EU, US sanctions hit Zimbabwe’s agric sector hard
Since the final stage of the Cold War, the use of sanctions as a “soft approach” in international diplomacy gained pre-eminence among states that seek to influence the perception and behaviour of other states.
In recent times, the use of sanctions as a coercive diplomatic tool (soft approach) has been under spotlight with critics contending that such unilateral imposition of sanctions outside the dictates of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is a violation of international law.
Fortified arguments have been proffered from various academic and political quarters that the 21st century sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West, particularly the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are illegal and constitute a gross violation of human rights.
On the other hand, the West alleges that the sanctions are meant to coerce Zimbabwe to respect human rights, promote democracy and good governance.
In 2001, the US enacted the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) and imposed “targeted” sanctions against selected Zimbabwean officials.
Similarly, in 2002, the EU imposed sanctions that it officially referred to as restrictive measures against the late former President Robert Mugabe and some Government officials.
Since independence, Zimbabwe received considerable amount of funding and technical assistance meant to promote development from the Western financiers.
However, most Western financiers and Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Bank in particular, suspended aid to Zimbabwe in 2001 following the latter’s implementation of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme .
Land reform was meant to redress the land imbalance between the minority whites who owned more than 90 percent of agricultural land and the majority black people who were largely concentrated in the poor, infertile and tsetse flies infested areas of the country.
Multilateral Financial Institutions (MFI) imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in the following manner: Suspension of Balance of Payments Support; Suspension of technical assistance; Suspension of voting and related rights by IMF and declaration of ineligibility to access Fund resources. Effective October 2, 2000, the World Bank placed all IBRD loans and IDA credits to, or guaranteed by, Zimbabwe in non-accrual status.
Meanwhile, the existing sanctions instalment against Zimbabwe began in December 2001, when the United States promulgated the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA).
Through this Act the US government imposed economic sanctions on selected Government officials, as well as the ZANU PF party officials.
Coupled with this, the Act opposed the issuance of development aid; the extension of loans or debt cancellations from Multilateral Financial Institutions (MFIs) to Zimbabwe.
ZIDERA was passed by the US “to provide for a transition to democracy and to promote economic recovery in Zimbabwe”.
The US Congress resolved that the Government of Zimbabwe was unable to participate in programmes created by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and IMF to assist in the transformation and resuscitation of Zimbabwe’s economy.
This exclusion was put forward because they accused the First Republic of allegedly being involved in “economic mismanagement, undemocratic practices, and the costly deployment of troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
On February 18, 2002, the EU initiated sanctions it referred to as ‘restrictive measures’ against President Robert Mugabe and other senior Government officials following the expulsion of its Head of Election Monitoring Mission, Pierre Schori for meddling with Zimbabwean internal elections affairs.
These punitive measures sought to bar selected state functionaries from travelling in and around Europe just as their private assets and bank accounts were equally frozen.
Zimbabwe has been branded with a negative reputation of governance in the international arena and this follows the implementation of the land reform.
The World Bank for instance, called for governance and liberal reforms as conditionality for development aid.
The negative branding of Zimbabwe has been largely the works of the UK and its allies as part of the British global “demonisation strategy” to justify regime change in Zimbabwe.
The US and EU sanctions on Zimbabwe have had devastating effects on citizens who traditionally have been dependent largely on agricultural produce for survival.
Several key organisations in Zimbabwe with direct influence to the agricultural sector were placed under sanctions, while other financial services providers were slapped with huge fines.
Sanctions made it highly difficult for farmers to access agricultural lines of credit.
The stringent measures also ruined the country’s investment attractiveness and resulted in lack of development, rehabilitation, modernisation and deterioration of production and marketing infrastructure, consequently reducing productivity and access to markets.
The sanctions affected the livelihoods of ordinary people owing to lower agricultural yields. Sanctions have violated fundamental human rights by perpetuating poverty in Zimbabwe. These measures are being viewed as economic sanctions by the ordinary people who have largely developed animosity against the West.
Apart from affecting Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and the ordinary people, the sanctions affected the whole of the SADC region which traditionally depended on Zimbabwe for agricultural produce.
This explains why the SADC Heads of State in 2019, declared October 25, the regional block’s Anti-Sanctions Day as the effects of the restrictions had a spill over effect into other countries in the region. SADC has been calling for the unconditional removal of the US and EU sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.
Following the imposition of sanctions, the country’s market access for cotton, coffee, sugar, beef, and horticulture among other lucrative crops was negatively affected.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade website states that EU and US sanctions affected major markets of key agricultural produce which are the country’s key foreign currency earners. The EU and US sanctions had serious negative effects on agricultural labour.
The continuous decline in Zimbabwe’s long-term capital inflows since the inception of the EU and US sanctions, affected the country’s employment levels as well as its ability to supply basic goods and services to inhabitants, this resulted in the deterioration of living standards.
This has been a push factor for the youthful labour force and skilled labour. The prolonged depressed state of the economy resulted in large-scale emigration of youthful and skilled labour force. Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has experienced high levels of migration.
An Al-Jazeera’s programme titled “People and Power” broadcasted in August 2007 referred to the Zimbabwean migration trends as “Zimbabwe’s exodus”.
It further said migration became a factor that threatens service delivery in almost every sector of the Zimbabwean economy. Sanctions thus induced migration, which negatively affected the healthy and manufacturing sectors of the Zimbabwean economy. Conclusions can be drawn that indeed the sanctions affected the country’s lucrative labour force.
