Southern African Countries Back Zimbabwe Demanding Lifting of Western Sanctions

Zimbabwe president Mnangagwa
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President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Could U.K. invite signal beginning of thaw? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.  

Zimbabwe has stepped up efforts on various fronts to have the decades-long sanctions imposed by Britain, the U.S. and their western allies lifted.

Ever since Zimbabwe leader Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed office following the exit of Robert Mugabe, the country has been on a diplomatic offensive to push for re-engagement with Britain, the U.S. and other western countries.

Sanctions have stifled foreign direct investment and hampered efforts to modernize all key sectors of the economy. As part of efforts to bring the impact of sanctions sharper focus, Zimbabwe has rallied the “SADC Against Sanctions” campaign under the theme: “Zimbabwe: Friend to All, Enemy to None: Forging ahead and Enhancing Innovation and Productivity in Adversity of Sanctions,” to generate greater cohesion among SADC countries in the fight against this external threat.

The South African Development Community (SADC) is the powerful grouping of 16 primarily Southern African countries. October 25, has been set aside as the “SADC Against Sanctions” day. The campaign has been given a firm platform for which Zimbabwe can tackle Britain, the U.S. and their western allies over the sanctions.

The 16-member SADC bloc has repeatedly called on Britain, the U.S. and EU to lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe as this policy was hurting the region as a whole. The sanctions were imposed in 2002 when, under President Mugabe, the country made a bold step to roll out the Fast Track Land Reform program to resettle thousands of landless Africans on large tracts of land that were taken from them during the colonial era by Europeans.

Sanctions have crippled development in the country and has seen the EU unfairly listing the country among the countries with “strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism.”

This week, Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs minister Frederick Shava met the EU Commissioner responsible for overseeing international cooperation and development, Jutta Urpilainen, in Brussels and expressed concern over the listing.

“We did emphasis that this is an unfair listing and that our systems had not been consulted and we indicated that Zimbabwe had a system to investigate money laundering and has an independent judiciary which would try anyone in courts in that regard,” Shava said. “We also indicated that we have an Anti-Corruption Commission, which continuously looks at our situations and brings culprits to book.

“We urged the EU therefore to remove Zimbabwe from the list in order to facilitate seamless cross border transactions and to assist the capacity building of our institutions that handle the countering of financing of terrorism.”

Zimbabwe strongly believes that the removal of sanctions would attract Western investors to the country after close to two decades of economic isolation. Shava is on a diplomatic offensive mission to Europe where he is engaging with foreign affairs ministers of France, Belgium, Italy and Serbia.

Zimbabwe has stood firm and reiterated to the international community that the Land Reform Program was irreversible and was implemented to correct colonial injustices.

The U.S. administration has extended economic sanctions by a year, saying they would not be removed unless political reforms take place.

More than 141 entities and top officials in Zimbabwe are on the U.S. sanction list. The impact of sanctions has been felt in critical sectors covering the manufacturing sector, banking and finance, air and military defense and the medical sector.

SADC member states are expected to collectively voice their disapproval of sanctions against Zimbabwe through various events on October 25.

EU sanctions include targeted asset freezes and travel bans. Zimbabwe blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, which is characterized by high inflation and an acute shortage of foreign currency. Over the years Zimbabwe has notched up some successes in rallying other countries to condemn the sanctions.

China, Russia and most African countries have spoken against the sanctions. The late Tanzanian leader John Magufuli, who at one point, was chair of SADC, spoke strongly against the continued imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe. “These sanctions have not only affected the people of Zimbabwe and their government but the entire region. It is like a human body, when you chop one of its parts it affects the whole body,” he said in August 2019. “Therefore, I would like to seize this opportunity to urge the international community to lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. This brotherly country after all has now opened a new chapter and it is ready to engage with the rest of the world. It is therefore, I believe, in the interest of all parties concerned to see these sanctions removed.”

There are some signs that Zimbabwe’s diplomatic offensive is paying dividends.

The UK has extended an invitation to President Mnangagwa to attend the Conference of Parties (COP 26) global climate conference in that country. Some analysts see this as a positive sign and a golden opportunity for Zimbabwe to illuminate its case against sanctions and to put track its re-engagement efforts with Western countries.

Of course, it’s not a diplomatic victory as such, but this gives Zimbabwe a unique platform to sell the government’s reform agenda to world leaders.

Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He can be reached via  sifelani11@gmail.com

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