Sanctions on Zimbabwe should be lifted when the people say so, not political elites
Since the Global Political Agreement that shared power between ZANU-PF’s Robert Mugabe and the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai was signed in 2008, people have been arguing that western sanctions on Zimbabwe should cease. They do more harm than good, we are told, and they are used as a stick to beat the MDC with. The most recent example is Miles Tendi’s article in the New Statesman.
Actually, though, it usually hasn’t been “people” who say the sanctions have failed or should be suspended. It is normally politicians, either Zimbabwean or those from nearby African states. And then it’s repeated by journalists and commentators who repeatedly confuse the interests of political elites with the interests of the people they supposedly represent. The TUC believes that the very limited sanctions applied to Zimbabwe’s political elite should only be suspended, relaxed or abandoned when the people they were designed to help say so.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that these sanctions are not the generalised boycotts that were applied to apartheid South Africa or, more recently, Burma. In Europe at least, the sanctions are targeted on the lifestyles of the thugs who have sustained and led Mugabe’s brutal dictatorship, or prevent the wholesale looting of Government ministry budgets: European governments are rightly unwilling to let taxpayers’ money fund ZANU apparatchik bank accounts, or, even worse, pay the wages for armies of ZANU-PF thugs to roam the countryside brutalising political opponents, trade unionists, feminist activists and ordinary workers and traders.
Second, it’s important to recognise that the people calling for the relaxation of sanctions on members of the political elite are, well, members of the political elite – or members of other countries’ political elites. I understand why MDC leaders have to argue on behalf of their political enemies in Cabinet: it’s a matter of keeping the fragile GPA on the rails.other politicians in other African countries are just naturally wary of smart sanctions that affect undemocratic or unsavoury leaders. Some of them look at ZANU-PF and think ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I!’
The only people who would actually benefit from relaxed or suspended sanctions would be the ZANU-PF leaders and lackeys who have resisted change every step of the way since 2008. Relaxing sanctions should only be contemplated when the people of Zimbabwe can see real change, for instance after free and fair elections next year. Currently, giving ZANU-PF-controlled Ministries more money to spend will only lead to more violence as the elections come nearer, and yet another election that doesn’t let ordinary Zimbabweans control their country.