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Posts Tagged ‘sanctions’

UK Times runs startlingly rational Zimbabwe analysis by mistake

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike

The Times newspaper of the UK is notable for the often absurd extents to which it goes to try to paint The Zimbabwe Crisis as the world’s worst disaster, and Robert Mugabe as the devil incarnate. Going to ‘absurd’ extents in this regard is quite an achievement because Zimbabwe is in an awful mess and Mugabe is not the world’s most cuddly leader. That The Times sees a country in the throes of wrenching long-term change and tries to make the difficult situation a thousand times worse is an indication of the deep racial hot buttons Zimbabwe and Mugabe press for the British political and media establishments.

These feelings run so deep and strong that they have paralysed British thinking about Zimbabwe to demonising Mugabe at the expense of calmly, rationally analysing the complicated reasons for why Zimbabwe is where it is today.

This would be easy to ignore or dismiss if it was not for the fact that Britain has chosen to make Zimbabwe its special business. The ex-colonial master has shamelessly sought to interfere in a way that would cause any Briton to justifiably howl with rage if a foreign country tried to influence things in the UK to the same extent.

The British politicians have been encouraged in their old bad colonial habits of not having any idea how to deal with Africans as equals by Africans themselves. There are those who still pine for a paternalistic relationship with Britain. In turn these are the Africans the British are most comfortable with. The “please Mr. Brown can we have some more aid if we behave” kind of Africans.

So they are at a complete loss when they encounter a new breed of Africans who say, ‘We appreciate the relationship with you we have been forced into by colonial history, but we no longer feel like relating to you like your serfs.’

All hell breaks loose when they encounter such rude natives. Mugabe lover! Supporter of the dispossession of sweet, innocent, hard-working (British stock) white farmers! Defender of evil! Excusing genocide! Denier of economic collapse! Excuser of atrocities including babies thrown onto the floor in the name of the Mugabe regime! (a now rather infamous, recently disproved example of how The Times eagerly lends itself to going over the top in its Zimbabwe coverage) ! Racist apologist for the denial of property rights and the rule of law! African who can’t be trusted to uphold the civilised christian values you were lucky we came to colonise and leave you with!

And all the other things that pour out of the British media daily to try to bolster the simplistic, only partially true British narrative of what The Zimbabwe Crisis is about. Oppression, violence and a cynical thwarting of  democracy are all part of the sad reality of Zimbabwe. That the British media says this is all that informs their unprecedented, emotional involvement with the Zimbabwe story does not change the fact that even with all these issues, there are deeper ones which are overlooked or looked at in very narrow ways.

One result of all this lack of depth, nuance and rationality about Zimbabwe by Britain is that despite all the emotion and words expended, the ex-colonial power has even less influence on events there than it ever did. There are Zimbabweans like myself who are desperate for a new way of running their country’s affairs and await the end of the Mugabe era but are deeply suspicious of and alienated by Britain insisting on treating Zimbabwe like its continuing fiefdom.

Part of this means recognising that Mugabe’s charge that Tsvangirai and his MDC are directly controlled from London is self-serving nonsense. But it also means being disgusted by the opposition party’s sloppiness in managing its image in this regard. The MDC often seems inexcusably oblivious of the cost to itself of the uniquely Zimbabwe-specific context of developing good relations with Britain as with any other nation, but of also not so carelessly seeming to be led by the nose by an ex-colonial master whose claims of good intentions should not be automatically trusted, based on solid historical evidence.

Britain seems to have been so blinded by an irrational fascination with hating Mugabe, similar to Mugabe’s own irrational fascination with taunting Britain, that it cannot see that none of its words and actions in Zimbabwe in recent years have had the intended effects. There is the issue of meddling in the affairs of another country in unacceptable ways, but over and above that, doing so in all the wrong ways from virtually any angle! The result: Mugabe is still firmly in place, Britain has been goaded into appearing to have a ‘personal’ spat with Mugabe, the disproportionate concern with white interests in Zimbabwe knocks Britain’s credibility, Tsvangirai and the MDC have been successfully painted as British stooges, British economic interests in Zimbabwe are more endangered and the UK has no diplomatic leverage on Zimbabwe at all.

Even when Gordon Brown or David Miliband makes the occasional statement on Zimbabwe I find myself agreeing with, it is often delivered in such condescending “Zimbabwe is in our British orbit” tones that my reaction is then more revulsion than relief or joy that some foreign official is taking up the cause of democratic change in my country.

There seems a complete, astonishing failure to comprehend that revulsion by and opposition to Mugabe is not necessarily the same thing as saying anybody else who shares those feelings must be my friend and has license to talk and act as if they “own” the situation. I am flabbergasted that official Britain seems so oblivious of the strong vein of Zimbabwean sensibility that cannot be neatly reduced to “Mugabe is bad and wrong, therefore his opponents (including Britain) are good and right.”

This certainly makes for the kind of simplistic distinctions the British political and media establishments can use to hide the real reasons for their outrage with regards to Mugabe and the whole Zimbabwe Crisis. But however much this simplicity conveniently and comfortably fits into the picture of what the British would like to pretend the complex Zimbabwe issue is about, it is also wrong, or at the very least an incomplete and shallow analysis of many intersecting crises going far back into the past.

Given how Britain, whether its media or the political establishment, have seemingly lost all sense of proportion and reason in looking at Zimbabwe, it was startling to read the headline  Zimbabwe: Will the West ever learn from its mistakes?

What was even more startling was that the article appeared in The Times, one of the most irrationally blinded by Mugabe hatred that it has long ceased to be a reliable source of news or perspectives about Zimbabwe, despite the hectares of space and feeling it devotes to the subject, a case of lots of heat but very little light shed on an issue they have decided is important to them.

To compound my amazement, the sensible article in question was written by Jonathan Clayton, who has in recent months spent a spell in a Harare jail. He is far from a Mugabe apologist (he couldn’t be and work at the Times anyway, probably not even in the Olden Days when Mugabe was considered a jolly good Englishman who just happened to also be African! The Times has always had the attitude that at best the Africans are retarded children and are best treated as such.)

The point is I would have expected Clayton to take a more rabidly “lets throw everything we can at Mugabe” attitude than even crack British media “Zimbabwe operatives” like Madames Christina Lamb and Peta Thornycroft.

Moments after formally agreeing to enter talks on a power-sharing deal, President Mugabe cautioned against outside interference. “As we embark on the programme of negotiating the way forward … we shall be doing this as Zimbabweans … with South Africa,” he declared.

Less than 24 hours after Monday’s signing ceremony, the European Union – showing an exquisite sense of timing – agreed to broaden sanctions against Zimbabwe. EU foreign ministers said that it was important to keep up the pressure. Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said: “Sanctions have played a role. We have to keep up that role.”

