe economic sanctions and what emerges is a racist repertoire which is inextricably imbedded and blended with a long term neoliberal grand master-plan. Sanctions do not discriminate between the elite or the general population and they are used as an economic warfare against target governments. The purpose of economic sanctions is to coerce the intended victim into submission through deliberate sabotage of the economy hence the term economic sanctions.
The sanctions against Rhodesia created social and political integration due to the fact that the Ian Smith regime was given more than enough time to prepare for them. On the other hand for Zimbabwe, the sanctions created socio-economic and political upheaval and disintegration because the country was slapped with instant economic sanctions which saw the economic meltdown, the strengthening of spurious opposition politics and the privation and distress caused by the hard-hitting effects of the sanctions. Unlike Zimbabwe, Rhodesia had a very strong historical and birthright identification with those who were imposing the sanctions and had ideological allies who had a vested interest in ensuring that the regime stayed intact and hence they did not approve the sanctions. Rhodesian sanctions were at most symbolic whereas those against Zimbabwe were full-blown economic sanctions imposed indiscriminately and abruptly with the resultant immediate economic collapse that followed.Advertisement

The nature of the sanctions against Rhodesia highlights a protective approach to imposing the sanctions in that the Smith regime was given enough warning of the impending threat, ample time to prepare and harness collective national spirit. Johan Galtung wrote an article in 1966(On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions: With Examples from the Case of Rhodesia) hypothesising the likely impact of the sanctions long before they were imposed. The Rhodesians were warned and prepped for well in advance and in and around the towns and cities Galtung pointed out that there were even jokes like “there will be no sanctions against drinks” – ridiculing the sanctions way before they came into effect.
Zimbabwe on the other hand was not threatened with sanctions; they were imposed with very little if any warning at all. It is disingenuous that the architects of these hardship-inducing sanctions claim that Mugabe and his “cronies” blame the sanctions as a way of diverting attention from the country’s politics and internal mismanagement yet they could so easily lift the sanctions completely and see if the mismanagement prevails in a sanctions-free economic environment and uplift the lives of those they falsely claim to be championing for by imposition of these sanctions.
Again the sanctions against Rhodesia did not work because some countries such as South Africa, Portugal, Israel and some Arab nations propped up the Smith regime. Rhodesia also found ways of circumventing the sanctions as imports and exports were smuggled through South Africa. The Zimbabwe sanctions on the other hand were devastating to the economy. Hufbauer and Schott, 1990 (Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy) calculate that the annual cost of economic sanctions to Rhodesia was just $130 million per year. In a study titled ‘Economic Sanctions’ prepared for the Harvard Centre for International Affairs, Robin Renwick, head of the Rhodesian department of the British Foreign Office, reported that between 1965 and 1974 Rhodesia’s real output increased 6 percent per year; the value of exports more than doubled between 1968 and 1974 and continued to rise afterward, although much more slowly.
On the other hand the sanctions against Zimbabwe have cost the country in excess of $42 billion since 2001 which translates to a staggering $3.5 billion annually! The negative publicity Zimbabwe and its leadership received meant a very negative national image which attracted high-risk premium on alternative sources of offshore lines of credit and had a detrimental effect on tourism which is significant to national GDP (Taking back the economy: Indigenise, Empower, Develop and Create Employment). The interruption of trade and constraints on manufacturing and general activities saw GDP almost halving from US$7.49 billion in 2000 to US$4 billion in 2010.
Sanctions against Rhodesia were devised and implemented in a manner to publicly appear to punish yet privately there was a collective kindredship to preserve and protect. At most the sanctions were a symbolic gesture to appear to condemn the racist Ian Smith regime so as to pacify the international community. On the other hand sanctions against Zimbabwe were specifically designed to hurt without due care and attention to the suffering of the ordinary poor people. Rhodesia was placed under sanctions but safeguarded from the privation synonymous with sanctions while Zimbabwe was deliberately exposed to hardship.
The Zimbabwe government’s incessant cries over the devastating effects of these merciless sanctions were drowned in the devious world of media duplicity and the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe was relegated to the entertainment sections of media sources. Some lives are more important than others, the nature of the world Africa finds itself at the bottom end of.
Bernard Bwoni can be contacted on