Hey Amer­ica, it’s time to end Zim’s eco­nomic em­bargo

How much longer can Zim­babwe’s eco­nomic pun­ish­ment be jus­ti­fied? If it is about prop­erty rights and land re­form, will the new dis­pen­sa­tion be ever recog­nised with­out the coun­try be­ing drawn fur­ther into debt?

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion & Analysis - Tendai Murisa and Shan­tha Bloe­men

US SANC­TIONS are un­der­min­ing Zim­babwe’s ac­cess to credit and in­vest­ment. They are sup­pos­edly about rule of law, but there’s likely an ul­te­rior mo­tive. US sanc­tions un­der ZIDERA im­pose heavy con­di­tions on Zim­babwe’s Gov­ern­ment, but hit or­di­nary cit­i­zens hard­est.

Al­most a year since Robert Mu­gabe was re­moved and months since elec­tions, Zim­babwe’s eco­nomic cri­sis con­tin­ues to deepen. A se­vere lack of for­eign cur­rency has crip­pled lo­cal busi­nesses. In­fla­tion is ris­ing. And oc­ca­sional short­ages of fuel, med­i­cal sup­plies and other es­sen­tials threaten so­cial un­rest.

There are many rea­sons for this wor­ry­ing eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. Among them are decades of mis­man­age­ment, wide­spread cor­rup­tion and mis­trust. But a sig­nif­i­cant part of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the on­go­ing cri­sis is in the hands of pol­i­cy­mak­ers thou­sands of miles away.

Or­di­nar­ily, one would ex­pect Zim­babwe’s econ­omy to be im­prov­ing right now. Mu­gabe is no longer in power. Multi-party elec­tions have been held re­cently. And the new Gov­ern­ment, which in­cludes re­spected tech­nocrats in key po­si­tions, has re­peat­edly de­clared the coun­try “open for busi­ness”. One would have ex­pected th­ese changes to prompt prom­ises of West­ern devel­op­ment as­sis­tance, ac­cess to IMF and World Bank credit, and in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment.

All of th­ese things would be fun­da­men­tal to sta­bil­is­ing Zim­babwe’s econ­omy, and many West­ern part­ners are keen to in­vest. But this re-en­gage­ment has been made much more dif­fi­cult be­cause of US sanc­tions. Th­ese mea­sures are un­der­min­ing Zim­babwe’s abil­ity to ac­cess credit from in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and at­tract much­needed for­eign in­vest­ment.

Re­new­ing US sanc­tions On pa­per, the Zim­bab­wean Democ­racy and Eco­nomic Re­cov­ery Act (ZIDERA) is about rule of law. It was first passed in 2001 at the height of Zim­babwe’s fast track land re­form and was pur­port­edly a re­ac­tion to the Zim­bab­wean Gov­ern­ment not pro­tect­ing the prop­erty rights of white farm­ers. The Act was part of US-UK-led ef­forts to cut off lend­ing by in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, im­pose po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sanc­tions, and iso­late Zim­babwe.

Specif­i­cally, ZIDERA placed in­di­vid­ual sanc­tions on Mu­gabe and his close al­lies. It also en­shrined into law the US stance that fund­ing from the likes of the IMF and World Bank could not be re­in­stated un­til the Act was lifted.

When Mu­gabe was fi­nally re­moved in 2017, many hoped that this would pave the way for Zim­babwe to end its iso­la­tion. Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa vowed to break with his pre­de­ces­sor and al­low democ­racy to flour­ish. The UK and oth­ers sig­nalled their will­ing­ness to im­prove re­la­tions.

Yet ZIDERA re­mains in place. Not only that. This July, US Congress in­tro­duced an amended ver­sion of it. Passed just days be­fore Zim­babwe’s first elec­tions with­out Mu­gabe, this re­newed Act in­cluded the ex­tra de­mand that the vote be free and fair.

