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Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis
Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Briefing 86 / Africa

Zimbabwe’s Sanctions Standoff

A bold approach to the sanctions issue is necessary to refocus efforts on the actions needed to break the political stalemate in Zimbabwe before elections are held that otherwise threaten to be as violent and undemocratic as the 2008 round.

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I. Overview

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

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attends the ongoing elective congress in Harare, 4 December 2014. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Briefing 118 / Africa

Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis

Zimbabwe has not escaped its chronic crisis. Infighting over who will succeed the ailing 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe is stifling efforts to tackle insolvency, low rule of law, rampant unemployment and food insecurity. Zimbabwe needs international help to recover, but what it needs most is a leadership willing to act on much-needed reforms.

I. Overview

Zimbabwe is floundering, with little sign of meaningful reform and sustainable, broad-based recovery. Political uncertainty and economic insecurity have worsened; the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government has consolidated power, as the opposition stumbles, but is consumed by struggles over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe. Upbeat economic projections by international institutions are predicated on government rhetoric about new policy commitments and belief in the country’s potential, but there are growing doubts that ZANU-PF can “walk the talk” of reform. Conditions are likely to deteriorate further due to insolvency, drought and growing food insecurity. Economic constraints have forced Harare to deal with international financial institutions (IFIs) and Western capitals, but to regain the trust of donors, private investors and ordinary citizens, the government must become more accountable, articulate a coherent vision and take actions that go beyond personal, factional and party aggrandisement.

Mugabe, though 92 and visibly waning, shows no sign of stepping down. His endorsement by the December 2015 ZANU-PF national conference to represent the party in the 2018 elections props up a coterie of dependents and defers the divisive succession issue. In the last year, his control has slipped as his energy and capacities diminish, but he is likely to stay in office until he can no longer function. His support for an economic and political reform agenda is tepid. He has limited criticism of reformers but has also not censured elements of his government that are critical, even hostile, to re-engagement with Western countries and financial institutions. 

ZANU-PF is its own biggest threat. Its constitution is unclear about how to select a new party leader, and by extension president, if Mugabe becomes incapacitated or dies in office. That the party will not countenance open debate on this has led to incessant backroom political jockeying and unprecedented turmoil. 

In December 2014, then Vice President Joice Mujuru was purged and her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, elevated. Since then, over 140 top national and provincial party officials linked to Mujuru have been suspended or expelled from the party, including nine of ten provincial chairpersons and senior cabinet and politburo members. Posited as necessary t0 end party factionalism, this instead opened a new chapter of division, as those whose interests had converged around Mujuru’s removal sought advantage over each other. 

Mnangagwa has strong ties with key security sector elements and is viewed by many as well positioned to maintain stability and pilot a recovery. Having slowly consolidated his position, he is firmly in charge of government business and depicted as a driving force behind re-engagement and reform. However, his command of party structures is uneven, and his limited popularity nationally and within the party is tarnished by allegations of complicity in human rights violations. His ambition to succeed Mugabe is opposed by several senior cadres, labelled Generation 40 (G40), who represent a younger generation and have put their weight behind the increasingly influential first lady, Grace Mugabe. Her very public role since late 2014 as chair of ZANU-PF’s women’s league has the president’s backing. Factional battles between the two groups intensified in early 2016, leaving Mnangagwa’s position apparently weakened.

The economy’s serious trouble is compounded by severe liquidity constraints, an enduring fiscal deficit, burgeoning domestic and international debt, multiple infrastructural constraints (including power shortages) and mixed ZANU-PF policy messages. Unemployment is rampant and food insecurity mounting. Protests spiked in 2015 and will continue. 

Calls for reform and re-engagement remain focused on addressing the huge foreign debt and struggling economy. In October, IFIs accepted a plan to clear $1.8 billion in arrears by May 2016, but this looks increasingly unrealistic, as it depends on only partially implemented fiscal policy prescriptions, including a sizeable reduction in the public wage bill and accessing a major concessional loan. Obtaining further credit will require more significant and politically sensitive reforms, for which there is limited appetite ahead of elections in 2018.

The opposition has yet to recover from devastating 2013 election losses. An early resurgence is unlikely. The largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T, led by Morgan Tsvangirai), has fractured further and has limited resources. Mujuru’s nascent People First (PF) formation remains an unknown quantity, reportedly flirting with parties across the political spectrum. The new constitution, approved in 2013, provides a framework for civil society advocacy, but this is stymied by limited strategic vision and reduced donor support. Efforts to promote a national convergence of interests have not gained traction. 

Governance deficits, political violence, corruption, electoral reform, human rights and rule-of-law violations are deep challenges that must be faced. Recent court judgements and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission reports condemning political violence are welcome but anecdotal reactions, not remedies for systemic malpractice. International actors should seek common ground and action that addresses these sensitive political challenges and also promote an inclusive, sustainable economic recovery. Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries – South Africa, in particular – have specific interest in ensuring Zimbabwe recovers its position as a lynchpin of stability and an engine for regional development. To do so, they, the U.S., UK, China, the European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) should develop an engagement framework that has clear governance and rule-of-law and financial and economic objectives and enables monitoring and assessment. 

Johannesburg/Brussels, 29 February 2016