It’s time to engage Zimbabwe with a view to lifting sanctions

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Picture: Jae C. Hong/AP/African News Agency (ANA)

Why is Zimbabwe’s economic crisis persisting and the economic sanctions applied by the western countries not lifted? After all, President Robert Mugabe has long ago left the political stage and subsequently passed on.

By David Monyae

Like South Africa, Zimbabwe had a significant number of white farmers, who not only dominated the political scene up to independence but continued to dominate the economy through ownership and profitable exploitation of that most important asset for which the struggle for economic independence was primarily waged: land.

Thus, when the Mugabe administration embarked on a haphazard land redistribution policy, white farmers were inescapably affected. This inevitably antagonised the British government, and relations between Zimbabwe and the UK became particularly fraught, especially during Tony Blair’s Premiership.

In 1999, civil society organisations and trade unions renounced their indirect opposition and formed a political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Because of the fractious nature of Zimbabwe’s political scene during the Mugabe years, cases of violence among political players were a common feature, more so during elections. The government was blamed and incurred sanctions from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Zimbabwe pursued a ‘Look East’ “policy decidedly pivoted towards China” as the ambassador puts it. One of the most endearing aspects of China’s foreign policy towards African countries, especially those like Zimbabwe that endure Western sanctions and censure, is the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of partner-countries.

While China offers some respite, Zimbabwe still has to deal with the $5.6 billion (R82.38 billion) “owed to multilateral creditors such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank and bilateral creditors grouped under the rubric of the Paris Club and other non-Paris Club creditors, (which) disqualified Zimbabwe from accessing new financing for developmental programmes and productive sectors.”

Amid all the sullen realities, Zimbabwe has a lot of redeeming features; most importantly, it has “a literate, skilled, resilient and resourceful people within the country. Beyond its borders, it had a diaspora that, through remittances, helped to sustain families and communities and had the potential to contribute more to the development of the national economy.”

If Zimbabwe is to realise its ambition of being a middle income country by 2030, it will have to capitalise on the munificence and support of its partners, but also be seen to be determined to sanitise a highly volatile political landscape.

Vision 2030 is not merely tailored to improve the economy. It envisages for Zimbabwe “a path full of freedoms, democracy, transparency, love and harmony. A path of dialogue and debate. A path of unity, peace and development.”

The government has chosen a neo-liberal path to achieve Vision 2030. This path entails transparency and recourse for citizens that want to hold the government accountable.

Violently cracking down on opposition protesters bodes ill for Zimbabwe’s international reputation. The country cannot continue to isolate countries that have imposed sanctions on it.

The current government needs to create a conducive political climate and genuinely good international appeal.

It is, therefore, important for Britain to meaningfully re-engage Zimbabwe to find ways of normalising relations and lifting sanctions.

* Monyae is the director of Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.