I am personally sceptical of the effectiveness of sanctions on regime change. I believe that sanctions can only effectively achieve their political objective if they are properly coordinated multilaterally, and are the only justified means of effecting radical change of policy. If applied alone in the absence of many other factors, as happened elsewhere, sanctions will be doomed to fail. In most cases sanctions only serve to empower dictators by giving them new draconian powers (laws) to suppress their subjects even further. Sanctions are widely used by pathological dictatorial regimes as an alibi for increased repression against their own people. Most unfortunately, the majority innocent civilian population in Zimbabwe today is silently suffering dearly as a result of the dreadful sanctions regime.

By Crisford Chogugudza (October 25, 2007)

Zimbabweans continue to be brainwashed by Mugabe and his Zanu PF’s ranting and raving about so called ‘illegal international sanctions’ being the major cause of economic collapse in the country. Whilst, it is widely acknowledged that sanctions have definitely played a part and continue to play a crucial part in the collapse of the economy in Zimbabwe, the whole truth must be told as to why these sanctions are there in the first place. Many in Zimbabwe today think that talk about sanctions is mere politicking and an alibi by the beleaguered Zanu PF government for trying to absolve themselves from the obvious blame in respect of decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and human rights violations.

Blaming MDC or the white farmers for instigating sanctions is not only ludicrous but preposterous by all standards of reason. The West imposed ‘targeted sanctions’ against the Zanu PF political aristocracy due to alleged human rights abuses, absence of the rule of law and lack of democracy among other things. The implementation of the controversial and chaotic land reform programme beginning 2000, also added a new dimension to the sanctions regime. It does not take a bishop’s mind to understand how chaotic and ineffective the entire ‘land reform process’ has turned out to be. To date thousands of hectares of land seized and nicodimously allocated to cronies and ruling party supporters’ lye idle, reportedly being savagely misused as retreats for weekend and holiday barbeque parties. This wasted land could have been productively utilised had government left productive white commercial farmers there in consistency with the one man one farm policy. Paradoxically, a number of senior Zanu PF chefs who invaded the white farms in the first instance, are multiple farm owners themselves and there is glaring evidence to this effect.

Whilst in principle, l believe that there was a genuine case to redistribute land to the landless blacks whose livelihood depend largely on subsistence agriculture, l am convinced the Zanu PF modus operandi was grotesquely flawed. It was chaotic and short sighted and morally reprehensible in its application. The Japanese have a popular proverb which says ‘a plan without vision is a nightmare’, this squarely applies to the Zanu PF land reform programme. Cognisant of this mess, the greatest dilemma awaiting any future government in Zimbabwe is to attempt to redress this economic blunder of monstrous proportions. Regrettably, any attempts to return the majority of the land to the white farmers in future would be resisted. However, it is only logical that significant compromises would have to be made in this regard.

A lot of the white farmers lost not only their land but their entire livelihood and status as well, and a lot of them are now living in desperate times. Their former workers are even more desperate as they did not have anywhere to go having originally come from neighbouring Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. It appears the Zanu PF government has abandoned them completely and their plight continues to invoke negative sentiments from sympathisers world over. A few productive black commercial farmers not sympathetic to Zanu PF also lost their land in politically motivated invasions. To make matters worse, Zanu PF bureaucrats, lawmakers, securocrats and ordinary party loyalists allegedly continue to invade land from remaining white farmers in defiance of court orders. Most of the white farmers who recently lost their land are single farm owners with some having given up their other farms in keeping with the government policy of ‘one man one farm’. This policy has now been consigned to the political dustbin as happened to the once credited reconciliation policy, in pursuit of political expediency and greed. Given this kind of behaviour, it appears there is now overwhelming conventional wisdom among the rich and powerful nations that sanctions in Zimbabwe stay unless and until there is a radical of change of policy by the Zanu PF government. It remains to be seen whether any strengthening of these sanctions will influence any change of course by the Zanu PF regime which l very much doubt. Only a significant carrot and stick approach from those with power can influence change in Zimbabwe.

