22 June 2012

Zimbabwe: Sanctions - Back to Basics

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THE conversation around the issue of sanctions or targeted measures against Zimbabwe is once again simmering; given that the European Union (EU) is due to meet in July to assess its position. Early in June 2012, we had the inter-ministerial team meeting the EU foreign policy chief -- lady Catherin Ashton -- presumably to call for the unconditional removal of these measures or sanctions.

There is a climax that is building up towards the July EU meeting and the eventual position that will be taken at that meeting.

The sensationalisation of the sanctions or targeted measures debate saw the ZANU-PF shade of the Government of National Unity (GNU) launching the Anti-Sanctions campaign in 2011, amid pomp and funfair. The party went around to campaign for two million signatures against the sanctions which they now claim they managed to surpass.

We have also seen the Attorney General leading a team of legal experts to the European Court to lodge a case against the passaged and continued application of the sanctions or targeted measures against Zimbabwe. Honourable Guy Georgias -- a deputy Minister in the GNU -- has also lodged another court case, distasting the effects of these sanctions or measures on his business -- Trinity Engineering.

Whereas in 2010, the MDC parties (especially the MDC-T) was not clear on a position on the sanctions or measures, this time around the party has been unequivocally calling for their absolute removal.

We have heard Tendai Biti, while on a visit to the USA, Elton Mangoma actually led the inter-Ministerial team to Brussels in June 2012, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has also been part of this call, David Coltart (from the other faction of the MDC) has also called for unconditional removal and so have Pricilla Misihariabwi-Mushonga and Welshman Ncube.

There is now political convergence in calling for the removal of these measures/sanctions. Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been for some time calling for their removal too.

Civil society's position has however been somehow unclear -- of course all depending on which civil society and whose civil society. As many may be aware, ZANU-PF has created its own civil society organizations, the MDC parties also have civil society organisations that are blatantly aligned to them, then there are other genuine citizen-driven civil society organisations (regrettably these are few) and then there are some whose identity is outrightly confusing.

It now remains for the EU to take a position on exactly how it will deliberate and decide on the sanctions/measures. It will definitely be a problematic issue for the EU as it has too many pros and cons.

There was a time when ZANU-PF intimated that the MDC parties were the ones that called for the sanctions. There was also once some debate in the UK parliament where David Milliband (who was then Foreign Secretary) indicated that the British position on sanctions would be informed by guidance from the MDC parties. As undiplomatic as that statement came it also gave ZANU-PF the arsenal to argue that the MDC parties were therefore part of the fray of the sustenance or maintenance of the sanctions/measures.

Now that the MDC parties have joined the ZANU-PF band (which is playing every tune for the unconditional removal of sanctions) are we going to see the British and eventually the EU listening and abiding to those tunes?

The EU and the British are likely to consider more of the politics than stark rationale. They have so much domestic pressure and want to be seen as decisively dealing with any form of suspected tyranny and mis-governance. Will they not be seen to be warming up to Mugabe if they remove the measures/sanctions?

Their decision is not likely to be about any broader issues and neither will it be seen as such in their domestic enclaves. It will be deduced as a British/EU versus Mugabe tussle. If they keep the measures/sanctions or even tighten them, this will be perceived as a victory and/or pressure over Mugabe.

If they act otherwise, their domestic quarters will read that as Mugabe's victory over the British or the EU. This is therefore the gridlock of the whole sanctions/measures debate as we countdown towards the EU meeting in July 2012.

The MDC parties are immaterial in this tussle, they are inconsequential. By having them sing the same song as ZANU-PF, this may only serve as far as their local political diplomacy is concerned but it will not move the EU and the British.

The EU and the British will not want to be seen to fall short on Mugabe; they do not want to allow any breathing space that will hint at Mugabe's escape from their noose.

We must begin to realise that Mugabe has sacrificed his country in his tussle with the British and the Western bloc. On the other hand, the Western bloc and the British have been over-driven by their obsession on submerging Mugabe.

Despite the rhetoric we hear from other ZANU-PF functionaries against the British and West -- it is all a veneer -- the real pitch of the battle is Mugabe in his personhood. Most ZANU-PF leaders are in personal business, social or political dealings with the British and the Western bloc anyway.

So what will likely happen at the EU meeting in July is that; they will take what will seem a "middle-of-the-road" decision, which still, however, allows them to keep their noose on Mugabe as an individual. They will further remove some names -- only those considered distant to Mugabe -- and maintain a smaller number of those considered either close or causative to Mugabe's perceived victory over them.

The EU block may also relax some measures but will not tamper with anything that will likely create an impression of Mugabe being "let-off-the-hook".

The stakes are so high in the battle between Mugabe and the West/British, the pride levels have inflated so much that no one side wants to let go first. However, this will likely become the greatest spoiler of any genuine need for the normalisation of relations between Zimbabwe and the Western bloc. Even if it makes sense now for the EU to suspend the sanctions/measures in order to try and induce reforms -- that may not happen as long as Mugabe is still the last man in the defence line of the Zimbabwean government and state.

This sanctions/measures game is therefore nothing short of the Mugabe/Western bloc tussle whose breakthrough may still dodge us even after the July 2012 EU meeting. We are back to the basics of the sanctions/measures game -- its Mugabe versus the West.

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