EU lifts Zimbabwe sanctions: Why is no one happy?

By Simon Allison 20 February 2013

In an uncharacteristic fit of optimism, the European Union has praised Zimbabwe’s political reform and lifted some sanctions against top Zanu-PF members. This hasn’t made them any new friends, however. Zanu’s annoyed because they didn’t lift all the sanctions, South Africa is frustrated because Europe’s still not listening, and most analysts can’t figure out what the EU is so encouraged by. By SIMON ALLISON.

Finally, some good news for Zimbabwe. Sort of. As they do every year, the august members of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council met in Brussels on Monday to cast their judgment on the world’s problem areas, an annual meeting which invariably includes some mention of Zimbabwe, especially because the EU has led the way in imposing sanctions against Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe’s rule.

This year, however, their conclusions were a little more positive than usual. “The EU welcomes the agreement reached by the political parties in Zimbabwe on a draft constitution and the announcement of a referendum,” read a statement released by the council. “This step forward in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement adds further momentum to the reform process and paves the way for the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections.”

In recognition of Zimbabwe’s progress, the EU decided to turn some of its sanctions sticks into carrots. A total of 21 Zanu-PF members have been removed from the list of people facing travel and assets bans, while a further six cabinet members – including information minister Webster Shamu – have been cleared to travel to Europe. As carrots go, it’s not a big one, but it’s a symbol nonetheless that in Europe, at least, they think Zimbabwe is on the right track.

Still, in Zimbabwe, the news was not met with universal acclaim. While Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change hailed the partial lifting of sanctions as a welcome gesture, Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo was typically upset at Europe’s continued involvement: “Lifting of the illegal sanctions must be unconditional and total,” he said. “We believe the current move to partially lift the illegal sanctions is intended to serve the interests of nations that want rough diamonds from our mines. They should just remove the sanctions totally.”

Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s international relations advisor and leader of the South African team which is facilitating the implementation of the Global Peace Agreement in Zimbabwe, echoed the Zanu-PF position (although far more diplomatically). Zulu told the Daily Maverick that South Africa, as mandated by SADC, has been urging the EU to lift the sanctions completely, and that South Africa did not support the EU’s gradual approach – although she was pleased that “now they can see that progress is being made.”

And this, really, is the interesting question: has progress there really been made? Are the reforms in Zimbabwe sticking? Is the Global Peace Agreement any closer to genuine implementation?

Less partial observers aren’t so sure. The sceptics question Europe’s motives, noting that Belgium had called for the state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation to be removed from the sanctions list, allowing Zimbabwe to resume the exportation of diamonds and gold. This, however, was quite sensibly blocked by other European countries, aware that mines – and particularly the infamous Marange diamond field – play a central role in propping up Zanu-PF’s rule.

Regardless of motives, it is uncertain – some say unlikely – whether the reforms so lauded by the EU will stick. There are no firm dates for either the referendum or the election, and finance minister Tendai Biti is desperately trying to raise the US$100 million Zimbabwe needs to hold the referendum, going cap in hand to local businesses to see if he can generate extra cash that way. If the referendum does go ahead, the constitution that will be voted on is deeply flawed, a product of political compromise rather than consultation. Critics argue that it clears the way for Mugabe to remain in office for another decade, and retains too much power in the office of the executive presidency.

“Mugabe has constantly failed to reform the economy and politics of Zimbabwe. His governing elite ensure that a small few become grotesquely wealthy and powerful, at the expense of the people and the rule of law,” said JusticeZimbabwe, a campaign group which represents the rights of dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers. “We believe today’s decision to reward Mugabe in response to nothing will compound this behaviour.”

One analyst who has been watching the reform process very closely is Ray Ndlovu, a journalist who covers Zimbabwe for both Business Day and the Mail & Guardian. He also thought the European Union may be a little over-optimistic with their encouraging assessment of Zimbabwe’s progress:

“Not much has been done in the way of political reform in Zimbabwe. Zanu has been able to window dress the issues,” he told the Daily Maverick. “The reality on the ground is far from this. Police raids and intimidation persists as we head to the elections.”

He added that the European sanctions had lost their potency anyway. “Zanu has reached a point where I don’t think they care anymore about these sanctions, they have developed a tough skin. One official I spoke to said that even if he was removed from sanctions list, he ‘won’t go to Europe, it’s cold and it’s in recession’. If that is a reflection of the prevailing attitude then, then sanctions have truly lost their impact against Mugabe et al.”

In other words, it’s business as usual: Europe’s cold, Zimbabwe’s doesn’t seem to have made much political progress and absolutely no one’s happy with the EU. DM

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Photo: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai attend a joint meeting of senior members of their respective parties to discuss political violence, in Harare November 11, 2011.  REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo


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