He could not be more wrong. What the West, particularly Britain and the US, fails to understand is that it is precisely that pressure which has allowed Mr Mugabe to defy predictions and remain at the helm of the country way beyond his sell-by date.

Gasp! Clayton “gets it!”

I thought it was a fluke that this simple wisdom got past The Times’ Zimbabwe censor, but there is yet more startling commonsense about The Zimbabwe Crisis that Clayton inexplicably got away with getting published:

Sanctions – including travel bans on regime officials and the freezing of their overseas assets – have been an unmitigated failure. Most of the elite have been able to ignore them; Mr Mugabe is still in power and the country is in ruins.

For years it has been a perennial refrain from the ruling Zanu (PF) party that Morgan Tsvangirai is little more than a puppet of former imperialists. Many people believe, with commodity prices at record highs, that Britain wants to get its hands back on Zimbabwe’s mineral riches before China takes them. Mr Mugabe has exploited that unease adeptly for years. The West has always proved a willing helper: talking tough, threatening action and making clear its obvious distaste for any deal other than the former “freedom fighter’s” departure. By so doing it has strengthened Mr Mugabe and undermined those regional voices wanting him to step down.

All this has been blatantly obvious for years to everybody but the British politicians and media who just want to be seen to be doing “something” about the hated-Mugabe, no matter how counter-productive that something is to the stated goal! But it is weird to read this in The Times.

The West’s failure to heed the lesson from past errors and adopt a different strategy lies at the heart of repeated failures of its diplomacy since the current Zimbabwean crisis began three months ago. It led directly to humiliation in the Security Council ten days ago when Russia and China vetoed a resolution imposing tough sanctions on Harare.

That vote also reflected the reality of shifting power alliances on the continent. Britain, in particular, has been slow to appreciate how little it can influence events in its former colony unless it has the backing of neighbouring states.

Lord have mercy! Surely Clayton has gone way overboard now! Is he actually suggesting that Britain accept that it is not Africa’s colonial master anymore? If so, breaking it to Messrs. Brown and Miliband in this public, humiliating way through the prestigious medium of the conservative Times is surely the cruelest way to break the news to them. The two gentleman carry on talking like British colonial governors of the 1950s. They will surely not take kindly to Clayton suggesting that they need to learn new tricks in how they deal with the natives. What? Britain needing the backing of lowly African states in order to get its way in Zimbabwe? God forbid!

The Zimbabwe mess is certainly partly about straight forward repression. But it is so much more, including the utter failure by many Westerners, like Brown, Miliband & Co., to fully grasp the many other subtextual issues. Among those is a significant on-going change in how Africans react to once unchallengable ex-masters like Britain.

That Mugabe has understood this and used it in a way that successive British establishments have totally failed to understand is only too obvious in the reductionist, surface daily reports of papers like The Times about Zimbabwe. In focusing in such a jaundiced way only on the seemingly obvious issues and without giving any credence to the reality that there are deeply held opposing views , a lot of significant underlying issues about the bigger earthquake of change that “Zimbabwe” represents are completely overlooked.

That is what makes Clayton’s clarity of analysis, and in one of Britain’s most shallow and un-nuanced papers in regards to Zimbabwean issues, so startling.

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Exit British/Dutch Shell, enter Malaysian/S. African Engen: investor re-alignments in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

A recent news report by Bloomberg:

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest oil producer, will sell all its petroleum assets in Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe was reappointed last month in a disputed election following a decade of recession.

“It coincides with the political debate but that’s not the background,” Spokesman Rainer Winzenried said  from the Hague. Shell is reviewing refining and marketing businesses worldwide to “see whether they are profitable enough to meet our expectations,” he said.

Shell’s assets, including half of a venture with BP Plc that sells 172 million liters (45 million gallons) of fuel a year, 20.73 percent of an unoperational refinery and 226 fuel stations, will be sold to a unit of Petroliam Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s state oil company, Winzenried said. BP has first rights to buy Shell’s stake in the venture.

Zimbabwe “still has good infrastructure which we believe will form the basis of renewed economic growth once the current political situation is resolved,” said Rashid Yusof, chief executive officer of Petroliam Nasional’s Cape Town-based unit Engen Petroleum Ltd. The Malaysian company is also known as Petronas.

In a recent post I asked: Would a pullout of Shell Oil from Zimbabwe amount to anything?

The gist of my post was that a pullout from Zimbabwe by Shell and other oil “majors” would not mean much as an economic sanctions measure because of how drastically reduced their influence on the country’s oil supply has become in recent years. A pullout by them as a sanctions measure would therefore not be felt much by the economy or by Mugabe’s government. I made the point that they were probably not benefiting from their investments there, and were holding on in the hope of better times when the country’s politics have been resolved.

I believe the Shell spokesman when he says the company’s decision to pull out of Zimbabwe “coincides with the political debate” but is not necessarily the reason for it. It must be pretty clear that Mugabe is not going anywhere any time soon, and that this is almost necessarily means economic normality is not on the immediate horizon. Shell’s are therefore not likely to begin earning the company dividends again any time soon, particularly when the “majors” have lost a lot of their formerly dominant market share to many smaller players.

The remark about Zimbabwe’s still good infrastructure (and the base this represent for possibly quick economic recovery in the post-Mugabe era) by Engen’s CEO is one reason why companies like Shell have held on to their non-performing investments for several years.

An interesting thing the pullout of Shell and the deeper involvement of Engen represents is the shift from the country’s sole dependence on Western investors, to the increasing stake taken in Zimbabwe’s economy by players from China, Malaysia, South Africa and other “emerging economies” who do not have quite the same political distaste for Mugabe’s government as Western countries do, and who think more in the economic long term.

The full implications of the fundamental re-alignments that are taking place will probably only become fully apparent in hindsight years from now.

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The legal and diplomatic precedents set by the issue of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

Blogger Stephen Ellis of  the “Afrika Studie Centrum” in the Netherlands explains particularly well how some important precedents in international relations could be set by how The Zimbabwe Crisis is handled in the coming months:

Whatever happens in, or to, Zimbabwe over the next few months, it will surely set an important diplomatic and legal precedent.

President Mugabe (as we must still see him) has staked his political claim on the principle of state sovereignty.  He also makes great rhetorical use of the ideology of national liberation, the foundational charter of his government.  Yet a resolution of Zimbabwe’s crisis seems bound to involve international mediation in some shape or form.  It is precisely because President Mugabe’s claim has been stated so forcefully, on behalf of a political party that has often been represented as a model of national liberation in Africa, that the resulting clash of principles will be heard with particular clarity.

