Sanctions against Zimbabwe have failed

They have become a political tool for Zanu-PF, as many African leaders continue to view sanctions as a tool for Western imperialism.

In 2001 America passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act (ZIDERA). ZIDERA instructs America’s executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; and any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

America argued that ZIDERA would support Zimbabweans in their struggle to achieve peaceful democratic change and equitable economic growth. The European Union followed suit by applying travel bans on ZANU PF members, an embargo on arms and related material, and the freezing of funds and economic resources of ZANU PF elites.

Zimbabwe’s Education Minister and member of the MDC party David Coltart was in America lobbying government officials to lift targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe recently. In April, Finance Minister and MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told the Atlantic Council in Washington DC that “your foreign policy as a country, as America, could be better towards Zimbabwe. You do not deal with very difficult, fragile states by disengagement, by isolation. It does not work”.

Southern African states – the guarantors of Zimbabwe’s current power-sharing arrangement between ZANU PF and the MDC – have repeatedly urged the EU and America to remove sanctions. There is also a loudening chorus of calls by leading Zimbabwean civil society actors, academic experts and writers for the lifting of sanctions.

What is remarkable about concerned Zimbabweans’ argument for the removal of sanctions is that only a few years ago many of them were supportive of the Western sanctions regime. What has changed? Why would they now want the West to loosen its grip on the big bad Robert Mugabe?

The answer is that in 10 years sanctions have had no demonstrable effect on Mugabe and ZANU PF. They have become an effective political tool for ZANU PF instead. For instance, when EU sanctions against ZANU PF were introduced in 2002, African leaders’ reaction was typified by the then Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa who thundered: “as you have heard about Zimbabwe and the EU’s decision to impose sanctions, it seems they want to divide Africa at Brussels in 2002 just as they did in Berlin (where a conference that regulated colonialism was held) in 1884. Africa must be prepared to say no!”

Many African leaders continue to view sanctions as a tool for Western imperialism in Zimbabwe and this is one of the reasons why some of them never condemned Mugabe. Furthermore the view that sanctions represent Western imperialism anew has undermined the MDC’s standing as an authentic African party because it has been seen as close to the West since its formation in 1999.

Still the sanctions regime has its defenders and the foreign policy drive to isolate Mugabe has much traction in the West, as seen in Canada’s withdrawal from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) over the appointment of Mugabe as a special tourism ambassador in June.

However, the pro-sanctions brigade has buried its head in the sand and refused to earnestly address three critical issues. First is its lack of any evidence that sanctions have or are working. Second is the adverse effect on human rights and democracy promotion of the selective application of sanctions. While ZANU PF has endured sanctions, more undemocratic and human rights violating regimes in Angola and Swaziland, which are Zimbabwe’s regional neighbours, have been ignored. Duplicity undermines the West’s human rights and democracy agenda in Africa because it ends up being perceived as a fig leaf for regime change.

The third critical issue is that Western sanctions policy is overriding the views and demands of Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe does not belong to the West. Nor is the West intellectually better equipped than local actors in terms of knowledge about what will aid the resolution of Zimbabwe’s problems. It is high time the West comes down from its high horse and listens to and does what those who are affected by its bad foreign policies are saying. It is counterproductive to think and behave otherwise.

Blessing-Miles Tendi is author of “Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media”, and a Lecturer in History and Politics in the Oxford University Department of International Development (QEH).  

Robert Mugabe lights the flame of freedom at a rally to mark the country's 32nd independence anniversary on April 18, 2012 in Harare. Photo: Getty Images

Blessing-Miles Tendi is author of “Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media”, and a Lecturer in History and Politics in the Oxford University Department of International Development (QEH).  

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The rules of US presidential history mean Hillary Clinton could still lose

Should Clinton win, Obama would become the first Democratic President to be succeeded by a member of his own party without dying in the process in over 150 years.

It’s looking good for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Polls show an increasing national lead, and her campaign is pushing into states that wouldn’t usually be considered competitive. There have even respected figures effectively calling the election for Clinton already, weeks from polling day.

Prevented by a 1951 constitutional amendment from running for a third term himself, Barack Obama has campaigned hard for a Clinton victory. Clinton is not running for Obama’s third term and any victory would be her own, not his. Indeed, it is Michelle, not Barack, Obama who been called Clinton’s “most effective surrogate” in campaigning terms, and her appearances have been so successful there have been suggestions, and even assumptions, that she will one day run for national office.