It is de­bat­able whether Zim­babwe’s 30 July elec­tions passed that test. On the one hand, the de­feated op­po­si­tion al­leged fraud and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. A post-elec­tion protest led to the death of six peo­ple. On the other hand, the polls were prob­a­bly the most in­clu­sive, free and fair elec­tions ever held in Zim­babwe. The real rea­sons be­hind ZIDERA? Ei­ther way, Pres­i­dent Trump signed the amended ZIDERA into law shortly af­ter. In the­ory, it is pos­si­ble that the US’s con­tin­ued pun­ish­ment of Zim­babwe is about rule of law. But this seems un­likely. In­stead, it is more likely that the real rea­sons lie else­where.

When ZIDERA was re­cently amended, it also added an­other im­por­tant re­quire­ment. It stated: “Zim­babwe and the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) should en­force the SADC tri­bunal rul­ings from 2007 to 2010 in­clud­ing 18 dis­putes in­volv­ing em­ploy­ment, com­mer­cial, and hu­man rights cases sur­round­ing dis­pos­sessed Zim­bab­wean com­mer­cial farm­ers and agri­cul­tural com­pa­nies.”

Th­ese rul­ings claimed that Zim­babwe’s land re­form was il­le­gal. The tri­bunal de­manded the Gov­ern­ment pay com­pen­sa­tion to dis­pos­sessed white farm­ers. The sum for what th­ese claims would cost has been es­ti­mated at $30 bil­lion.

Eigh­teen years since the fast track land re­form, the land­scape in Zim­babwe has dra­mat­i­cally changed. In­stead of 4 000 com­mer­cial farm­ers con­trol­ling 70 per­cent of valu­able farm­land, there are an es­ti­mated 200 000 new smallscale farm­ers. In 2018, the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced its largest to­bacco har­vest ever. This new re­al­ity on the ground is ac­cepted by most Zim­bab­weans, both white and black. So rather than be­ing a re­al­is­tic de­mand, the in­clu­sion of this steep de­mand in the amended ZIDERA has been in­ter­preted by many in South­ern Africa as a warn­ing.

As South Africa and Namibia cur­rently de­bate how to ad­dress his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices around land, Zim­babwe’s harsh treat­ment could be seen as a threat for what not to do. Adding weight to th­ese sus­pi­cions, Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted his con­cerns about South Africa’s land re­form process shortly af­ter sign­ing ZIDERA into law. He is re­ported to have been in­formed by fringe white farmer lob­bies in South Africa who have grow­ing al­liances with white su­prem­a­cist groups in the US.

Pun­ish­ing or­di­nary peo­ple How much longer can Zim­babwe’s eco­nomic pun­ish­ment be jus­ti­fied? If it is about prop­erty rights and land re­form, will the new dis­pen­sa­tion be ever recog­nised with­out the coun­try be­ing drawn fur­ther into debt? If it is about the rule of law and po­lit­i­cally re­lated vi­o­lence, then would not the likes of Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and many more war­rant sim­i­lar mea­sures?

Un­der the cur­rent con­di­tions, it is Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zens that are suf­fer­ing most. ZIDERA is not so much stop­ping land re­form or pun­ish­ing elites, but con­tribut­ing to eco­nomic col­lapse, which hits or­di­nary peo­ple hard­est. Petrol queues, short­ages of ba­sic medicines and busi­ness clo­sures only bring more hunger, dis­ease and so­cial in­sta­bil­ity.

The new Zim­bab­wean Gov­ern­ment should cer­tainly do more to strengthen trans­parency, tackle cor­rup­tion and safe­guard hu­man rights. But ZIDERA is not about such con­cerns, and even if it were, it would not be help­ing.

While Pres­i­dent Trump de­mands Amer­i­can sovereignty, Zim­babwe’s abil­ity to man­age its own econ­omy is se­verely ham­pered by the US. No coun­try in our glob­alised world can both bal­ance its bud­get and sta­bilise its cur­rency with­out sup­port. Zim­bab­weans have al­ready paid a heavy enough price. - African Ar­gu­ments.

Don­ald Trump

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