The least likely candidates for international mediators are actually the United States and the United Kingdom.  The USA has little leverage over a country that has never been squarely within its sphere of influence, while Britain’s leverage has been neutralized to a considerable extent by Mugabe’s tactical astuteness.  The relative powerlessness of these two powers is in fact a good illustration of the practical limitations that result from the increasingly fossilized appearance of the United Nations Security Council.  Including some of the major emerging powers (India, South Africa) as core members of this club would have enabled the Security Council to have thrashed out an approach to Zimbabwe that would have carried more weight, and Mr Mugabe would have been less able to defy the Security Council with impunity.  The same broadly holds for the Group of Eight, which looks increasingly absurd without China.

Somewhere behind it, the African Union.  Neither has gained much credibility from its handling of the Zimbabwe crisis to date. Yet the African Union charter is actually quite interventionist… An AU mandate for international action to restore some sort of normality to Zimbabwe will further enhance its interventionist record.  In this regard, the AU’s great weakness is not so much a refusal to meddle in the internal affairs of its members but its lack of resources to carry out such a policy

Lurking close to this absence is the possibility of an effective collaboration between the AU, which has legitimacy, and those external powers that can provide resources.  There is much lip-service paid to such a combination, but it has not been very effective to date.

Zimbabwe is an extreme example of the many African states that base their legitimacy on the claim to have liberated their people from colonial rule.  Zimbabwe at least has a robust state apparatus it is the economy that has collapsed, not the state.

There are already quite a few governments that have precious little real control of the instruments of sovereignty, constituting what has been called a ‘quasi-state’.  Zimbabwe’s future may further undermine the real power of such governments.  This need not be viewed as a tragedy: it could be the start of more effective forms of partnership between African powers and their external partners.

I cannot imagine the AU intervening militarily in Zimbabwe, as things stand there now. Ellis makes the point that the AU has actually been quite interventionist, but not once in any situation similar to Zimbabwe’s. That situation may be ugly, with government-sanctioned (or at least government-ignored) militias involved in violence and killings against supporters of the MDC party. But not even the chilling accounts of the opposition party and the graphic images from Zimbabwe suggest the situation has reached levels that could yet justify armed intervention by any quarter.

This could well change, but in the short term the change in the political environment is actually towards more calm as Mugabe’s government perceives itself to be less threatened and feels more secure, and as talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC take place in South Africa.

But still, Ellis is very astute in his reading of the situation, such as his pointing out the relative powerlessness of Britain and the US to influence things in Zimbabwe. The UN sanctions resolution they sponsored at the UN and its veto by China and Russia is just one sign of that lack of their lack of influence on and in Zimbabwe.

Ellis did not say, but perhaps the fervent but dubious efforts of Britain and the US to portray the mess there as a threat to international security is partly to make sure that a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe does return to their “sphere of influence.” We saw how useful this was for them during the recent Kenyan upheavals that not only threatened to tear that country apart, but also threatened the considerable economic, geopolitical and military interests of Britain and the US. They quickly weighed in very heavily with various effective threats to make the opposing political parties sit down and form a unity government.  Kenya can be said to have been “saved” at least partially by these interventions, but so were the British and American interests there.

The material interests of the UK and the US are not nearly as great in Zimbabwe as in Kenya, but certainly the potential for them to be is clear, as would be the symbolic importance of the country having a government that was more amenable to diplomatic and economic pressure than Mugabe’s has proven to be so far for Britain and the US.

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Another explanation of Russia’s veto of the UN Zimbabwe sanctions resolution

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

The US and British governments are still seething over China and Russia’s ‘double-veto’ of the UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on president Mugabe and his closest associates, and to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Some Zimbabweans are also disappointed at what was seen as a reprimand that would have carried great moral and symbolic authority; as a statement of the apprehension of much of the world at events in  Zimbabwe. Others are glad the resolution failed because they saw it as a hypocritical ganging up on Zimbabwe by countries that are quite happy to look the other way at the actions of governments as repressive or more so than Mugabe’s.

British officials have reacted very testily to the suggestion that the resolution was ill-advised, and that it should not have been presented without its promoters being absolutely sure of support for it to pass. The argument is that it would have saved the US and Britain the loss of “face” of having a motion they pushed so hard for defeated. Part of the response to that has been effectively ” the sneaky Russians had suggested they would support the motion but then stabbed us in the back at the last minute.”

That still leaves open the question of why it was not obvious that the probability of at least a Chinese veto was very high from the beginning, for reasons of that government’s relations with Mugabe’s and China’s own less than stellar democratic credentials. The undiplomatic way that Brown & Company tried to blackmail countries by almost daring them to oppose the motion (ironically, very much Mugabe tactics!) could not have helped the pre-vote lobbying efforts to get unanimity. Official Britain seems to have a very hard time accepting that as influential as that country remains in world affairs, the days of it being able to hector other nations is long past, and that the tendency to do so rubs many of those nations the wrong way. When those nations are increasingly powerful ones like China and Russia, they delight in the opportunity to flex their muscles and defy those who have ruled the world unchallenged in recent times.

A legitimate question that must be asked is whether Zimbabwe’s mess can be considered a threat to international security, one of the grounds for the Security Council to force its way into a country’s governance. On that shaky legal basis alone the resolution had a low chance of passing. It would have set a troubling new precedent in how “threat to international security” is defined, probably ushering in a new era of interventions on rather dubious pretexts going beyond what the world has witnessed in Iraq, for instance.

Apart from all the other selfish reasons China and Russia had for vetoing the sanctions resolution, I can also see solid international law justifications for their actions. If the main goal of the sanctions were to send a moral message to Mugabe’s government and to the world, arguably the UN’s own rules would seem to suggest that a Security Council resolution was not the appropriate vehicle for doing so. It has always been countries like Britain and the US imposing their own interpretations of “international law” on the rest of the world. But in this case the contrary explanation of whether the threat to international security  requirement was met by the Zimbabwe crisis carried the day.

Now if the EU chooses to apply the same sanctions that Brown & Co. had wanted to be imposed by the UN, as Brown is pushing for, arguably they are on firmer ground. The EU does not have the UN’s narrow restrictions on taking sanctions actions on the basis of “threat to international security,” but can justify its actions with its own reasons.

Of course it is not difficult to understand why UN sanctions would carry far greater symbolic (and practical) “weight” than the same sanctions imposed by the EU. One could be explained as “the world” speaking to reprimand Mugabe, while EU sanctions would be dismissed by Mugabe as merely another manifestation of what he claims to be a Western conspiracy to remove him.

An indignant analyst writing on a blog devoted to Russian foreign policy issues titled his post Russia was right to resist Zimbabwe sanctions!

Have I been completely missing something or has everyone lost their minds regarding this whole Zimbabwe sanctions situation?

