The efficacy of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the European Union and the United States remains a contested issue both within and outside the country.
It is now nearly two decades since Zimbabwe has been under the strictures of sanctions and the ramifications of this coercive and cohesive foreign policy tool by the West have been felt both in the public and private sectors, and throughout society at large.
Sanctions have been used to address a wide spectre of issues ranging from terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons, human rights violations and democracy, only to mention but a few. International law has been the basis of the use of sanctions.
The objectives include deterring a target from engaging in unlawful behaviour, compelling an offending state to dispose of or cease behaviour that the sanctioner considers wrongful, changing the target state’s behaviour by subverting the incumbent wrong-doers, playing a punitive role or expressing a policy position symbolically to one’s own public or to other states in the international system.
While reasons for imposing sanctions have varied since the demise of the Soviet Union, Zimbabwe (pre-colonial and post-Independence) has been a recipient of economic sanctions. Rhodesia under Ian Smith, received sanctions from the UN in an effort to compel the country to abandon the unjust and unfair unilateralism against the black majority.
At the turn of the millennium, the sanctions which were once used to whip the Smith regime into line struck back again, this time on a sovereign state. From 2000 to 2003 Zimbabwe received a wide range of sanctions from Britain, the European Union (EU), the United States (US), New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
These sanctions ranged from targeted “smart sanctions” on individuals in government and outside government, to broad and deadly economic sanctions meant to kill the Zimbabwe economy and force President Mugabe out of power.
ZANU PF stalwarts and some state-owned enterprises were also sanctioned. Even private businesses were sanctioned indirectly as they were unable to borrow from abroad as they used to do before the sanctions regime set in.
Multipolarity won the day when China and Russia vetoed military aggression on Zimbabwe by Western powers such as the United States, Britain and France. The road has been a bumpy one since then.
The legality of the sanctions remains a contested issue, with ZANU PF on one hand trashing the sanctions as illegal and a violation of international law, whilst on the other hand the sanctioners and MDC-T (now MDC-A) insist the sanctions are in line with international law.
The ruling party argues that the sanctions are illegitimate for the reason that they were imposed outside the ambit and mandate of the UN, referring to Article 2 subsection (3) of the UN Charter which requires states to settle their disputes amicably first by resorting to conciliation, arbitration, negotiation.
While doing so, the authorities should also consider implementing preconditions required for the lifting of these sanctions so that Zimbabwe can restore its yesteryear glory as the Jewel of Africa.
The use of travel bans on targeted individuals had limited effect while sanctions on companies had far reaching implications. For instance, former President Robert Mugabe would religiously attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York despite having a travel ban.
Sadly sanctions have made it difficult for Zimbabwe to normalise relations with the Bretton Woods institutions in which the US has a large stake.
As Zimbabwe joins other SADC countries in pushing for the lifting of sanctions, we make a clarion call to the authorities to leave the diplomatic doors open. Zimbabwe should also consider deepening South-South cooperation and North-South cooperation as it endeavours to be part of the global community.
At the end of the day, the sanctions must be lifted, especially the American sanctions that have made life so terrible to live in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe deserves to be an equal member of the community of nations.