Zimbabwe’s Sanctions Standoff
Africa Briefing N°86
6 Feb 2012
Zimbabwe must hold elections before the end of June 2013, but the reforms needed to ensure appropriate conditions are critically wanting. The regional organisation – the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – calls for the removal of sanctions, claiming they are a serious political impediment to reform. Those who have imposed the measures – in particular, the European Union (EU) and the U.S. – argue the reform deficits justify their continuation, though they have been more symbolic than drivers of change. The sanctions gridlock now reflects the broader paralysis that characterises Zimbabwean politics. Opportunity for a calibrated, full removal of sanctions before the next elections, geared to broad progress on reform, such as perhaps existed three years ago when the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was fresh and the Inclusive Government formed, has probably passed. But a chance to promote progress and break the current deadlock still exists through a coordinated approach that distinguishes types of sanctions and focuses on specific reforms needed for those elections. It should be seized.
The political situation is fragile, with growing fears the country may be heading toward new repression and conflict as the era dominated by the 88-year old President Robert Mugabe comes inevitably closer to an end, and elections draw nearer. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) claims the GPA and subsequent negotiated reform process have run their course, and conditions are conducive to a free and fair vote. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations disagree but do not specify what they consider to be the minimum necessary reforms. SADC and most international observers believe the foundation for free and fair elections has not yet been laid. There has been some economic and social progress, but major deficits and deadlock persist on core reforms and implementation of some already agreed matters. Most significantly, ZANU-PF retains full control of the security apparatus, raising legitimate fears elections could lead to a repeat of the 2008 violence and refusal to accept the democratic will of the people.
In response to human rights and election-related abuses perpetrated between 2001 and 2008, the U.S. and EU adopted a variety of measures designed to promote reform. Some are targeted at specific individuals (eg, asset freezes and travel bans); others involve policies that relate to the international financial institutions (IFIs) and government-to-government relations (eg, restrictions on loans, credit and developmental assistance and arms embargoes). While there are exceptions within and distinctions between many of these measures, including for humanitarian aid and basic development cooperation, this briefing applies the generic term “sanctions” to them for the sake of simplicity, but also because this is how Zimbabwean and southern African political dialogue commonly addresses the concept. Those who have imposed and maintained them have not communicated their concept effectively, as linked to specific reforms or the broader struggle for democracy, and have never gained regional support for them.
ZANU-PF manipulates the issue politically and propagandises it as part of its efforts to frustrate reform and mobilise against perceived internal and external threats to national sovereignty. It argues that reform is contingent on the removal of sanctions and accuses the MDC wing led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) of reneging on GPA commitments to facilitate this. MDC-T argues it has no control over sanctions, and there would be a stronger basis for their removal if GPA violations ended, and ZANU-PF did not block reforms. Mugabe’s party conflates the various measures, including restrictions from multilateral institutions, arguing “sanctions” are centrally responsible for the poor economy. MDC-T contends that the measures are relatively narrow and targeted, and it is ZANU-PF that has destroyed the economy.
SADC maintains that sanctions exacerbate already difficult conditions; do not contribute to constructive solutions; and their removal would recognise progress made and be an important confidence-building measure. There are no agreed indicators let alone guarantees, however, for how removal might enable it to resolve negotiation deadlocks and enforce implementation of agreements more effectively. MDC-T has hedged, and ZANU-PF has adopted an absolutist position, together scotching prospects for constructive compromise. It is unlikely that the GPA signatories can agree on a realistic formula linking full removal of sanctions to the reform agenda, especially as they are deadlocked on the draft election roadmap. It also seems unlikely SADC could impose such a proposal. This in turn makes it improbable the EU or U.S. would take the domestically difficult step of unilaterally lifting all sanctions.
Only bold action offers a chance to break the impasse, but the issue should not be addressed either separately from the reform agenda, particularly as it relates to the fast-approaching, potentially disastrous election season, or as an all-or-nothing matter. Any approach must proceed from a foundation – currently missing – that can provide a more substantive and nuanced basis for moving forward. The EU, U.S. and others imposing sanctions should make clear distinctions between the several categories of measures. In particular, they should:
undertake a comprehensive review of targeted measures and their impact; make public additional detailed reasons for including specific individuals and entities; and, where appropriate, consider extending these measures to include (as several already do) adult family members;
display greater flexibility to give targeted individuals opportunity to apply for visas for official travel, thus addressing criticism that legitimate Zimbabwe government business is hampered;
maintain the arms embargoes but make greater efforts to engage the security sector in order to promote dialogue about its responsibilities in a democratic order and about conditions for eventual professional training; and
initiate a comprehensive study of the impact of restrictions on government-to-government development cooperation and seek to negotiate with SADC a strategy for (a) suspension of the ban linked to implementation of key election-related reforms and (b) more vigorous SADC facilitation within an agreed timeframe.
The GPA signatories and the facilitators – SADC and especially South Africa, the lead country – must also act:
ZANU-PF should desist from absolutist posturing, while the MDC formations (in particular MDC-T), as parties and participants in the Inclusive Government, should present a coherent plan of action for relaxation and eventual removal of sanctions.
ZANU-PF and the MDC formations, in conjunction with the facilitators, should put realistic options on the table tying the relaxation and eventual removal of sanctions to a realistic time-bound reform agenda, as set out in the draft election roadmap; agreements must be backed by a monitored implementation framework.
The facilitators should engage more vigorously in order to finalise the election roadmap and its implementation framework, including by exerting more pressure on GPA signatories that obstruct reform and violate existing agreements.
SADC should help Zimbabwe and international financial institutions (IFIs) find common ground and sustainable solutions on debt resolution so as to permit renewed access to credit lines and budget support.
Johannesburg/Brussels, 6 February 2012