THE issue of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe's political elite in ZANU-PF has resurfaced with debate on whether or not these have worked.
Sanctions were imposed on President Robert Mugabe and more than 100 of his associates between 2000 and 2002.
The imposing states maintain that the financial restrictions and travel embargoes were "targeted" at the ruling elite in President Mugabe's administration but the veteran ZANU-PF leader insists that there was nothing "targeted" about them as these were harming the ordinary people, not his lieutenants.
For long considered a pariah State since the 2000 farm seizures that decimated agricultural production and reduced the country from being a breadbasket to a basket case, almost every measure short of military invasion has been taken to isolate ZANU-PF and its leadership.
The suspension of aid and the sanctions have been used as the main weapons to punish ZANU-PF and whip it into line, while the country was forced out of the Commonwealth in 2003.
Having been accustomed to shopping at London's plush and fashionable Harrods, ZANU-PF chefs changed tact and embraced eastern destinations for their shopping junkets. This strategy was extended to foreign policy as the "Look East" policy took effect.
The Asians, particularly the Chinese famed for being ZANU-PF's "all weather friends" did not hesitate: They flocked to the country in their numbers and strengthened ties with Harare while getting lucrative business deals such as mining concessions in the diamond-rich Chiadzwa fields.
Despite the diamond riches, the country's economy has remained in bad shape. The farm seizures affected agricultural output and worsened hunger caused by some ruinous policies and bad weather.
In spite of being the authors of the ruinous economic policies and presiding over worsening corruption, ZANU-PF was not hesitant to the sanctions for the hardships faced by the common folks.
The sanctions mantra became propaganda material used to rally supporters against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai.
Indeed, this was accepted by a huge section of the population, mainly in the rural areas, who believed that western sanctions were solely to blame for the economic downturn the country was experiencing, not to mention the poverty entrapping more than 80 percent of the population.
ZANU-PF organised a "million-man march" to protest against sanctions and pressed the MDCs to call for the lifting of sanctions as one of the clauses on the Global Political Agreement that ushered in the inclusive government.
So, with the reports that the European Union (EU) is considering lifting the sanctions provided the country holds a credible constitutional referendum expected next month, debate is again raging on whether these have been useful and whether the targeted sanctions affected the intended people.
For sure, the political elite in ZANU-PF could no longer holiday in the west, but they managed to visit on official business.
President Mugabe himself could visit the United States on United Nations business and his henchmen easily traversed Europe on duty.
Added to that, most of the individuals on the targeted sanctions list who had their children studying in Europe or America simply transferred them to Asian countries and South Africa when they started having difficulties associated with the measures.
But to diplomats in Western countries, the sanctions should stay until a return to normalcy in Zimbabwe, that is "restoration of human rights" and the holding of free and fair elections.
So, when Britain's Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt announced that his country now wants many of the sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted, this caused a stir in the House of Commons.
Peter Hain, an anti-apartheid campaigner in the 70s, demanded more sanctions on Zimbabwe, not less. He provided what some journalists in Britain called "frightening new evidence that profits from so-called blood diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe have been hijacked to build up a parallel state apparatus capable of being used by ZANU-PF "thugs" for sinister and bloodthirsty ends.
Apparently, Hain had many supporters in the Commons.
Yet British policy towards Zimbabwe now seeks to bring Zimbabwe back to the community of nations. Reportedly Britain's new understanding has already changed many minds in the EU, and the US may well alter course too.
According to some reports, it is now accepted in the Western countries that the sanctions did not achieve any practical good.
"Many people who really know Zimbabwe have argued for some time that, while sanctions were of course justified by the scale of human rights violations when they were imposed a decade ago, they have in practice been a propaganda gift to Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Even though they have been targeted only at a relatively small number of named individuals, skilful politicians have been able to blame them for many of the economic calamities of the past few years," reads part of a report in United Kingdom-based Daily Telegraph.
More importantly, with watershed elections expected this year, political analysts argue that the sanctions debate has to be settled now as a way of reassuring ZANU-PF bigwigs that if their party loses, no harm will be visited on them.
This reconciliatory mood is seen as a carrot and stick initiative essential in guaranteeing a peaceful transition and reconciliation in a country where securocrats have threatened to stage a coup if President Mugabe loses, saying that they will never salute PM Tsvangirai in the event he wins the presidency.
With President Mugabe and rivals PM Tsvangirai, MDC leader Welshman Ncube and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara having recently agreed a deal finalising the country's new constitution expected to be put to a referendum next month, the head of the EU delegation to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia's statement that the group would suspend sanctions against the country if the referendum is "peaceful and credible" have been seen as crucial as they have implications for the general elections too.
The EU partially lifted the sanctions last year but retained travel and other financial sanctions on President Mugabe and most of his top associates.
Although both President Mugabe and Tsvangirai insist the coalition is no longer workable, the arrangement is credited with helping ease political tensions in the country and helping put the economy on the path to recovery.