… now Britain and the US have been openly questioning Russia’s fitness to belong to the G8. Normally level-headed commentators have been feverishly proclaiming their disappointment in Russian collusion with dictators.

… the situation today in Zimbabwe is reminiscent of 1993/1996 Russia — violence to the opposition (Yeltsin’s bombing of the White House); massive voting fraud (1996 election); hyperinflation — or any number of contemporary Central Asian states. None of these have had sanctions imposed on them.

In the following rant, which reflects solely the ill-considered opinions of its author, allow me to introduce some reality into this moralistic, anthropomorphic hysteria:

1. The UN security council is a forum for international law and diplomacy, not a morality police. It is not the business of the members to tell other countries what political system they ought to choose.

2. Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe has indulged in political abuses but it has not killed, tortured or imprisoned any more people than has China, Morocco, Congo, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Nepal or [insert authoritarian developing country here].

3. The UN Security Council is not designed to impose sanctions on states that rig elections. The vast majority of countries in the world rig their elections; others, like practically every Gulf and Central Asian state, don’t even bother to hold elections. Many more others suffer from hyperinflation, violent repression of the opposition and economic collapse.

4. Sanctions almost never work anyway.

5. Countries aren’t people. They aren’t good or bad, and they don’t have feelings or morals. They are entities with interests. Condemning Russia for the Zimbabwe sanctions on grounds of morality is childish and dangerous.

One may not agree with all the author’s points, but they are legitimate matters for debate. They are also very useful reminders of how on a lot of issues which the Western world considers “clear cut,” there are many people from other parts of the world who view them through a different lens.

Zimbabwe is definitely in a mess, that much is sure. But it is a complicated mess with many shades of grey, not one as clearly black and white as it appears to some.

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Why existing investors are unenthusiastic about Zimbabwe sanctions

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

The international diplomatic pressure by Britain for some kind of sanctions to be imposed on Zimbabwe is currently at fever pitch. It will be interesting to find out today if the sanctions resolution that is scheduled to be voted on at the UN Security Council will carry the day as British officials have been confidently predicting or be vetoed by Russia or China, as some reports suggest could happen.

But it is interesting that the proposed sanctions being called for are primarily a tightening up of the ‘targeted sanctions’ against Mugabe and his closest lieutenants, rather than an open, generalised embargo of the whole Zimbabwean economy . Only time will tell why such tightening is thought to have a chance of bringing Mugabe’s government to heel when it has been completely impervious to them before. They have almost become a badge of honor among the rulers, a way of showing anti-Western stripes that are currently highly valued in Mugabe’s circles, but not materially changing their lives much at all.

Globalization and the rise of a mostly friendly and sympathetic-to-Africa Asia have assured that travel and business bans imposed by the West on Mugabe and his close aides have been nothing more than a minor nuisance.

It is interesting that as newly determined to act against Mugabe as Gordon Brown’s government is, it has not called for the outright pull-out of the many British companies operating in Zimbabwe. In the last week have been reports of some of those British companies saying they are getting very mixed signals from the British establishment when they ask for clarification on what the government would like them to do with regards to their Zimbabwean operations.

In late june Brown warned British: “‘Where businesses are helping the Zimbabwe regime, they should consider their position now,” before making any investments in Zimbabwe. Some commentators thought that this was in direct response to reports that mining conglomerate Anglo American had plans to spend £200 million on a platinum mine there. The pressure forced the company to say it was “deeply concerned about the current political situation in Zimbabwe,” and that it was “reviewing all options” surrounding the development of the Unki platinum project.

One of the many reports about sanctions pointed out that Brown did not directly order British firms to withdraw operations from Zimbabwe. He is specifically said to have cautioned that any sanctions must be balanced against harming ordinary Zimbabweans by being targeted at the country’s leadership.

But perhaps there is more to this seemingly contradictory caution than concern about not worsening ordinary peoples’ hardships.

Investments are not a one way street. Asking British firms to stop doing business with or pull out of Zimbabwe will have negative consequences for those companies as well as effects on Zimbabwe’s economy. It is sometimes portrayed as if the continuation of those companies’ business in Zimbabwe is out of the kindness of their hearts, a sort of favor to poor helpless Zimbabwe, and that they would actually be relieved to leave such a poorly performing economy.

The truth is even if their operations are barely ticking along now, many of these companies have substantial long-term investments that they risk being expropriated by the Mugabe government should they pull out. Mugabe has on several occasions mentioned his willingness to do just that if pushed into a corner or ‘provoked’ enough. It is true that particularly in the current environment, there is no reason to believe the government would run those mines and other investments any better or profitably than the companies themselves. This would be especially so without access to the kind of international money required for capital-intensive things like mining. But at that stage the considerations would mostly be hot-headed political ones, as we saw with farm take-overs, not necessarily cool-headed economic ones.

Such takeovers would in the short-term be largely non-performing assets for the government, in the same way they are poorly performing assets for their current private owners. So any losses due to expropriation, fire-sale shedding of the assets or forced (by sanctions) pull-outs would not necessarily bite the investors hard in in the short term by the investors, since their assets are performing minimally now. But for the capital and long-term opportunity losses would be major.

Many companies in Zimbabwe, local and foreign, have barely held on for many years in the hope of positive  political change and a quick turn-around. They continue to do business there not so much for present day profits, but in the expectation of future gains if they can hang on until “normality” is restored. It would be much harder to close shop or pull out completely now and then try to re-enter when many other investors will be competing to for choice opportunities. So an important reason for many companies hanging on is to have an advantageous, competitive position when things start to work again and Zimbabwe is once again one of Africa’s hottest economies. This will happen because of the vast advantages over most Africa the country has in the basic economic fundamentals that have been hidden by the current crisis.

And it is not just sitting investors who see opportunity in Zimbabwe’s future. A recent Reuters report discussed how the ‘Zimbabwe contagion’ is not likely to significantly affect business and investment in the rest of Africa. The article, with the heading Hardier investors undeterred by Zimbabwe is dated July 1st, so is not ancient news from another time, but was written smack dab in the midst of the current crisis.

Here is a brief excerpt that bolsters the point I am making, that companies are cautious about their Zimbabwe portfolio but they are not exactly in a stampede to leave the country:

Zimbabwe itself has also seen something of an investment boom this year, with an estimated $150-250 million coming into the country from investors keen to buy cheap assets and position themselves for an eventual recovery.

Enthusiasm has since altered but those who have gone in say they are staying put and probably the largest investment fund, London listed LonZim says it still intends to raise another up to $100 million to fund new purchase.

“I’ve had no nervous phone calls from investors,” said LonZim executive chairman David Lenigas. “Quite the contrary. There is a loss of enthusiasm for what LonZim is doing in Zimbabwe. But it is a very long-term exercise.”

