It was a catchy headline. Sanctions don’t create potholes, US Envoy– it said.
“The US takes great care to minimise any unintended consequences from targeted sanctions and I can tell you that my embassy works hard to try to resolve any that may arise. But, blaming targeted sanctions for Zimbabwe’s serious economic challenges or for issues such as potholes and road accidents is diversionary,” the story quoted United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton as saying.
“Worse, such statements do not acknowledge Zimbabwe’s agency, its ability to address its challenges and to mobilize its magnificent natural resources and human capital. Zimbabwe is tremendously blessed in human and natural resources, and the narrative that targeted sanctions are the reason for economic woes undermines and obscures this nation’s vast capabilities.”
With the economic crisis that the country is facing and the cases of corruption that have been exposed recently, one is tempted to agree with the ambassador. But it is all hogwash. It is a very narrow view of looking at things. Sanctions on Zimbabwe are not targeted at individuals but at the country as a whole. And they are financial sanctions meant to cripple the country, make it ungovernable and thus force the people to revolt.
This was clearly stated by the United States embassy in Harare after the failure of the mass stay-away organised by the Movement for Democratic Changed in 2003, dubbed The Final Push. The embassy described it as a failure and attributed this to lack of a culture of violence in the country. The embassy said the disappointing turnout for the planned street marches “illustrated definitively that the population was not yet prepared to suddenly undertake high-risk activist behaviour in defiance of the regime”.
If the country was already collapsing from 1997 as the ambassador implied, why were the sanctions imposed four years later?
Sanctions do indeed create potholes because Zimbabwe has been barred from accessing multilateral credit for more than a decade. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act passed in 2001 to enable Washington to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe clearly states under: “MULTILATERAL FINANCING RESTRICTION” that “Until the President makes the certification described in subsection (d), and except as may be required to meet basic human needs or for good governance, the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States 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; or
- any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.
ZDERA defined the financing institutions as: the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency.
So how can the sanctions be said to be targeted at individuals? In fact, people must be wondering how Zimbabwe has survived up to now, because as far back as 2003, the United States embassy in Harare where Wharton worked as a public affairs officer, was already writing about the “day after” Mugabe recommendations.
The embassy said if Mugabe went and was replaced by a reformist government, the United States would have to fund democracy programmes through institutions like The Voice of America which was already broadcasting to Zimbabwe through Studio 7, the State University of New York which was training Zimbabwe’s Members of Parliament, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute which were working with several non-governmental organisations including the Zimbabwe Elections Supervisory Network.
The embassy even saw business opportunities for some US companies. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import (Exim) Bank would consider loan guarantees for projects that promoted US exports. General Electric would rejuvenate locomotives for the National Railways of Zimbabwe. Caterpillar would provide machines at coal-miner Wankie. Boeing would provide jets to Air Zimbabwe. And Zimbabwe would be admitted to the African Growth and Opportunity Act sessions.
The United States was so determined to see a change in government that it set up Studio 7 as a surrogate station to replace the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, according to an evaluation report by the Expect More programme under George Bush. It cost the American taxpayer US$5.22 to reach a single Zimbabwean while it cost Voice of America, which owns Studio 7, only 27 US cents to reach its Swahili audience in East Africa and US 6 cents to reach its Hausa audience in Nigeria. The evaluation showed that though Studio 7 was started to replace the ZBC, its audience awareness never exceeded 25 percent. It was 20 percent in 2004, the same in 2005, rose to 24 percent in 2006 but fell to 23 percent in 2007.
The effect of sanctions on Zimbabwe and the fallacy that they are targetted at a few individuals including President Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants was aptly summed by Matthew Smith of the Zimbabweans Against Sanctions group.
“Whether you call them smart or targeted measures or financial sanctions, their effect has neither been smart nor targeted as it consumed Zimbabwe and all its citizens in one and the same negative way without discrimination,” he said. “Our development as a nation is being hamstrung by the sanctions. Lifting of sanctions would be a huge way forward and hopefully the British can give us an audience and help with the lifting of sanctions.”
Coming from a white Zimbabwean, the group that is supposed to benefit from any regime change, this is a loaded statement. Wharton cannot play on sentimentalism any longer. It is this hypocrisy that led Mugabe to win last year’s elections. People now see through the Western veil.