The recent scenes of desperate white farmers being shown in international television footages suggest that Zimbabwe is a ‘racist country’ embarking on a process of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Some well known sections of the international corporate media, traditionally supportive of white supremacy in Zimbabwe and South Africa have actually gained political mileage on this issue by giving credence to the above. It would appear the ruling elite in Harare have no moral grounds to defend themselves against the above racist charge. More than 3000 white commercial farmers lost their land to a chaotic and widely discredited land reform process in Zimbabwe. It is surprising whether today; the removal of the remaining 400 white commercial farmers will improve things any further. The 400 or so white farmers who are currently being victimised by Mugabe and Zanu PF are ordinary Zimbabweans seeking survival not confrontation and one wonders why they are being punished and discriminated against. The question to ask is why harassing such a tiny minority group of people whose land will not make any difference to Zimbabwe’s grain deficit. Analysts say it is all political gimmickry meant to wood wink gullible voters in Zimbabwe ahead of the do or die gladiatorial election contest in March 2008. The white farmers in Zimbabwe have been perceived rightly or wrongly as victims of a vindictive and increasingly belligerent government.

Zimbabwe is now failing to feed its people and importing grain from small and poor countries such as Malawi and Zambia which is unprecedented in our proud history. It is apparent that due to poor policies, corruption, greed and mismanagement, billions of Zimbabwean dollars have been wasted trying to support and equip makeshift farmers with no idea of farming. The emerging black owned banks and other financial institutions have been reluctant to fund the flawed land reform due to the absence of proper/legal farm ownership and lack of collateral for the new farmers. Zimbabwe is largely an agrarian based economy whose current policies do not reflect that reality in a significant way. Mugabe’s successive agriculture ministers some of whom are expired academics/intellectuals have destroyed agriculture and its vital institutions in the country. The shortage of beef and other dairy products in Zimbabwe today is partly due to farm invasions and mysterious disappearance of livestock from the invaded white farms among other factors. The production and export of horticultural products, major foreign currency earners have also been seriously threatened.


A torrent of poor socio-economic policies developed over the years suggests that the Zanu PF government has failed catastrophically thereby raising questions of its political relevance and legitimacy. These very bad policies have had a negative impact on the general standards of living for many people in Zimbabwe. A number of draconian laws passed by the regime including POSA and AIPPA have isolated the regime further from the international community making the eradication or easing of sanctions inconceivable at least for now. Only recently, the Zimbabwean legislature passed a very controversial and potentially damaging piece of legislation meant to give Zimbabweans majority (51%) ownership of all foreign owned companies. The bill is awaiting Mugabe’s signature and he is likely to sign it near election time as a campaign gimmick. If Mugabe signs this controversial bill as widely expected there is going to be a further glut in foreign direct investment (FDI), likely disinvestments from Zimbabwe and further sanctions. If made law, the indigenisation bill constitutes a negation of the basic principles of globalisation, foreign investment protection and economic development in its absolute essence.

It is unfortunate that the Zanu PF government is seemingly moving towards the route of self destruction contrary to other African countries and the rest of the developing world which are moving in the right direction. Inflation, the highest the world has ever seen in living memory continues to escalate, unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, social deprivation and starvation continue to wreck havoc in Zimbabwe with no signs of abating. It is apparent however, that Mugabe’s new policy initiatives unwittingly continue to provide fertile ground for further sanctions by the rich and powerful west. The reality is that for as long as contentious issues such as the selective application of the rule of law, stifling of democratic principles, harassment of opposition activists and their leaders, corruption and continued farm invasions have not been addressed sanctions will remain. It is debatable as to whether these sanctions are morally right or wrong but there is general consensus that sanctions have caused untold suffering in Zimbabwe and should go.

There is no doubt that Mugabe and his lieutenants have been hit hard by these menacing sanctions. For more than 7 years now, uncle Bob and his extravagant wife Grace have not been to the UK. Unfortunately for Mugabe, he may never step his foot in the UK again for the remainder of his lifetime if the current political impasse with the UK and EU continues. Poor Grace’s ester while shopping trips to top fashion names in London are fast becoming fading memories. Other top Zanu PF officials and their sympathisers whose children being returned from US, UK, Canada and Australia must be privately cursing Mugabe and his party for destroying their children’s career aspirations. The children could be innocent but that’s debatable and purely not for this presentation.