It must not be forgotten that the “collapse” of Zimbabwe has been written about for close to 10 years now. That the Somalia-like breakdown of all formal systems has not taken place is a sign of the little economy’s enduring strength in terms of the basic infrastructure, systems and skills, even though all these have taken a battering in the years of steep decline. But many still believe a resolution of the politics would result in a fairly rapid recovery of many sectors.

Therefore no company with long term investments in Zimbabwe is going to be in a hurry to walk away from them. Doing so would almost certainly mean forfeiting them to the state or the favored elite for nothing, or selling them off for a fraction of their value. It also means much greater difficult re-entering what may still be revived to be southern Africa’s most robust economy after South Africa.

Brown & Co. would have taken all this into consideration, and it must be one reason why they have not called for a total withdrawal of British companies: there is an awful lot for those companies to lose.

Bloomberg had a very good article about some of the big companies with a stake in the Zimbabwean economy on March 27, two days before the ‘harmonised’ election in which Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe.  The article was essentially about how the mining industry remained confident that recovery of the sector would be quick with positive political reform.

“The (mining) industry and investors are betting that better times lie ahead. The key: the political future of President Robert Mugabe,” wrote Anthony Sguazzin.

“There are investment funds waiting in the wings” should Zimbabwe’s leadership change and the economic outlook improve, said Mark Wellesley-Wood, chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Metallon Corp., Zimbabwe’s biggest gold producer. “We are hunkered down. It’s been survival and preparation.”

“Metallon and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. already are prepared to expand. Zimbabwe has some of Africa’s best roads and best-educated workforce, and the remnants of a manufacturing industry that once lagged behind only South Africa in the continent’s southern region.”

“Economic progress might come rapidly should Mugabe lose, or win and be pushed out. “I am certain that if there is political change, the turnaround will be quick,” said Greg Hunter, chief executive officer of Central African Gold Plc, which bought two Zimbabwean gold mines last year and is considering expansion.

“Relatively little investment is needed to rehabilitate the industry, Hunter said. Power production could be ramped up at Zimbabwe’s coal-fired plant at Hwange in the northwest and the Kariba South Hydropower plant with minor equipment replacements. Many of the country’s gold mines aren’t closed. Instead, they have been maintained even while they were idled or had production cut.

For now, Impala Platinum is delaying portions of an expansion plan in Zimbabwe valued at $750 million in 2005. As recently as 1999, Anglo American Plc planned to boost its gold production 10-fold in Zimbabwe. Instead, it has sold ferrochrome smelters and nickel mines.

In December 2006, Zimbabwe’s government sent police to seize a diamond concession from African Consolidated Resources Ltd., and last week Mugabe said the government may “act against” British companies to retaliate for U.K.-imposed sanctions, said the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper. London-based Rio Tinto Group owns a diamond mine in Zimbabwe.

“They have the mineral resources; it’s only the presence of Mugabe that makes the West uncomfortable,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York political- risk firm. “Once he has gone, there will be a sense of relief.”

You get the drift.

The current loud talk of a type of sanctions which will not make much additional difference to the ‘targeted sanctions’ that are already in place is mainly just that, talk, for show. “Real” sanctions will not be imposed because some of those calling for them most loudly would have as much to lose as Zimbabwe’s already battered economy.

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Sanctions won’t budge Mugabe

Posted by CM on July 9, 2008

Everybody in the world is a Zimbabwe expert these days, and it is very difficult to keep up with all the passionate expertise pouring out of about how to end The Zimbabwe Crisis.

It is almost amusing to observe so many people say, “The solution is obvious, why doesn’t everybody else just listen to me.” Except the inexorable escalation of The Crisis suggests there is no easy solution, or if there is one, no one has been able to find how to implement it.

But the inevitable has happened, and UK prime minister Gordon Brown & Co. have been pushing hard from their capitals, from the UN and from the G8 summit in Japan for formal sanctions to be imposed on the Mugabe government. “Inevitable” not because of the shameful way Mugabe has chosen to claim another five year mandate or because of the dramatic deterioration of the overall situation in Zimbabwe. There is much worse electoral tomfoolery, violence and economic deprivation taking place elsewhere in the world today, but that Brown and friends are not “deeply concerned about.”

I figure Mugabe’s goose was cooked as far as Brown was concerned when somewhere in between the two recent elections he dismissed Brown’s rantings about events in Zimbabwe with something to the effect that he (Brown) was just “one tiny little dot in the world.” I think Brown is determined to not let Mugabe get away with the kinds of insults he hurled at his predecessor Tony Blair for years.

I suspect Mugabe’s harsh, undiplomatic, unrelenting needling of Brown and his government (and of course Mugabe’s brazen, cocky refusal to behave like a good African boy) are a bigger factor in their outrage than is the fact ofMugabe being a ruthless and unfeeling despot,  or the violence or economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

But nevertheless, there can be little doubt that we will now be moving to the era of formal, declared sanctions of some sort. Even if Security Council members China or Russia veto a sanctions call at the level of that body, that will not deter Britain and friends from individually and collectively seeking to economically strangulate Mugabe.

For all the talk about economic sanctions being increased but still limited mainly to a handful of targeted officials, this is not realistic. The ‘targeted sanctions’ against members of the ruling elite that have existed have not made one bit of difference. Restricting their travel to Western countries and other such gestures may have caused them some minor inconvenience but little else. Their children are in schools and universities all over the Western world, names are easy to change, money can be moved around, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if finding ways around those kinds of sanctions has become a sort of game for members of the ruling elite, who Mugabe has been very careful to take good care of, and who lead lives in Harare that many well to do Westerners would envy.

The other rationale for sanctions, that increased suffering will force the populace to then put pressure against their rulers, will not work in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is proud to resist popular domestic pressure as much as he resists external pressure. And Zimbabweans do not need reminding how quick and eager Mugabe’s various armed forces have been over the years to put down even mild, peacefully expressed dissent with extreme, crushing brutality. For the time being, the conditions militate even more against any kind of popular uprising than ever before, and sanctions are unlikely to change that.

So tightening up the ‘targeted sanctions’ a few notches won’t make any difference to Mugabe’s behaviour.

On more broad terms, Zimbabwe has not been an attractive place to business in or with for years. That hostile investing, lending and general business environment is perhaps a much bigger reason for it having being a virtual business and economic Siberia for several years. But even the suffering and deprivation of that sort of isolation have not brought Mugabe’s government anywhere near to being on its knees.

Would a more general trade and economic embargo do it? I don’t quite follow the logic. If it is countries and companies taking what they consider a moral stand by refusing to do business with a Mugabe-led Zimbabwe on the grounds that this gives him a lifeline to continue tormenting the populace,  it is obviously their right to be consistent with their “conscience,” if you can call it that. I put the word in inverted commas because of the inconsistency and selectivity with which such moralistic outrage is expressed in the world today by the likes of Brown and friends.

