Sanctions on Zim must go …………………….as AU intensifies pressure for their removal

By Chipo Mutasa

Economic sanctions have dismally failed in the history of their existence. Since sanctions were viewed as an alternative and more humane option than open military warfare, their success is still a subject of public debate among scholars. Critics of sanctions have awarded their success to as low as 5%, posing an unanswered question why those who continue to use them still has much confidence in a failed strategy to elicit change in political behaviour.

Economic cost

Economic sanctions by nature “seeks to lower the aggregate economic welfare of a target state by reducing international trade in order to coerce the target government to change its political behaviour”. In essence, the main target is the economic cost, which on paper is supposed to coerce desired behaviour. This is the reason when the sanctions were imposed in the early 2000s, Chester Crocker, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during hearings for the US sanctions law, which gave birth to the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act that cut all lines of credit to Zimbabwe said “To separate the Zimbabwean people from Zanu-PF, we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you, Senators, have the stomach for what you have to do.”

In its manifesto in 2013, the ZANU PF party quantified the economic cost of sanctions as amounting to an estimated US$42 billion since 2001. The ruling party said the country “lost donor support amounting to approximately US$36 million annually since 2001, US$79 million in loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and African Development Bank, commercial loans of US$431 million and GDP reduction of US$3,4 billion”.

The sanctions have negatively affected industry which resulted in massive job losses impoverishing many. The is laid bare by the Poverty Datum Line which before the sanctions stood at 54, 2% and this has since doubled due to sanctions. This puts to rest the “targeted sanctions” misnomer which has been propagated by the US to ease its conscience. As the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Namibia, Rofina Chikava rightly puts it “ the term “targeted sanctions” is not true because everyone in Zimbabwe is affected, the poor, young, old, healthy and sick…. The industries are finding it difficult to retool and invest in new technology…(whilst) the banking sector is not spared from these sanctions. The US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control(OFAC) has continued to squeeze the banks by penalising any transaction deemed illegal”.

Regional impact

In recent years, SADC and AU have upped their voices in calling for the removal of sanctions as witnessed at the just ended meeting of 33rd ordinary session of the Africa Union where the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui called sanctions on the country “immoral” and the continental body, on 10 February 2020 released a strongly worded statement which urged “ the Government of the United States of America to lift the long-standing sanctions imposed on the Government and People of Zimbabwe, to facilitate the socio-economic recovery”. The AU statement went further to state that these “coercive measures” are preventing countries like Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Somalia from “exercising their right to self-determination”. Hence, the issue of sanctions is no longer a Zimbabwean issue alone as an injury to one is an injury to all. This was clearly spelt out in the SADC statement on October 25, 2019 to mark the Zimbabwe anti-sanctions day when the region said “Regional economic integration targets such as SADC macroeconomic convergence have been retarded as Zimbabwe has failed to meet some of its targets owing to the adverse effects of the sanctions” not mentioning that “the implosion of the Zimbabwean economy has added a burden to the social services of neighbouring countries due to mass emigration”. Putting the matter into perspective, an estimated 2,5 million Zimbabweans became economic refugees in neighbouring South Africa between 2000 and 2008.

Failed strategy

Robert Pape (1997) penned a journal article entitled “Why economic sanctions do not work” opined that “ nationalism often makes states and societies willing to endure considerable punishment rather than abandon their national interests”. This rings true in the case of Zimbabwe as the case which wrought all this illegal embargoes is the land issue. The same issue which saw Zimbabweans take up arms to fight the Smith regime. It’s a foregone conclusion that the land redistribution is irreversible, no matter what our detractors do to us and this has been the bond that has held the country together.

This is the same reason the MDC has failed to make headway in the political sphere that is Zimbabwe. It’s an open secret that the party is a hired hand of the American with their nefarious agenda to impose foreign interests ahead of national interests. Beside millions of dollars being poured into this project, Zimbabwe remains in the hands of those who can safeguard its sovereignty. Zimbabweans cognisant of this have not been moved by the screws that have turned on their economy for the past two decades to make them turn on their leaders.

On countless occasions, the MDC on the behest of their masters have failed to enlist Zimbabweans for a “spontaneous uprising”. Even when Zimbabweans were at their lowest ebb, the spark for protests to unseat a constitutionally elected government has been elusive.

The MDC vice-president Tendai Biti, this week said “So we must bite the bullet and go in the streets because the Constitution allows us as the door for dialogue might be too late”. When will this overrated party of supposed legal minds learn that Zimbabweans are not interested in their futile protests?  Rather people are interested in putting food on the table for their families and finding ways to circumvent the illegal embargoes much to the chagrin of the advocates of protests.

Yes, sanctions have failed to remove an elected government in Zimbabwe. The question will now be; is it not the time to find other constructive way forward for a win-win scenario as the stalemate cannot continue forever.


Dialogue is the panacea for all misunderstandings. President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the recently held Assembly of the AU said “to enhance international peace and cooperation, dialogue, not sanctions is the right approach”. Dialogue which the MDC is spurning could have solved many of their issues with the Second Republic. Why should we rely on outsiders, when we can initiate dialogue amongst ourselves, as we speak progressive Zimbabweans have coalesced under the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) in trying to find solutions to our challenges. On the other hand, the MDC is wailing that the former South African president Thabo Mbeki should mediate on what they term the “Zimbabwean crisis”.

Sanctions imposers will never learn, sanctions imposition is a failed strategy that only serves to escalate ill feelings toward warring parties.