Yet everyone is aware that Obama’s achievements in office, particularly Obamacare, are more easily secured by his replacement coming from his own party, indeed someone who served in his administration at a senior level, and the Obamas have not been reluctant to use their popularity to try and help achieve that outcome.

The energy the Obamas have put into Clinton’s election is understandable. If historical precedents mean anything, then the Obamas are right to be worried. Should Hillary Clinton win, Barack Obama would become the first Democratic President to be succeeded by a member of his own party without dying in the process for more than a century and a half.

This is not just a matter of the pendulum nature of US politics, ie. that the retirement of a sitting President means more people consider switching parties. The Republicans have generally been better at securing the succession than the Democrats.

There is a related situation on this side of the Atlantic; no Labour Prime Minister who attained the office mid-parliament has ever yet gone on to win the subsequent general election; this is not something that Conservative Prime Ministers appointed without a national election have had the same trouble with. Nor are they likely to in the immediate future.

In 1989, George HW Bush, in many ways the epitome of the Republican establishment,  moved smoothly from being Ronald Reagan’s Vice President to the presidency, while 60 years earlier, Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Warren G Harding and Calvin Coolidge succeeded the latter in 1929, ensuring the White House remained in Republican hands.

Twenty years before that, Theodore Roosevelt had successfully campaigned for William Taft, his chosen successor, to win the presidency. Not that that ended well either. The men later fell out and Roosevelt ran in 1912 as a third party candidate, destroying Taft’s attempts to remain in office and ensuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Yet Taft is better remembered for being the only President who was also later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of only two Presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and so awe-inspiringly fat the White House needed to replace its bathtubs with larger models during his single term of office.

In living memory, the presidency has only passed between Democrats through the death of the incumbent POTUS. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 raised his Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, who won a landslide in his own right a year later. In 1945, four times elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt (yes, he was from the other party to the other President Roosevelt) died of a massive stroke three months into his fourth term.

Neither Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) nor Grover Cleveland (1885-89, 1893-1897) were able to secure the succession, despite each being elected twice (Cleveland’s two terms being interrupted by the single-term presidency of Republican Benjamin Harrison).

Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) came to the presidency at Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the two having run on a multi-party national unity ticket while the civil war raged. Impeached by the senate, Johnson was unable to secure his own renomination and reelection.

In 1857, James Buchanan, the last Democratic President before the civil war, succeeded fellow Democrat Franklin Pierce. But the unpopular Pierce was refused the nomination by their party, who looked to give it to Buchanan, a party man who had conveniently been US ambassador to London during much of Pierce’s administration.

It’s a measure of how decisive a break with Pierce’s government Buchanan made that he replaced the entirety of Pierce’s cabinet, despite being of the same party and despite them being then, and now, the only cabinet to serve a full presidential term without a single resignation or replacement. 

This means the last Democrat POTUS to see out his term of office and hand over to a successor of whom he approved and for whom he campaigned was Andrew Jackson. He retired after two terms at an election that saw his long-time campaign strategist and later Vice President Martin Van Buren elected as his successor.

This is sufficiently long ago that Jackson was the last President who could remember the revolutionary war and Van Buren was born during it. The latter succeeded the former, regarded by history as the first President from the Democratic Party, on 4 March 1847.

That’s so long ago, it’s roughly the last time the pound sterling was worth what it is now.

Too much can be made of electoral precedents like this. Until Harding was elected in 1920 it was thought that no sitting senator could be elected to the presidency, although only two have subsequently. And it was an article of faith among southern Democrats that Sam Rayburn, the long-serving Speaker of the House of Representatives, would have been president were he not handicapped by being a southerner, it being assumed that after Reconstruction no southerner could be elected president. Rayburn died in 1961, and there have been multiple southern presidents since, beginning with his protégé, Lyndon Johnson.

There are many other examples of these sort of “never haves”. This XKCD comic strip, which came out during the 2012 election, demonstrates exactly how far the idea can be taken. On that basis, while ending the Democrats’ 140 years of successional failure isn’t the best or most important reason to elect Hillary Clinton President, it would be nice to be able to tick another one off the list.