I am personally sceptical of the effectiveness of sanctions on regime change. I believe that sanctions can only effectively achieve their political objective if they are properly coordinated multilaterally, and are the only justified means of effecting radical change of policy. If applied alone in the absence of many other factors, as happened elsewhere, sanctions will be doomed to fail. In most cases sanctions only serve to empower dictators by giving them new draconian powers (laws) to suppress their subjects even further. Sanctions are widely used by pathological dictatorial regimes as an alibi for increased repression against their own people. Most unfortunately, the majority innocent civilian population in Zimbabwe today is silently suffering dearly as a result of the dreadful sanctions regime. The double tragedy for Zimbabweans is that on the one hand, they are being affected economically by the catastrophic effects of these so called ‘targeted’ sanctions. On the other hand, they are being subjected to the harassment and excesses of an increasingly adversarial regime seeking revenge for being isolated and ostracised through sanctions. It however, may be embarrassing for the Mugabe regime to make a complete U turn from most of its dreadful policies in order to gain credibility but it’s never too late.

Ironically, some people have commented that life was difficult politically and freedom wise, in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia but evidently, more bearable than the later part of Mugabe’s dark years. In Smith’s Rhodesia, there were no prolonged power black outs, no serious shortages of fuel and water in urban areas and definitely no major food shortages, the list continues. This may sound to be a very unfair comparison, accepted, but people will always compare lifestyles. When Zimbabweans heard of food shortages and power blackouts in Zambia and Malawi, they vowed never in a million years would such things happen in Zimbabwe, today worse things are happening in Zimbabwe. Such sentiments serve to vindicate the view that the whole liberation project is falling apart almost irretrievably, unless someone with a brave heart and rare leadership qualities emerges. It is clear that the liberation saints have turned themselves into political dinosaurs and destroyed people’s hopes. There is no denying that sanctions have had devastating effects on the Zimbabwean economy least the social life which is now only comparable to the least developed countries of the world outside war zones. It is clear that ‘a leadership that fails to feed, protect and guarantee civil liberties for its own people does not deserve their support not even for one extra day’. Essentially, Mugabe and his Zanu PF can stop sanctions if they wish but there is a price to pay. It remains to be seen whether they are ready for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe they purport to represent, to pay the price which amounts to losing or sharing power with the opposition.

Ironically, Zanu PF maintains its propagandist impression that they are mere victims of sanctions and have nothing to do with their cause. On the contrary, the majority of Zimbabweans know the truth and cannot be fooled any more. Zimbabwe is now comparable to Burma in absolute terms, as far as the intransigence and rigidity of the regimes in the two countries are concerned. The only difference being that the former is a hardcore constitutional dictatorship and the later is a stubborn military junta both but of which are motivated and characterised by siege mentality and police brutality respectively.

The current overtures by Mugabe meant to retain power in next year’s elections will further damage the Zimbabwean economy as the country becomes further ostracised by the West. Marginal investments from China, Russia and Iran alone will not be enough to revive the economy of Zimbabwe. A radical change of course by the charges at Mumhumutapa Building in Harare among other initiatives, through mutually inclusive and economically sound policies can extricate Zimbabwe from the current economic mess. In view of the above, and depending on when Mugabe decides to call it a day or is removed, Zimbabweans should brace for more hardships and perhaps further sanctions. Sanctions have severely destroyed the moral and economic fabric of Zimbabwe, but l believe the solution is in the hands of Zimbabwean politicians. Sanctions are man made and unlike natural phenomena, the people of Zimbabwe can influence their removal and have a new start but it is a tall order. Unfortunately, there is no sign from the defiant British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown that he is prepared to negotiate bilaterally with a view to ease the effects of sanctions on Zimbabwe. Instead, the Scotsman has famously vowed never to negotiate with aging Mugabe let alone sit in the same room as him. This leaves Mugabe, Zanu PF and a resurgent opposition MDC party and its twin leadership to engineer Zimbabwe’s GREAT ESCAPE from the sanctions menace. Bipartisan initiatives between Zanu PF and MDC as happened with Constitutional Amendment number 18 can offer Zimbabweans some hope for real change at least in the short term.

Crisford is a political commentator based in London, England.