The efficacy of sanctions has been a subject of academic research for quite a long time. The effectiveness of sanctions has been extensively debated in the past two decades but scholars have failed to agree on several issues. This concurs with findings by Grebe that the efficacy of sanctions should be discussed in the context of “sanction effects” and “sanction success”.
Instead of influencing a change in behaviour of the targeted politicians and institutions, the US and EU sanctions have been affecting ordinary people in Zimbabwe.
Consequently, most participants contend that the sanctions led to the deterioration of the Zimbabwean economy by affecting agriculture which has been the economic backbone of economy.
It is widely believed that the US and EU sanctions have led to increased social ills, unemployment rate, poverty and inequality.
Majority of the research participants are of the view that the sanctions are aimed at effecting a regime change against the ZANU PF led Government.
Respondents opined that the Government is being regarded as an adversary, as such, they contended that the US and the EU imposed the “smart and targeted sanctions” to effect an “illegal” regime change.
Respondents alleged that the sanctions are meant to undermine and dethrone ZANU PF led Government.
Some respondents opined that the alleged human rights violation is “a cover to gain worldwide support to dethrone the ZANU PF led administration”.
Most people are of the view that the land reform was the major cause for the imposition of the US and EU sanctions. They viewed the restrictive-smart sanctions as a deliberate effort to “economically sabotage” the land reform and the ZANU PF led Government by creating an unfavourable environment for the ruling party which would alienate it and its leaders from the ordinary people in Zimbabwe.
Others have cited a UK Government official, who speaking before the house of the Commons, enunciated that the British government was working closely with the opposition in Zimbabwe to effect a regime change.
Similarly, one of the key informants cited the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Chester Crocker, who during his address to the US Senate hearing on ZIDERA, disclosed that: “. . . to separate the Zimbabwean people from ZANU PF, we are going to have to make their economy scream, and l hope you, senators, have the stomach for what you have to do.”
All respondents indicated that the sanctions affected Zimbabwe’s productive capacity and international trade.
Most Zimbabweans have suffered under the sanctions and that the country is being punished for addressing a historical land imbalance, a historical land tenure system where a minority whites of western origin owned most of the country’s prime land than the majority native blacks.
Most participants indicated that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the US and the EU were not justified as they opined that black Zimbabweans were justified to repossess their ancestral land.
The imposition of such measures violates the UN Charter and renders the UN useless.
The unilateral measures also violate various international Human Rights Conventions, as such, they amount to a serious violation of fundamental rights of innocent people who are neither perpetrators nor supporters of the perceived errant actions or behaviour.”
This concurs with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which stipulates that only the UN Security Council is mandated by the international community to apply sanctions (Article 41) that must be complied with by all UN member states (Article 2,2).
Many people argue that the US and the EU should lift the sanctions.
They submit that, contrary to the claims by the US and the EU that the sanctions were targeted at a few ruling elites and related institutions, the sanctions were actually affecting the whole economy and everyone particularly the ordinary citizen who have very little or no influence on public policy issues in Zimbabwe.
UN Special rapporteur, Professor Alena Douhan conducted a 10-day fact finding mission on the effects of the EU and US sanctions on Zimbabwe in October 2021and called for the removal of the stringent measures. As a coercive diplomatic tool, sanctions have seemingly failed owing to the increased interconnectedness, inter-dependency and co-mingling of players in the international arena.
Globalisation has made it difficult, if not impossible to have sanctions imposers effecting the stringent measures without themselves being affected. Equally, it is impossible to sanction an individual or a single player without the sanctions affecting some unintended victims.
The EU and US sanctions have had indirect and unintended effects on the SADC region as well as, the unintended victims (ordinary people) in Zimbabwe. Extensive multinational cooperation is a key characteristic of the modern global environment characterised by unprecedented rise in the value and volume of traded services and goods across regions and continents both rich (core) and poor (periphery).
Zimbabwe and the US should to engage in “Constructive Engagement/Multilateral Realism”.
The imposition of sanctions has largely been viewed as being driven by a “wounded rabbit and hunter mentality”. Hunters are known for targeting seemingly weaker prey, wounded rabbits are such prime targets. It is a general conception among most ordinary people in Zimbabwe that the sanctions imposers present themselves as “hunters” taking advantage of “wounded countries” to expand Western hegemony. The US and EU should lift the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe since these measures have been rebuked by the ordinary people as the source of the country’s economic problems that has impacted severely on their livelihoods. As witnessed by the outcomes of national elections since the imposition of the sanctions, the people of Zimbabwe have remained resolute and have been backing the ZANU PF led Government largely on the understanding that the socio-economic and political challenges bedevilling the country are being induced by the US and EU sanctions.
Re-engagement with Zimbabwe seems to be the most strategic option at the disposal of the EU and the US. The country also ought to adopt “Constructive Engagement” and “Multilateral Realism” as its foreign policy thrust. This will enable the existence of mutual trust between Zimbabwe and other international players.
The re-engagement drive by President Mnangagwa, is a tour in the right direction which requires collective national support.
Kazizi is a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) Degree Student at the University of Zimbabwe and Post Graduate (Doctoral) Researcher at the Fort Hare Institute of Social and Economic Research (FHISER) (University of Fort Hare).