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).  

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images
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How the refugee crisis became invisible

Since the failed coup in Turkey, there are on average 200 refugees a day arriving in Greece. But the world's media has gone home.

The image was familiar for the volunteers in Lesvos that still man the beaches where refugees arrive by boat from Turkey. It’s been many months since boats carried 256 people in a single day across the narrow passage of sea. The refugee crisis seems to be giving way to much larger geopolitical issues to the east of the Greek coastline. Those refugees stuck here might soon be joined by the thousands that remain in Turkey as the situation in Syria deteriorates. There is no solution is on the horizon for the bloodshed.

Almost 300 people arrived that Thursday last week, a number not seen since a deal between the EU and Turkey was reached this spring to curtail the flow of refugees heading for Europe. Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey last month, however, something has changed. 3,300 people have arrived on the islands of the eastern Aegean since, according to the official data released by the Greek state, averaging around 200 a day. Reports on the ground suggest that the traffickers operating in the area are expecting a new wave of refugees leaving Turkey soon, a card for Tayip Erdogan to play in his bid for visa-free entry to Europe for Turkish citizens.

Since the deal – and unlike last year, which saw more than a million people passing through Greece and heading up the Balkan corridor towards Germany and the prosperous north – the crisis has taken a new shape, and it’s now largely invisible. Lesvos, the island formerly seen as the frontline of the refugee crisis, is unseen, abandoned by the media and the tourists that used to be its main source of income.

The refugees unlucky enough to be stuck in Greece after the borders to Macedonia closed are distributed in camps across the country. The camps established at the points of arrival, known as “hotspots”, are overcrowded to breaking point, with violence often erupting between refugees, locals and the police. Instances of violence against unaccompanied minors by police were even recorded in the Moria camp in June.

Now, for the close to 60.000 people who in limbo while their asylum applications are processed, it’s a waiting game that looks more like prison than anything else. Meanwhile, deportations back to Τurkey have effectively stopped because of the political insecurity and terrorist attacks there, despite the fact it is still deemed a “safe third country”.

Forty-nine camps have been set up across Greece, but the government has announced that more are on their way. Local business owners in Crete have already protested the news of a camp for 2,000 refugees established on the island. After what happened in Lesvos the tourism industry – arguably the country’s most important, contributing close to 10 per cent of the GDP – is nervous.

Inside the camps, reports of overcrowding, poor hygiene, illness, violence, trafficking and drugs are on the rise. Even in Greece, Yazidis are not safe in the camps, and special arrangements have had to be made for them. The Greek and Albanian mafias have infiltrated camps on the mainland, especially around Thessaloniki, and are pushing hard drugs, which have become a solution for some of the refugees stuck there. Around the downtown area of Victoria in Athens, reports by the BBC and Refugees Deeply have found underage boys prostituting themselves in the nearby parks for 5 euros.

Here is the real problem: while the numbers arriving are nowhere near those of last year, the infrastructure available to take them in is now so strained that every new arrival counts. The margin for the most vulnerable between safety and harm, has narrowed to nothing. The Katsikas camp, near my hometown in north-western Greece, paints a grim picture. Set up hastily on the site of an old military airport, it is almost entirely unsuitable to host the simple military tents the refugees are expected to live in. The ground turns to mud every time it rains, and it rains often. There are scorpions and snakes wandering the camp.

Living conditions are so horrible that according to the camp’s director, Filippas Filios, 200 people recently walked out and abandoned it, preferring to try their luck crossing the Albanian or Macedonian borders on foot. From the 1,020 people that were transported here between March and April, just 520 remain. Another space is being prepared to take those remaining before September – an abandoned orphanage. Unlike most of Greece, the weather here is rainy and cold. If preparations stall and they are caught outside, these people are unlikely to remain in the camp under such conditions. Traffickers who have been active in the area for decades, are banking on just that.

The EU, via Angela Merkel saying that “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean sea refugee routes”, is hinting at a similar deal to that with Turkey to try and deal with the flow from Libya. With the current arrangement looking shaky, and those living with the consequences being ignored or even blamed for their predicament, we are on perilous ground. There is hardly anything more that Greece can do.

What’s worse is that in the last few months – under pressure from the EU – the Greek government has been dismantling the solidarity networks that alleviated much of the weight of the crisis last year. But they too, where they still hold, are creaking under the weight of the situation. The conditions in some of these informal camps resemble those in the official camps. The more these people are trapped in either situation, the more likely they are to become victims again, be it of trafficking, drugs or violence. For now, the pro-refugee sentiment still holds in Greece, but the illusionary structure of a “dealt with” crisis might come crashing down sooner than most realise.

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.