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Did Smith fare better than Mugabe under sanctions?

By Tendai Kwari

Some questions are better not asked. Some questions are better asked for posterity.

Former Rhodesian PM Ian Smith
Former Rhodesian PM Ian Smith

After the proclamation he explained: “There can be no happiness in a country while the absurd situation continues to exist where people, such as ourselves, who have ruled themselves with an impeccable record for over 40 years, are denied what is freely granted to other countries.”

Well, this is not R.G Mugabe. This was Ian Douglas Smith after severing links with the British Crown. In return, Britain responded by imposing a full-range of sanctions including ceasing all British aid to and preferential treatment for Rhodesia, banning the import of Rhodesian tobacco and recalling the British High Commissioner.

The economy of Rhodesia did not collapse.

This is now Robert Gabriel Mugabe in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on smart sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. “Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies.”

“Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources. Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country.” President Mugabe said the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and the US violated the UN charter on state sovereignty and condemned them as a “foreign-policy tool to effect regime change”.

The sacred question to ask, though unpalatable to some Zimbabweans, did Smith fare well against adversity? The sanctions imposed on Rhodesia took years to effect change.

In fact, it was the military might of the guerrilla forces [ZANLA and ZIPRA] that catalysed the change. Successful sanctions must work quickly and by themselves to bring about the presumed objective. Are smart sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe to effect regime change really working?

In fact, the current sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are only smart sanctions, targeted to a few, less than 200 individuals. Some school of thought would argue that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe should be lifted because ZANU-PF is using them as a scapegoat for its poor economic performance.

ZANU-PF would successfully use Britain and US hostility as a banner to gunner sympathy and support. Since the imposition of the smart sanctions on Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF is still in power.

The former Finance Minister, Mr. Tendai Biti once called on the international community to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe and its officials, saying they are “not serving anyone.”

“The use of sanctions and isolation, I think they’ve outlived their usefulness,” he said. How sincere was Mr. Biti? What was their intended usefulness? Was it to effect the failed regime change?

Throughout history, sanctions, as an economic tool intended to effect political change has relatively limited success. I have a view that the severe economic difficulties bedevilling Zimbabwe are far more to poor economic policies and mismanagement.

The problems we face are more to corruption, politics of patronage, nepotism, stale and recycled government officials. No one is keen to invest in an unpredictable and politically volatile environment.

The aim of Britain and USA was to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. Similarly in 1965, The United Kingdom’s decision not to use military force against Ian Smith’s regime meant that a change of course had to come from within Rhodesia, motivated by external economic pressure.

The goal of the pressure was that one in Rhodesia should experience a fall in real wages and a rise in unemployment and inflation.

This should again lead to a massive emigration of white Rhodesians, which would undermine the country’s socio-economic structure or at least create enough dissatisfaction among the white part of the population that they would reconsider their support to both Smith and the Rhodesian Front.

This could not happen in Rhodesia.

Others can argue that apartheid South Africa continued trade with Ian Smith’s regime when it was under sanctions. Similarly today, post-apartheid South Africa and China trade and support the ZANU-PF led government.

However, the smart sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were designed to strengthen MDC movement, which was meant to effect regime change from within, motivated by external economic pressure. Zimbabweans experienced a fall in real wages and a rise in unemployment and inflation.

This led to a massive emigration of Zimbabweans, which has undermined the country’s socio-economic structure. It created enough dissatisfaction among the former ZANU-PF supporters, forcing them to support MDC. ZANU-PF would argue that the sudden upheaval was a result of the smart sanctions imposed on them. Really?

One can further argue that the problems bedevilling Zimbabweans are more to do with economic mismanagement and corruption than the imposed smart sanctions. Britain and America should be dismayed that regime change, by the use of smart sanctions has failed; yet they have to be seen to be doing something.

ZANU-PF will continue to tell the electorate that it is the smart sanctions causing their misery. The targeted individuals in ZANU-PF are still flying to China, Singapore, Malaysia and living an extravagant lifestyle. ZANU-PF is still in power. The majority of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty and the sanctions must be lifted. They are not serving any purpose.

Britain and USA should also learn that effecting regime change in foreign lands through military action, promoting internal strife and sanctions is far less productive. They should learn from their mistakes in Libya and Egypt.

Peace is not brought by the sword. NO. Engaging the targeted regimes for a diplomatic dialogue and resolution is more rewarding and minimises the suffering of the general populace.

One Charles Eliot Norton once said, “If a war be undertaken…before the resources of peace have been tried and proved vain to secure it, that war has no defence, it is a national crime.”

You can follow Tendai Kwari on twitter via @tendaikwari