Tichaona Zindoga Acting Editor
The anti-sanctions day being marked in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the region is significant in many ways — and it does not matter whether the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States of America, the European Union and their allies are not going to be removed today.
In fact, the sanctions will not be removed today or in the next few days and weeks. Zimbabwe has suffered the embargo for nearly two decades — and it may yet see more years of the sanctions.
Cuba provides a historical example.
The United States, according to information publicly available, first imposed an embargo on the sale of arms to Cuba on March 14, 1958.
On October 19, 1960 extended the embargo on exports to Cuba except for food and medicine after Cuba nationalised American-owned Cuban oil refineries without compensation, and as a response to Cuba’s role in the Cuban missile crisis. Still, on February 7, 1962, the embargo was extended to include almost all exports.
Currently, the US has at least six different laws that govern, declare or guide its hostile policies towards Cuba. That’s a whole 61 years.
The first formal sanctions on Zimbabwe were imposed on December 21, 2001 when George W Bush signed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act.
Then came a string of executive orders: March 6, 2003, Executive Order 13288; November 22, 2005, Executive Order 13391; July 25, 2008, Executive Order 13469.
All these orders were issued and renewed by successive US Presidents, “pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706), to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States . . .”
There have been attempts to revise, modify or amend the sanctions in between.
The US takes these measures seriously.
It will be a long, dark night of sanctions for the poor people of Zimbabwe, surviving under the yoke of sanctions.
Already, a lot of ink has been spewed on the subject here on these pages and elsewhere about their impact on the livelihoods of people, industry and economy.
It would be folly to imagine that when Sadc leaders met that day in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last August and declared October 25 as solidarity day against illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, they believed the sanctions would be removed on that day.
Not even the combined power of the region’s Houdini would achieve that. But a point had to be made. The point is being made today.
Countries in the region, all 16 of them, are standing against the sanctions that Western countries imposed on one of the region’s members and sister republics.
The last few days have shown that the message has gained traction, especially on the home turf. Naturally.
The agenda has been declared.
Interestingly, to counter this agenda, there have been some quite feverish attempts by a section of Zimbabweans and also, significantly, the United States of America.
We are, according to these fringe voices, supposed not to believe that sanctions are at the centre of the problems in Zimbabwe.
We are told to focus on corruption, instead.
The private media have been shouting itself hoarse. And to cap it all, US Ambassador Mr Brian Nichols not only gave an interview to a private media outlet, but also penned a whole editorial on it.
Mr Nichols is one of the most strident denialists.
“Blaming sanctions is a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from the real reasons behind Zimbabwe’s economic challenges — corruption, economic mismanagement, and failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law,” Nichols said.
“What then is holding Zimbabwe back? It’s not sanctions. There are only 141 Zimbabwean people and companies on the US sanctions list.
“That’s right, just 141 in a country of 16 million. They are on the list for good reason.”
This is refrain that he and others of his ilk use.
Only they do not tell us how sanctions — like any war — actually provides the perfect cover for ills such as corruption, rent-seeking behaviour, arbitrage, diversion, etc.
Further, when the US speaks of sanctioning only certain “entities”, it conveniently ignores to tell us that given the small size of Zimbabwe and its economic model, punishing these State-owned and–linked companies spells disaster for a country like Zimbabwe.
Just as well as sanctioning its President. And the whole sanctions regime is bad PR for the country.
There are a lot of undeclared sanctions, at worst seen when a private individual or company is refused service or trade simply because they come from Zimbabwe, whose financial architecture rests on mechanisms that the US controls. And we are told sanctions don’t affect ordinary people.
It’s a mampara narrative. Mr Nichols’ narrative is mampara narrative all the way.
In fact, sanctions are meant to hurt ordinary people, that huge collateral damage, to force political concessions.
We know it. Sadc knows it.
What today is all about is increasing awareness of this and no amount of righteous squealing corruption (a bad thing, actually) will help.
The morning after will, barring some powerful magic, still have sanctions. But a point had to be made.