Bloomberg economic news agency had a thoughtful article about this entitled Trade Embargoes for Zimbabwe Won’t Fix Anything, by columnist Matthew Lynn.

Writes Lynn, “Now, there is pressure on companies to end commercial ties with Zimbabwe. Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s largest food retailer, has said it will stop buying food from Zimbabwe’s farms. Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient GmbH won’t print the African nation’s banknotes anymore. Expect to see more enterprises close their Zimbabwean units or end contracts with its remaining businesses.

The trouble is, none of that will do any more than ease European consciences. If ruining the economy made any difference to Mugabe, he would have been toppled from power years ago.”

Exactly. Once having cushioned themselves, Mugabe and his inner circle couldn’t give a hoot if the country continues to implode around them.

Continues Lynn, “The truth is, forcing companies to get out of Zimbabwe is more about pandering to European public opinion than making any difference to the long-suffering Zimbabwean people. It is the equivalent of wearing a “Make Poverty History” wristband: a gesture of support that involves little personal sacrifice, and won’t change anything.”

Sadly true.

Lynn’s sober analysis will enrage those who want to be seen to be “doing something,” anything. It is fine when such people make it clear that their main motivation is to vent and display righteous indignation. That is better than calling for these kinds of “radical” measures on the pretense that they will hasten Mugabe’s departure or otherwise more quickly bring an end to Zimbabweans’ suffering.

“Tesco doesn’t want to be accused of propping up Mugabe’s regime when it can easily buy supplies from somewhere else. Companies of the size of Shell or Barclays aren’t going to miss their Zimbabwean units. With the country close to bankruptcy, it is hardly the most attractive place to do business right now. It certainly isn’t worth making yourself unpopular with your main customers to stay in the country.”

“Disinvestment can’t do much more damage to an economy that has already collapsed. Poverty and unemployment never triggered Mugabe’s downfall and are unlikely to in the future.

Economic sanctions have a poor record of bringing about change. They didn’t force Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and they haven’t forced the collapse of North Korea’s communist government. All they have done is add to the misery of the people. It is protest politics, designed to salve consciences, rather than bring about real change.”

“In fairness, sanctions may have contributed to ending apartheid in South Africa. But that was a rich, trading economy. There was a lot to lose by being cut off from the developed world. Zimbabwe has almost nothing to lose. It is already a subsistence economy, where money has long since lost any meaning.”

This very sober analysis still leaves us with the question, what then can be done by those who are genuinely alarmed at the situation in Zimbabwe? It is entirely justified for such people to not be content to simply fold their hands and let Mugabe continue rampaging as he wishes.

Lynn is on shakier ground in suggesting what companies could be doing instead, but my main point of interest are in his cogent points about how as far as dislodging  Mugabe is concerned, all the tough sanctions talk from Brown & Co. is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Formal sanctions will likely significantly increase the suffering Zimbabweans are experiencing, but they will not hasten the demise of the regime of Mugabe.

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Gideon Gono’s star starting to fade

Posted by CM on December 30, 2007

by Chido Makunike

The last few weeks have not been good for Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Gono featuredly prominently at the ZANU-PF congress at which President Mugabe somehow arranged yet another ruling party endorsement as its sole candidate in the elections scheduled for March 2008. We saw images of Gono grinning broadly, seemingly basking in the glow of Mugabe’s approval. He got tongues wagging with a tough speech in which he accused un-named high ranking government officials of being behind many of the nefarious “black market” activities that led to phenomena like the current perplexing shortage of Zim dollar currency notes.

Gono has never made secret of his personal closeness to Mugabe, which reports have traced to his being the president’s banker, dating from the days when Gono was chief executive of the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe. Gono parlayed his revival of that once floundering bank back into solvency into a reputation as a “turn around expert.” It is that image he carefully cultivated over some years that eventually landed him the RBZ top job with much fanfare in 2003.

His closeness to Mugabe made him automatically an object of suspicion to many. But others hoped that he could use it to make Mugabe “see sense” about measures needed to right the economy’s many wrongs in a way the president light not have been prepared to do with previous economic advisors.

There was a circus around Gono’s taking on the job of central banker. The media was roped into hailing him as a conquering hero who had come to slay the dragon of high inflation, the country’s then first experience of local currency shortages and all manner of other economic ills.

If the media seemed to adore him, he clearly loved the media attention just as much. His “monetary review statements” were broadcast live, and his every word was treated as gospel. In the Gono-euphoria that erupted, cautions that the country’s deepening economic problems could not be separated from governance, political and diplomatic issues were swept aside. Gono promised to “turn around” the economy in short order, confidently making inflation-lowering and other targets which the country has come nowhere near to achieving, and vowing “failure is not an option.”

Four years after all the hype surrounding his appointment and all the high hopes in his tenure by many, the December 23 2007 main headline in the Zimbabwe Standard was a harsh summation of how far Gono has fallen in public esteem. It screamed, “Gono labelled ‘No. 1 saboteur.’

Citing the thousands of Zimbabweans who had to spend the end of year holiday season in long queues for cash from their bank accounts, the story quoted Elton Mangoma, an opposition party official, as saying, “Gono is clearly the biggest saboteur of Zimbabwe’s economy. He is simply playing politics with a serious national crisis that needs immediate attention from a central bank governor who takes the people’s suffering seriously.”

The MDC, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and economists, all said the cash crisis was ample evidence that the RBZ had failed in its mandate to provide liquidity, the story continued. The critics said it was “very cruel” of Gono to plunge the ordinary people into the crisis in a miscalculated move “to fix” people whose identity he knew.

Critics said blaming cash barons was a diversionary tactic designed to mask the incompetence of the central bank. “There is no money from the so-called barons because if the money was there, the parallel market would be booming,” said Dr Daniel Ndlela, head of an economic consultancy firm. “This fellow (Gono) is not only heartless, but he does not understand who he is punishing. The people in the queues are not barons.”

The Standard’s story continued:

Mangoma added: “The people are not failing to access their cash because of the cash barons but because of Gono’s policies which have eroded people’s confidence in the banking system in this country. No reasonable person would put their money into a bank when they know they will fail to access it the following day.”

Ndlela said Zimbabweans could be in for more suffering “as long as we have a poet” for a central banker. “He has totally failed. If he had a bit of professionalism and dignity he should have resigned a long time ago,” he said.

This is unprecedented harsh public criticism for Gono. Until recently, he had somehow been able to straddle the awkward twin roles of being an intimate insider of a floundering, unpopular government and yet also able to cast himself as a “man of the people” folk hero. That bubble seems to have burst in a way that some cynics may say was inevitable.

