Zimbabwe has been under US and EU sanctions for close to two decades. A lot has been written regarding this contentious issue which, in essence, is a story about the West bullying a small African nation that decided to reverse a colonial legacy in land ownership.
Zimbabwe was until 1980 under British colonialism, which system violently robbed blacks of their land and dehumanised them.
It took another 20 years for Zimbabwe to embark on a radical land reform to reverse the baneful situation where a handful of whites of settler stock occupied a huge swathe of agricultural land.
Commonly cited statistics say 6 000 whites controlled 80 percent of arable land in a population of about 12 million in 2000.
That was clearly untenable.
The hunger for land was assuming a life of its own, forcing villagers to take up their rudimentary arms — axes, spears and hoes — to wage another war. It was a tide no one wanted to stop and the Government and the courts lent support to the cause.
However, Zimbabwe would soon be punished for it — heavily.
Sanctions were a coercive response to Zimbabwe’s land reform, which would conceivably have a domino effect on the continent, starting with neighbours who have unreformed land tenure systems. Accusations of human rights abuses, democracy and freedoms were just a cover, to allow the coercive measures smooth passage in Western sensibilities.
But the sanctions were real.
The story of their impact is yet to be told.
However, what is of concern to us is that Zimbabwe’s reaction to the sanctions has been far from convincing and as a result, the country has not been able to deal decisively with the situation.
First of all, there has not been a clear policy derived from a comprehensive study regarding how Zimbabwe ought to fight the sanctions.
In the absence of such a study and policy, the country’s response has been disorganised and weak. The actions taken so far can be categorised into three areas.
One, there has been lots of rhetoric against the imposers of the sanctions and it was the administration of former president Mugabe’s favourite hobby. He took to many a platform — including the United Nations — to complain about the sanctions. Zimbabwe won a lot of sympathy, but the approach does not appear to have yielded much.
Second, Zimbabwe made efforts to bust the sanctions by way of bypassing certain processes in international trade. Connected to this would be the Look East “policy” which sought to reconfigure relations and wean the country from Western dependency.
Third, Zimbabwe pursued re-engagement involving diplomatic manoeuvres through visits to Western capitals to seek breakthroughs on ending the sanctions regime. These efforts appear to have failed for the past two decades. It is in this connection that we find remarks by Reserve Bank Governor John Mangudya regarding sanctions commendable.
Yesterday we reported that Government was engaging the United States over sanctions and the RBZ chief, who is in New York as part of President Mnangagwa’s delegation to the United Nations, made a couple of remarks that are noteworthy.
He acknowledged that sanctions were real and could not be wished away.
He suggested a different approach to dealing with the sanctions, in particular the US’ law called the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which was signed by the then president George W. Bush on December 21, 2001.
We quote him as saying in tackling Zdera, Zimbabwe needs to look at areas that are in Zdera and deal with them head-on “because we cannot wish it away”. He said some of the areas in the Act had been dealt with.
Mangudya also says Zimbabwe needs to be more clinical in negotiating, talking and executing its strategy.
The new administration’s approach is clear and practical. Even though it will have its discomforts — like tolerating rather unhealthy foreign attention on our internal affairs — the approach will yield positive results.
After all, international relations is a game that involves a lot of give and take. They call it quid pro quo. Yet it has to be done. We challenge Government to be comprehensive and systematic in its engagement over sanctions. A lasting solution is long overdue.