Let’s turn the screw on Robert Mugabe
Let’s turn the screw on Robert Mugabe
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Let’s turn the screw on Robert Mugabe

The EU must hold firm on its policy of targeted sanctions and sustained pressure against the government of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe following last month’s deeply flawed elections. The outcome – a landslide victory for the ruling ZANU-PF party – was never seriously in doubt given the level of electoral manipulation undertaken by Mugabe and his henchmen. Although the campaign itself was thankfully less violent than previous votes, the end of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and the country’s return to full democracy will only happen with continued regional and international pressure.

ZANU-PF claimed victory in 78 out of 120 seats up for election in the 31 March vote. The appointment of presidential nominees in an extra 30 seats will take the ruling party beyond the crucial two-thirds parliamentary threshold required to change the constitution.

Observers from the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South Africa concluded that the election did reflect “the free will of the people of Zimbabwe”. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), on the other hand, strongly denounced the official result, saying that its official tally of 41 seats was a gross misrepresentation of the true result. The European Union has been vocal in its criticism of Zimbabwe’s electoral process. Deploring Mugabe’s refusal to accept monitors from the EU, the Luxembourg presidency dismissed Zimbabwe’s elections as “phoney” and a “mockery” even before they took place.

In February, EU foreign ministers agreed to renew the 2002 sanctions against Mugabe’s regime, maintaining a visa ban and asset freeze on the government and the ruling ZANU-PF elite until 20 February 2006. But foreign ministers left open the possibility that the travel ban on leadership figures could be reviewed in the aftermath of successful elections in March 2005. In the light of the EU presidency’s stated views on the election results, any moves to lift or ease the measures in place are now dead.

Since 2003, the EU has worked through the Geneva-based United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to press for the censure of Harare for violence against both political opponents and civil society. In 2004, a draft resolution expressing concern over the level of political violence in Zimbabwe was proposed by the Irish EU presidency but out-voted by African delegates to the UNCHR. In 2005, the possibility of proposing a motion of censure was raised at the EU’s Africa working group meeting in February, but officials could not agree on a draft resolution.

The likelihood of any EU motion on Zimbabwe passing successfully at the Commission this year is slim, not least given the mixed attitude at the UN itself: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was critical of Zimbabwe’s electoral process, but noted that voting itself was conducted much more peacefully than in the past.

Some member states have urged the EU to table fewer resolutions at the UNCHR, arguing that they should focus on Africa’s most serious current situations such as Darfur. The Luxembourg presidency has limited its intervention at the UNCHR to a critical statement on Zimbabwe. The UK, which takes on the EU presidency from 1 July, has upped the stakes, dismissing last month’s elections as “fundamentally flawed”.

The situation in Zimbabwe is likely to be discussed by EU foreign ministers on 25 April and some EU officials warn of unspecified action to be taken against Harare for “failing to abide by internationally accepted electoral norms”. The Council of Ministers must continue applying their current policy line. There should be no back-sliding or easing of sanctions until the government of Zimbabwe takes action to achieve real progress on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.

With Mugabe anxious for international recognition and legitimacy, shown by his cynical decision to travel to the pope’s funeral in defiance of the EU travel ban, foreign ministers should use the sanctions in place to press Mugabe for political and economic reforms. These must include restoration of democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law through comprehensive constitutional reforms. Only if Zimbabwe takes serious moves towards such reform should the EU countenance the possibility of lifting the current sanctions regime.


Former Project Director, South Africa
Former Manager, EU Advocacy

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