Defending himself in The Herald in an interview which was gently but still unusually critical in the tone of the questions asked by the state’s primary propaganda newspaper, Gono said “The cash shortages that we see are a mere symptom of much deeper and greater fundamental misalignments in our economy than the ability or inability of the central bank to provide adequate cash.” In this regard, it was unfortunate that all the blame had been heaped on RBZ, the newspaper quoted Gono as saying.

Went on Gono in the interview, “We are back to economic fundamentals which we must tackle head on… It’s about sanctions whose debilitating effects on the economy and on the ordinary lives of our people must be a matter for which we must all speak with one voice as Zimbabweans to see that these sanctions are lifted. It’s about the productivity of … every form of economic activity in the country. We must raise the bar of productivity to underpin our commercial transactions.”

“It’s also about economic and pricing distortions, which we must deal with decisively. It’s about economic patriotism. It’s about discipline. It’s about building a corrupt-free economy. It’s about international relations. So don’t take a simplistic view of the queues and simplistically place 100 percent responsibility on the central bank or the Governor, however easily tempting or fashionable it might be.”

“That’s my interpretation of the cash queue. In the absence of a disciplined approach to our economic affairs, to corruption, hard work and economic patriotism, the winter of discontent with cash queues will not go away. “

Everything Gono says here is true, of course. But it was all just as true four years ago when he somewhat over-confidently boasted “failure is not an option” amidst warnings that the country’s problems were deeper than could be addressed by monetary measures. For instance, the lifting of sanctions and issues of international relations are beyond the purview of Gono and the RBZ. Yet they are critical components to Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes, and to Gono’s own success as RBZ governor.

All these points had been repeatedly made by many long before Gono came onto the scene as central banker. Some who had made similar points to those Gono is now making were accused of being traitors to the country and forced to resign their positions for publicly stating unpalatable truths. The hope had been that Gono’s reputation as a “favoured son” who enjoyed the particular attention of Mugabe’s ear would give him more leverage than others before him had.

While Gono has clearly been the most powerful central banker yet, with unprecedented latitude to try all sorts of economic experiments, he has met the ultimate brick wall: that there will be no solution to the country’s hyper-inflation or its cash, fuel and other shortages without going back to production, diplomatic, political and other basics which the ruling authorities have shown no inclination to do over the years.

In a way Gono is a victim of his own initial hype and over-promising of what he could achieve in the prevailing political environment. In taking the RBZ job, he gambled that he could influence Mugabe and the politicians to take measures they had resisted before, or alternatively, that he could use his wide-ranging powers to bring about economic improvements even without reform of the rest of the system of governance. The increasing criticism from all sectors of the media and the public suggests many people believe that he has lost his gamble.

Without giving details, in the Herald interview he promises to solve the immediate cash problems in the next several days. But this would seem to contradict his point in the same interview about how the cash queues will not go away without the country addressing a comprehensive raft of other issues than just how much currency the RBZ releases into circulation. Certainly his credibility is at its lowest ebb, even if he still enjoys the fickle Mugabe’s support, which I am not sure anyone knows for certain.

So what next for Gono?

Hyperinflation and the Zim dollar’s depreciation continue unabated, so two major reasons for the current cash shortage will still be in place no matter what he does to assuage the public’s anger about the shortages. The low farming/industrial productivity and international diplomatic isolation issues will likely continue for all sorts of reasons that are way beyond Gono’s ability to do anything about.

With his repeated “failure is not an option” mantra, resignation is not an easy option. I wonder if it is even an option available to him at all. In return for his unprecedented power, prominence and latitude of action as RBZ governor, he may have had to make personal concessions which may not make it possible for him to walk away unless Mugabe now wishes him to go. He may be too deep into the system as the author of many unorthodox interventions to attempt to stop the economy’s slide in the last four years that being seen to abandon the Mugabe ship would not be looked at kindly at all!

Could Mugabe, on reading the public mood of rising disaffection with Gono, be ready to sack him, in a way giving Gono the easiest way out of a continually sinking ship?

This is not unthinkable for a crafty Mugabe who is a master at finding and nailing scapegoats for problems that are ultimately his responsibility. But it is probably unlikely.

Whatever his faults, Gono has indeed worked very hard at a series of unconventional interventions to try to tame Zimbabwe’s economic melt down. Gono has also very carefully always made a sometimes almost slavish loyalty to Mugabe clear.

Unless Mugabe is now ready to go “conventional” in regards to economic management and international relations, he needs someone like Gono who is tireless at trying unconventional measures, no matter how half-baked some of them may be. In an economic environment even worse than when Gono became RBZ governor, it is hard to imagine Mugabe finding anyone as bold and hard-working at trying new things as Gono has proven himself to be. A more conventional economist at the RBZ would recommend to Mugabe the same conventional political and economic measures that Mugabe has found so unpalatable over the years.

Gono will therefore likely continue at the helm of the RBZ and the economy beyond his current term, but with no more illusions on anyone’s part of a dramatic “economic turnaround” on the horizon. Out of frustration at having failed to achieve it, as well as having lost the public and media adulation he wants enjoyed, he may become an increasingly bitter and capricious economic tsar. In the manner of his boss Mugabe in the political sphere, Gono may continue to be “in power” to issue warnings, threats and decrees to various sectors of the economy, but make little difference to the country’s economic slide.

Gono as RBZ governor rose to dizzy heights in public affection on the alluring but dangerous, fleeting back of a masterfully conducted public relations campaign and charm offensive. The only way to have kept that unrealistic momentum was for him to have then produced the kind of economic results which were not possible under an environment in which his boss continued to make statements and decisions that neutralised Gono’s efforts.

Those decisions are often influenced more by short-term populism and patronage considerations than what is in the best interests of the country. And so farms and implements are given to the political elite than to those best able to use them, with the attendant results on productivity, and ultimately, on inflation and the value of the Zim dollar. It is a waste of time to deal with the economic symptoms without addressing the political root causes.

Ditto for the current cash crisis. It is a waste of time to scapegoat a “cash baroness” who is simply a messenger of well connected and protected political players who are the real black marketeers. Gono says he knows most of them, but appears not to want to rock the political boat by naming them. That may be understandable, but the point is that being politically hamstrung like this makes nonsense of his economic efforts, dooming them to failure. Apart from nailing even the highly placed politicians and others who are “fueling” the black market, there is also the fact that only measures that make such a black market un-necessary will eliminate the problem, even if those measures go against Mugabe’s own brand of ideological orthodoxy.

