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After Covid-19, the MDC and Zanu-PF must unite to end US, EU sanctions on Zimbabwe

14 Apr 2020 at 22:39hrs | Views
On January 13, 2002 MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai made a fatal tactical error by calling on South Africa to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, ostensibly to penalise a violent, repressive Zanu-PF party. Tsvangirai suggested South Africa could cut fuel and electricity supplies to Zimbabwe.

However, the ruling ANC party, then led by President Thabo Mbeki, refused to consider such an action, opting instead to pursue quiet diplomacy and to promote negotiations between Zimbabwe's leading protagonists.

But, angered by Zimbabwe's refusal to let its observers freely monitor the 2002 presidential poll, the EU imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. It also condemned "political violence, serious violations of human rights and restrictions on the media" and stated the 2002 poll would not be free or fair.

America, meanwhile, citing undemocratic practices, human rights abuses, and economic mismanagement, had in 2001 passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which restricts U.S. support for multilateral financing to Zimbabwe until Zimbabwe makes specified political and economic reforms.

And in 2003, it instituted targeted financial sanctions and travel restrictions against selected individuals for human rights abuses. Zanu-PF, predictably, slammed the imposition of sanctions and vowed to fully implement the fast track land reform programme. This after the ruling party supporters, youths and war veterans had engaged in violent farm invasions and political campaigns that maimed hundreds of MDC members and officials.

Then, speaking in London at the end of a campaign tour of Africa and Europe in 2004, Tsvangirai would go on to ask the EU to impose stronger sanctions on Zimbabwe, to compel former President Robert Mugabe to hold a roundly free and fair election in March 2005.

Despite considerable social, political and economic upheaval, Zanu-PF romped to victory.

Today, the introductory context of the widespread restrictions placed on Zimbabwe remains important: the economic sanctions didn't come about in a political vacuum.

To understand how Zimbabwe can work to remove sanctions imposed by the West, it is paramount to understand how each critical political actor contributed to a status quo that ultimately has bred no winning party and allowed severe economic stress to mushroom.

The chronic, debilitating effects of targeted or economic sanctions, though debatable because of incompetence, massive corruption and a plurality of systemic shortcomings by the ruling party, are fairly clear: One, Zimbabwe is unable to secure development finance. Two, transactions from Zimbabwe must be scrutinised for compliance risk. Three, Zimbabwe is excluded from the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

In a nutshell, under sanctions, Zimbabwe is excluded from participating in the global banking system, and is marked as a highly risky foreign investment destination. So, that has helped to render any effort to implement sustainable economic reforms a repetitively vexing and meaningless task. Furthermore, the sanctions have isolated Zimbabwe and hardened a resolve by African leaders to back and protect Zanu-PF.

Tsvangirai's calls to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe came during an "African Renaissance" touted by Mbeki. Then, like now, the MDC's erstwhile ties to EU states appeared to confirm the establishment of a post-colonial agenda to install leaders who are perceived minions of the West. The sanctions also helped to stir the ZDF into claiming the "presidency is a straightjacket", and sowed the seeds of defiant opposition to the MDC ruling Zimbabwe by a conservative, ever mistrustful military complex.

This is not to say Tsvangirai didn't mean well. He did. Wanting to protect his supporters, especially after MDC supporters had been targeted and sometimes killed, mainly for exercising a constitutional right to oppose Zanu-PF, and after mostly white commercial farmers and black farmworkers had been injured, killed and denied the right to own farmland, Tsvangirai simply made a bad choice. And Zanu-PF has pressed this costly blunder to its electoral advantage.

But Zimbabwe cannot remain hostage to the sins of the past forever. As things stand, finding a way to end economic sanctions beats squabbling over who did or said what in 2002. Our present realties are a massive reflection of our inability to move past the devastating consequences of a bloodstained electoral rivalry.

Yet Zanu-PF and the MDC must put aside their long held differences and prioritise the national interest, as neither can possibly reverse sanctions alone.
In 2009 and 2012, for instance, as a Prime Minister, Tsvangirai called on the US to remove sanctions, to no avail.

The US sanctions are typical of its unilateral geopolitical considerations in Africa and nothing less than solid reforms, aided by a united national front, could move Washington to drop them. Thus, sometimes, we have no choice but to look ahead and adopt progressive policies, because the future is ours to grasp.

The MDC must lobby the US and EU to remove targeted and financial sanctions, while Zanu-PF must work towards implementing reforms that can facilitate a peaceful and truthfully free fair and fair election that will usher Zimbabwe into the modern global arena.

Holding onto problematic policy positions, simply to win an election, or to justify losing an election, is hardly helpful. The global onslaught of COVID-19 has intensified the need for Zimbabwe to become a relatively self-reliant, prosperous state.

That won't happen under the cloud of a stifling sanctions regime.

After Covid-19, most western countries will invest heavily in improving their health systems and developing stronger social safety nets.

Many will inevitably choose to invest inwardly and spend fewer resources on helping weak, bankrupt and politically unstable countries.

Now, more than ever, Zimbabwe can't afford to be left behind by the rest of the world.

The MDC and Zanu-PF must avoid pointless grandstanding and actually do something towards removing economic sanctions.

No doubt the greatest expression of our independence is our satisfactory welfare.

We must seize the moment.


Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.

Source - Tafi Mhaka
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