Despite British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s confession that Britain will only remove its illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe at the MDC-T’s request, the MDC-T is unwilling and unable to have sanctions lifted.
The sad truth behind the MDC-T’s position on sanctions stems from the fact that in the past, the party’s interests coincided with those of Britain. Both the party and key financial backer wanted the ZANU-PF government out. Britain wanted this so as to reverse the land democratisation programme while MDC-T sought the reins of power. However, both groups’ interests concerning sanctions no longer converge.
Since land continues to be democratised to this day, Britain is aggrieved and privately wants sanctions to remain in place. On the other hand, the MDC-T is now in government and in charge of ministries that are supposed to provide the very services the economic sanctions are stifling. As such, they are in the awkward position of privately wanting them to be lifted but are publicly unwilling to convincingly say as much.
In order to understand why the MDC-T is unwilling and unable to have economic sanctions lifted, one must address two simple questions: Why were the sanctions imposed? How are they affecting the ordinary Zimbabwean? Answering the first question illustrates why the party is unable and the second speaks to why they are unwilling.
Why Economic Sanctions Were Imposed
Governments the world over appear to have two foreign policies: one sold to the public and one executed, regardless of how devastating the latter may be in terms of blood and treasure. Concerning sanctions, Britain’s public foreign policy indicates a genuine concern for the rule of law, human rights and good governance. However, its executed foreign policy suggests otherwise. Its concerns are rooted in Harare’s economic pivot eastward, rejection of IMF and World Bank counter-developmental prescriptions, willingness to expend blood and treasure in a fellow African country to restore its peace and sovereignty, but above all, Harare’s drive for indigenous control over land.
The reason why Harare’s push for egalitarian land ownership has resulted in the imposition of indiscriminate economic sanctions is simple: supposing Britain, her allies, the World Bank and the IMF supported the land democratisation programme and new commercial farms were brimming with bountiful crops from Mutorashanga to Mvuma, then this would pose a severe threat to Britain’s regional interests. Why? Every landless person from Maputo to Mmabatho would be demanding their fair share.
Thus, the key objectives of Britain’s executed foreign policy towards Zimbabwe includes firstly, averting a region-wide revolt by the landless and secondly, reversing the current land democratisation programme.
Insofar as economic sanctions have only served to fulfil the former of the aforementioned objectives, and those imposing them still harbour hopes that it can bring about the latter, it does not matter how loud the MDC-T shouts, or anyone else for that matter, the economic sanctions will remain in place. Thus, unless the MDC-T attempts to do the impossible, and pushes for a reversal of the land democratisation programme, their calls to lift sanctions will fall on deaf ears and will expose just how powerless they are on the issue.
How Sanctions Are Effecting Ordinary Zimbabweans
Unfortunately for the people of Zimbabwe, calls by the MDC-T regarding the true target of sanctions haven’t fallen on deaf ears. Primarily because most mainstream international news outlets simply parrot Whitehall’s position on so called “restrictive measures.”Having said that, this sentiment is absolutely true. These measures include asset freezes and travel bans on certain individuals.
However, contrary to what the British Broadcasting Corporation would have you believe, the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are not confined to this form. They include a range of measures imposed by Britain, the US and the EU, designed to severely cripple Zimbabwe’s economy and by extension, the living conditions of ordinary Zimbabweans, so as to achieve regime change.
It is now time for Zimbabweans, from all walks of life, to ask tough questions of those who continue to entertain the notion that sanctions are only targeting certain individuals. This catastrophic failure to publicly recognise the main, underlying cause of the citizenry’s plight and, by extension, the main means of extricating them from it must be questioned.
The first question that Zimbabweans must ask the MDC-T arises from the rather inaptly named Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001(ZIDERA), a bill which the party co-authored. The law directs the U.S. Treasury Department to instruct U.S. members of international financial institutions to oppose and vote against any extension of any loan, credit or guarantee to Zimbabwe. So, how is it that as beneficiaries of chalk in schools, medicine in clinics and asphalt on roads, that would otherwise be bought with these withheld funds, some political party’s continue to entertain the notion that sanctions are merely targeted at specific elements of the regime?
The second question that must be answered by those who claim that sanctions are targeted is linked to ZIDERA’s withdrawal of financial support from multilateral financial institutions that has resulted in the capital account registering persistent deficits. These persistent capital account deficits and greatly reduced foreign currency capital inflows have resulted in pressure on foreign exchange reserves, making it very difficult for Government to finance critical imports such as grain, medicine, raw materials and electricity.
For a nation that has to import 100 percent of its fuel and 40 percent of its electricity, Zimbabwe is very vulnerable to being choked off from accessing foreign currency inflows. Consequently, the scarcity of raw materials and electricity has severely impacted industrial production, which is operating well below capacity. Persistent electricity shortages have also severely reduced productivity across all key sectors of the economy, namely agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, construction and transport.
Therefore, why is it that as an exporting manufacturer, farmer or miner suffering from electricity shortages and lack of access to loans, I am told by certain political parties that only certain individuals are being hurt by these shortages?
The third burning question that can no longer go unanswered arises from the European Union’s imposition of sanctions against 40 companies that include: Agribank, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company and the International Development Corporation of Zimbabwe.
External finance from bilateral and multilateral sources for these companies has dried up and these sanctioned companies have been forced to pay in cash for imports or secure offshore loans at prohibitively high interest rates.
This has had devastating ripple effects on the nation’s employment levels and has led to underutilized industrial capacity. Unemployment problems and lack of basic provisions have resulted in large scale emigration of skilled labour, further exacerbating the employment problems the country faces.
These sanctioned companies provide employment for hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, basic goods and services to ordinary Zimbabweans, financing for the crucial mining, farming, retail and manufacturing sectors and provide the State with millions of dollars in tax revenue.
So, how can any political party claim that as an investor, employee or consumer of one of our 40 companies under sanctions that the sanctions are only targeted at the heads of these companies?
It is no longer acceptable for the ill-equipped miner, underfunded farmer, perennially unemployed worker or beleaguered businessman to be told by anyone, let alone elements of their government, that sanctions are not hurting them. In light of Mr. Miliband’s recent statements these people, who are most affected by Britain’s sanctions, ask why their leadership has not immediately, unequivocally and publicly called for the unjustified and inhumane burden on their shoulders to be lifted once and for all.
Despite having publicly called for the imposition of punitive sanctions on Zimbabwe, the MDC-T is unwilling and unable to have them lifted. Unwilling, because to do so would be to simultaneously admit to their existence and also cause a rift between the party and its main international backers. Unable, because the main objective of the sanctions has not been met. Thus, the people of Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF, SADC and the AU should focus their pressure on Britain and not the MDC-T who, after all, are impotent on the issue.
By Garikai Chengu
Garikai Chengu is at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.