Only sanctions can stop Mugabe
Only sanctions can stop Mugabe
Op-Ed / Africa 4 minutes

Only sanctions can stop Mugabe

Robert Mugabe has reneged on the Abuja deal and is ready to destroy democracy with violence. The international community must now target the regime directly. President Robert Mugabe can't believe his luck. At the beginning of September, he faced humiliating public criticism and an ultimatum for the first time from fellow African leaders.

A special delegation of Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja secured Mr Mugabe's commitment to upholding Commonwealth principles of democracy and restoring the rule of law. South African Development Commission (SADC) leaders had also given Mr Mugabe four weeks to address the land crisis or face isolation. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) loomed in early October, with Zimbabwe possibly facing suspension. The European Union and the United States had also threatened moves against Zimbabwe. Then, on 11 September, the attacks in the United States blew the steady diplomatic march on Zimbabwe off the map. CHOGM was postponed until next year, and Mugabe now believes, quite rightly, that the world's attention is focussed elsewhere.

In the past two months, there has been no evidence at all that Mr Mugabe or leaders of his ZANU-PF party have tried to implement the Abuja agreement, nor has he done anything to satisfy the concerns of his SADC colleagues. Since Abuja, more farms have been invaded and burned, and farm workers beaten and threatened. On 12 October the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, was ambushed by armed men while driving to a political meeting. Most disturbing are new reports that weapons and ammunition are being brought to Zimbabwe from the Congo, where Zimbabwe's armed forces have been fighting on behalf of Kabila. Many of these weapons are expected to end up in the hands of ZANU-PF supporters in the lead up to the presidential election next year.

The presidential election is the primary reason for the current political violence in Zimbabwe. It is dressed up by the government as a campaign for land reform - but in fact the land campaign is a vehicle for political intimidation of the opposition and the disenfranchisement of thousands of black voters. Shifting several dozen white farmers from their properties will do little in the end to alter the balance of power in Zimbabwe. Evicting tens of thousands of black farm workers from their constituencies is shaping up as a key tactic for ZANU-PF in its efforts to retain the presidency in 2002. ZANU-PF has already lost in the cities - senior party officials readily admit they cannot win in Harare and Bulawayo - so keeping control of the rural vote has become all the more important.

The international community must therefore maintain a very tight focus on ensuring that the 2002 elections are free and fair. It should begin by putting much more concerted and coordinated pressure on Mr Mugabe to end the political violence, admit international election monitors and allow the opposition a voice. As he has shown no sign of living up to any personal commitments he has given so far, that international pressure should be reinforced by personal sanctions. Rhetorical pressure, demands and threats have had no impact thus far on Mugabe's calculations. Specific actions like targeted sanctions, however, may be a different story, as the government's abuses begin to have specific ramifications for those responsible.

The International Crisis Group has detailed these 'smart' sanctions in its recent reports on Zimbabwe: a freeze on overseas held-assets, personal travel restrictions and visa bans on President Mugabe, senior ZANU-PF figures, and their families. The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough; they do not deserve to suffer the effects of broader sanctions or further cuts to aid. Direct personal pressure is the only method that may finally make Mr Mugabe live up to the commitments he has given.

The next few days are crucial. A return delegation of Commonwealth ministers has just visited Zimbabwe to assess progress on the Abuja agreement. Britain has already indicated it believes the deal has not been honoured, although whether it will take action is not clear. On 29 October, the European Union's Foreign Ministers meet, with Zimbabwe on the agenda. It is not a priority - the war on terrorism understandably still preoccupies Europe, as it does the United States.

But the ministers are deeply concerned about Zimbabwe's refusal to allow EU election monitors to enter the country and are likely to further suspend economic aid. They may also consider imposing personal sanctions on the ZANU-PF leadership in future. But if this strategy is to succeed, personal, targeted sanctions must be part of the package and other governments must adopt them as well. understood to be considering the imposition of targeted sanctions as outlined above.

This strategy should be encouraged, and adopted by other governments if it is to succeed. SADC should act to isolate Mugabe who has blatantly failed to meet its one-month deadline for action. Commonwealth nations, while not meeting at heads of government level until early March next year, should impose their own sanctions on a bilateral basis. The United States should take similar action, either through Congress passing the Zimbabwe Democracy Act, or by an executive order of the President.

There is no more time to waste in Zimbabwe. Apart from the horrific violence, hyperinflation has set in and the economy is shrinking by as much as 8 per cent per year. Officially, the rate of inflation in September was 83 per cent, but anecdotal evidence from market traders in Harare suggests the real rate for basic commodities is more like 300 per cent. One US dollar buys 55 Zimbabwe dollars at official rates, 350 on the black market. Hungry Zimbabweans are stealing produce from farms across the border in South Africa to sell at market, or simply to survive. Many are now living on one meal a day, when they used to have three. In an effort to curb inflation, the government has fixed food prices, but these may simply drive more businesses into bankruptcy, and more people into unemployment.

There are hints that the Commonwealth may want to give Mr Mugabe and his government more time to implement the Abuja agreement before imposing sanctions. But there is already ample evidence that the Abuja deal is dead. It would be a great disservice to the people of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa if, at this crucial time, the world really did keep looking the other way.

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