Zimbabwe will reach two decades under United States economic sanctions in December this year. The sanctions have had a debilitating effect on the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans and there seems to be no solution in sight despite the re-engagement initiatives.
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner rapporteur Alena Douhan was dispatched to Zimbabwe to investigate the effects of the US economic sanctions on the country. However, it is clear that Zimbabwe’s economy has been in the doldrums and there has been a decline in social services to the citizens in the past 20 years.
The sanctions law
The sanctions on Zimbabwe were imposed in December 2001. They have been overseen by four US presidents; George Walker Bush, Barack Hussein Obama, Donald Trump and lately Joseph Biden.
The sanctions were introduced by an Act of Congress – Public Law 107-99-December 21, 2001 generally known as Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZIDERA). The law was later amended and signed by Trump in 2018.
Specifically, the sanctions are spelt out in section 4(2)(c) of the Act. It reads: “Until the President makes the certification described in subsection (d), and except as may be required to meet basic human needs or for good governance, the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against—
“(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.”
This contentious clause is rarely discussed in mainstream media and the United States does not speak to it but section 6 that deals with sanctions against cited Zimbabwean individuals.
According to the Act, the United States directors at the multi-lateral financial institutions cited are to oppose any fresh loans or cancellation of debt to Zimbabwe. The institutions are International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency.
This has brought untold suffering on Zimbabwe as its currency has been on a free fall against major currencies, it cannot import and repair its industries and its economy continues on the downward trend with more than 80% unemployment in the formal sector.
China: Filling the gaps
In essence, since 2001, Zimbabwe had to rely on bilateral loans and these have mainly come from China. The loans have been for infrastructure development mainly roads, airports, energy and telecommunications and water treatment and reticulation for the capital city Harare.
China has also extended grants to Zimbabwe for the construction of schools, hospitals and parliament buildings. In exchange, China has got massive mining concessions.
The sanctions have been biting, particularly for the common citizen. In the past two decades, Harare has experienced two cholera pandemics claiming over 5 000 lives and thousands temporarily hospitalised. The threat is not gone as many households in the urban centres struggle to get potable water daily.
The citizens have had to endure rolling power cuts, sometimes lasting 18 hours a day because of the ageing electricity power plants. The country cannot rely on the European suppliers who installed the first plants as they are beholden to the US.
Industries have closed sending tens of thousands to be thrown into the streets. The unemployment problems have created a new problem of social vice or emigration of the youth into regional countries but mainly South Africa. Some have gone to Australia or Europe.
The poor millions
The sanctions have indirectly become a burden to the region, particularly South Africa that today is home to thousands if not a million undocumented immigrants from Zimbabwe. They are now exerting a lot of pressure on social services like health and education.
Twice in the past decade, South Africa has witnessed xenophobia attacks or some prefer calling it Afrophobia since only black immigrants in poor communities were attacked.
Botswana has also carried a fair share of the burden but because of limited economic opportunities, very few Zimbabweans except skilled labours have ventured into the country.
Reading through ZIDERA, it becomes very clear that the land question is central to the sanctions. The successful resolution to the land question is a central demand before sanctions can be lifted.
The Act reads that sanctions would be lifted if, “The Government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated a commitment to an equitable, legal, and transparent land reform program consistent with agreements reached the International Donors’ Conference on Land Reform and Resettlement in Zimbabwe held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September 1998.”
Therefore, it is important to note that since 1998, Zimbabwe has moved on to amend its constitution in 2013. The new constitution says the land reform programme is irreversible.
In the Amended ZIDERA, the US escalates the sanctions issue to include a host of new players into the matter.
The amendment reads: “Section 6 of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 is amended by inserting ‘‘Australia, the United Kingdom, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community,’’ after ‘‘Canada.”
The land issue is re-emphasised in the amended ZIDERA by citing that Zimbabwe should uphold and implement the decisions of the disbanded SADC Tribunal.
Section 9 reads: “It is the sense of Congress that the Government of Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community (referred to in this section as ‘‘SADC’’) should enforce the SADC tribunal rulings issued between 2007 to 2010, including 18 disputes involving employment, commercial, and human rights cases surrounding dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmers and agricultural companies.”
It is important to note that while the land reform was chaotic and in some instances violent. However, land redistribution in Zimbabwe was not only desirable but the right thing to do in a country that was steeped in racial inequality in relation to land ownership.
The aforementioned condition on land and a new one on Zimbabwe to “come to terms with the past through a process of genuine reconciliation that acknowledges past human rights abuses and orders inquiries into disappearances, including the disappearance of human rights activists, such as Patrick Nabanyama, Itai Dzamara, and Paul Chizuze’’ are difficult if not impossible to implement.
President Biden this year prevented a state agent from testifying in the torture of prisoners who have been held incommunicado for the past 15 years. Truthout, a left-leaning publication in the US wrote: “The Biden administration is trying to prevent testimony by the psychologists who orchestrated Abu Zubaydah’s torture.”
This is a matter in the US Supreme Court. So the US government is arm-twisting another sovereign government to have its agents testify in courts, this is rich but expected from the US.
Time for a reset?
It is interesting to note that, SADC for the past three years have held a Zimbabwe Anti-Sanctions Day every October 25. The region believes that the sanctions are hurting Zimbabwe and are in a way intended to make all SADC countries desist from embarking on any land reforms to redress the colonial question or grievance.
It, therefore, can never be over-emphasised that sanctions are hurting the people of Zimbabwe. The time has come, after two decades to have the sanctions removed and try new methods that do not harm the citizens if the government has become rogue.
In some way, Zimbabwe like Cuba have been punished enough by the United States but that has not brought the desired regime change agenda except having the citizens dying as collateral damage in a war they would never fully understand.
The Zimbabwean government should become more transparent and accountable especially in the use of public resources and financing of social services to its people including primary health, basic education and provision of potable water.