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Targetted sanctions helping Mugabe

The sanctions against Zimbabwe are supposed to hurt the clique surrounding president Mugabe. They may be having the opposite effect.

By Peter Vermaas in Harare

Two young men with dreadlocks hung around idly near a mall in Eastlea, one of the better suburbs in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, waiting for a potential employer to pick them up.

They had folders filled with references and resumés with them, and approached every car that rolled onto the parking lot, hoping to find work. “But there is no work,” Jason Chivunga sighed, “because of the sanctions.”

His former classmate, Blessing Kwaramba, nodded in agreement. “We are suffering for it. If there was no boycott, Zimbabwe would reach for the stars. Why are we still being punished?”

The two were no fans of President Robert Mugabe – who was elected to Zimbabwe’s highest office exactly thirty years ago last week. Like almost everybody else here, they support opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who became prime minister in February last year as a member of a government of national unity.

But the two unemployed Tsvangirai aficionados were anything but immune to Mugabe’s political propaganda. Like many of their compatriots throughout the country, they believe the European Union and the United States are leaving Zimbabwe little breathing room. “We want to trade internationally again,” Kwaramba said. “Then we will be able to get back to work.”

Sanctions extended

In the past few weeks, the EU and the US announced they would be extending sanctions against Zimbabwe by another year because the governing parties there have made too little progress in implementing the power-sharing agreement reached after the disputed elections of 2008.

The Netherlands and the UK were most vocal in their support of the extension. Human rights, media restrictions and land reform have seen the least improvement. The prospective deputy minister Roy Bennett    , of Tsvangirai’s MDC party, has yet to be inaugurated by Mugabe, and other ministerial appointments have also led to disagreements.

“But Zimbabwe can trade as it pleases,” a European diplomat emphasised. The “restrictive measures,” as the sanctions are known officially, “only apply to a small clique of Mugabe loyalists. The man on the street is not hurt by them at all,” he added.

The president, his family and a number of prominent members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party are not allowed to travel to Europe and the US, and a small clique of entrepreneurs affiliated with Mugabe is not allowed to do business in the US.

The trade embargo only applies to arms, but Mugabe has been able to portray the sanctions as the cause of all Zimbabwe’s problems in the public eye, especially in rural areas. When the International Monetary Fund refused to grant Zimbabwe, a country that owes billions in debt, any further loans, people were quick to blame the sanctions.

A food shortage caused by a local drought and the collapse of the country’s agricultural sector? The sanctions at work.

“Ironically enough, the sanctions have ended up serving Mugabe’s interests,” said David Coltart, shadow minister of education. “The president can blame the West for the economic crisis and all Zimbabwe’s other problems. In cabinet, he has used the sanctions as an excuse for lack of progress in implementing the power-sharing agreement.”

South Africa wants end to sanctions

The sanctions have also led to “pointless irritations” within government ranks, said Hasu Patel, a political analyst and the former ambassador of Zimbabwe in Australia. “A very trivial matter is undermining personal relationships,” he said. He also argued the sanctions did little good to the EU and the US. “The European Union and the United States give Zimbabwe millions of dollars in humanitarian aid. But thanks to the sanctions they get no recognition whatsoever.”

Last week , while meeting with British prime minister Gordon Brown on a formal visit to England, the South African president, Jacob Zuma, argued the sanctions against the Zanu leadership should be lifted. “What have sanctions done to help the situation?” Mr Zuma asked the Financial Times in an interview. “Zanu-PF says [it is] in a cabinet of this unity government.

But part of the cabinet can go anywhere in the world for their work and part [the Zanu PF members] can’t go out of the country. This unity government is being suffocated. It is not being allowed to do its job by the big countries.”

Zuma’s argument was greeted with protest in London, but sources surrounding the negotiations in Harare said the South African president’s remarks, made so shortly after sanctions were extended, mainly served a strategic purpose. Zuma was only trying to get on Mugabe’s good side in an attempt to lure him back to the negotiating table with the opposition, they claimed.

Mike Mataure, a former parliamentarian for Mugabe’s Zanu party, wondered if a “creative solution” could not be found to fix the problem. “I understand that revoking the sanctions so shortly after an extension would be a hard sell in Europe and America,” he laughed, as he sat in his Harare office.

“But wouldn’t it be possible to suspend them for a few months? Or take a few names off the list? The West cannot do business with the MDC and Tsvangirai alone. This government will never work without Zanu,” he said.

Weak sanctions yield little power

Prime minister Tsvangirai has also implied he feels the sanctions should be lifted to allow negotiations over thorny issues to proceed more smoothly. “But control over the sanctions is the only weapon the MDC has at the negotiating table,” a European diplomat protested. “If you take that away, Mugabe will be back in full control again.”

“In reality, these sanctions are actually very weak and of little consequence. So how much power does that really give us?” asked MDC minister Coltart. The travel embargo has irked the Zanu leadership the most.

“But I wonder what will happen once Mugabe is allowed to fly to London again,” Coltart asked. “Will he gain influence? Of course not. I think his reputation will only suffer once his wife Grace can shop at Harrods as she pleases again.” NRC Handelsblad

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