Gono continues to run from pillar to post, trying this and that cosmetic measure to deal with the symptoms of deeper problems he increasingly shows signs of accepting are beyond the ambit of the RBZ to address. The carefully scripted story of his dramatic professional and public-image rise make for gripping melodrama, but his current floundering is also sadly predictable and depressing given the unchangingly negative political environment in which he chose to try to make a lasting positive impact as RBZ governor.

                               
 

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Why the sanctions issue is a red herring

Posted by CM on September 25, 2007

The Mugabe government puts tremendous energy into blaming what it refers to as “illegal sanctions” by Western countries for the Zimbabwean economy being down on its knees, causing untold hardship to the majority of Zimbabweans. The claim is that international aid, credit and investment have largely dried up on the orders of Western governments, unhappy with change which took prime land away from white farmers.

When the representatives of the accused countries bother to respond to these charges, it is usually to say that what have been imposed are merely limited “targeted sanctions” against members of the ruling elite. They deny applying any sort of general economic embargo, or seeking to cause “regime change” by trying to instigate popular rebellion over the hardships. They also point to how they continue to contribute humanitarian aid to relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans, despite the diplomatic impasse.

It is quite clear that economically, things have completely spiraled out of the control of the government. There is little prospect of any change for the better happening before next year’s expected elections, and it is not at all far fetched to imagine things might be much worse by then. Short of improving the situation, therefore, the government finds it convenient and necessary to latch on to sanctions as an explanation for its inability to make living conditions bearable.

The hope is that the electorate will find that classic political explanation (“it is the fault of the Great Enemy”) for their economic plight, and the government’s seeming helplessness in the face of it, convincing enough to avoid a feared thrashing at the polls after almost 10 years of steep decline. It is not likely to impress a significant number of the voters who have been fed this line as they watched their lives deteriorate dramatically.

There are several perspectives from which the Mugabe regime’s blaming sanctions for the economic state of Zimbabwe today is weak.

One major problem of arguing “your suffering is the fault of our enemies” is to seem to absolve oneself of responsibility. Yet whether or not there are Western sanctions against Zimbabwe in place, declared or undeclared; legal or illegal, it is still the responsibility of a government to reduce or prevent the deprivation of its people, and to put in place conditions for an improvement in their standard of life. Sanctions would certainly make this difficult, but they would just be one more out of many obstacles to success. The quality of a government can to a large extent be measured by how well and hard it works to work around these sorts of obstacles.

A Zimbabwean voter cannot be expected to accept putting primary responsibility for his economic fortunes on governments in Europe or North America, over that of his own government. He or she would be quite justified to say at election time, “if you find that the sanctions you allege are in place are an insurmountable barrier to doing your job of running the Zimbabwean economy better than this, then I am exercising my right to give another group of people a try.” This, of course, is exactly what Mugabe & Co. fear many voters will choose to do.

But instead of working harder to have them lifted, or to more effectively get around them, the government merely moans louder about the unfairness and “illegality” of those alleged sanctions. This merely entrenches the appearance of complete helplessness and inability to deal with the issue, which is what the average Zimbabwean cares about at the end of the day, regardless of why and how it came about. Screaming “illegal” sanctions ever louder, as things get worse, suggests the authorities have no coping strategies, and have given up. This is not the kind of image a ruling party that has presided over almost a decade of very dramatic decline can afford to go into an election with.

You cannot boast endlessly about your “sovereignty,” and at the same time whine about how your economy’s fate is not within your hands, but in that of your enemies. It must be one or the other. If we are as “sovereign” as Mugabe never tires of reminding us we are, then our economic performance should not depend on what any other countries do or don’t do. If, by crying “sanctions” every other minute, Mugabe and his regime are admitting that we are a small country whose economic fate cannot be divorced from the international diplomatic standing of it’s government, then we are not quite as “sovereign” as we imagine. In the latter case, diplomatic action beyond helpless whining is called for, and yet silly bravado is all we see and hear.

Suppose Mugabe “won” his sanctions argument. Suppose Western governments said, “You were right Mr. Mugabe, we did impose sanctions, and your fine speeches have made us see the error of our ways. We now hereby formally lift those sanctions.”

Do Mugabe & Co. really believe this is all it would take to make money, goods and investment suddenly flow into Zimbabwe, with no other actions on their part? Can they really be so divorced from reality that fail to understand that there are many other factors which make the typical hard-headed investor look elsewhere than the Zimbabwe of today for opportunities?

A question that is not asked often enough: if our economic calamities are because of sanctions imposed over land reform, why didn’t the government foresee and prepare for them? We are often reminded what tough revolutionaries our rulers are. In preparation for the wholesale takeover of farmland, did none of these revolutionaries think for a moment that it would cause a ruckus, and therefore have short, medium and long term plans to prepare for it? Why has the government seemed so surprised by the reaction its actions have received in Western capitals?

The point here is not that they should only have done what the Western countries approved of. It is, instead, that on having decided to go ahead with measures they knew would be disapproved of by economically powerful countries, they should have had a plan in place to deal with the effects of how that disapproval was expressed. Or was the hoped for “plan”to talk one’s way out of the disapproval with fiery, populist speeches at the U.N.? What naivete for self proclaimed revolutionaries!

Then there is the issue of sanctions busting. Nothing would have earned the Mugabe regime the respect of even its detractors more, than having shown particular agility at the “sovereign” ability to get around the claimed sanctions; to keep things working fairly normally despite them. Or to at least show prospects of even slight recovery after an initial dip, which could then have been explained as merely a transitional hiccup as “the revolution” took hold. This was especially important to show in the agriculture sector, whose overnight wholesale changes were the genesis for all that has followed since. If the government had been able to say, “yes, we know things are hard, but look at all the successes we are beginning to score in the agricultural sector, whose taking over caused the imposition of sanctions in the first place,” people’s reactions to it would have been very different from what they are today.

Comparing the American sanctions on Cuba with those said to be in place against Zimbabwe is pathetic, and ill-advised for the Mugabe government. Cuba has achieved notable successes in areas like agriculture and health despite decades of outrightly declared, strictly enforced U.S. sanctions. They have done this through quite innovative approaches we have not seen our government show in any arena. Cuba’s rulers at least give the appearance of being real revolutionaries, living modestly and wanting to be seen to be sharing any hardships with the people. In Zimbabwe the rulership takes great pride in showing off just how removed from the general populace they are, as if to goad them. So in Cuba one sees some genuine “solidarity” between the governed and the rulers; whereas in Zimbabwe the rulers delight in emphasizing their lordship over the people, “solidarity” being nothing more than a cheap slogan.

It is a pity our opposition parties are so distracted by so many peripheral things. A more focused opposition could have made mincemeat out of the Mugabe government for its attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for the pathetic state of our country with the weak official excuse of “sanctions.”

Chido Makunike

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