US Senator comes clean on Zimbabwe sanctions

By Stephen Gowans

The received wisdom among Western governments, journalists and some concerned progressive scholars is that there have been no broad-based, economic sanctions imposed upon Zimbabwe. Instead, in their view, there are only targeted sanctions, with limited effects, aimed at punishing President Robert Mugabe and the top leadership of the Zanu-PF party. The sanctions issue, they say, is a red herring Mugabe and his supporters use to divert attention from the true cause of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown: redistribution of land from white commercial farmers to hundreds of thousands of indigenous families, a program denigrated as “economic mismanagement”.

Yet, it has always been clear to anyone willing to do a little digging that there are indeed broad-based economic sanctions against Zimbabwe; that there have been since 2001, when US president George W. Bush signed them into law; that they were imposed in response to Zimbabwe’s land reform program; and that Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown happened after sanctions were imposed, not before.

US sanctions, implemented under the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, effectively block Zimbabwe’s access to debt relief and balance of payment support from international financial institutions. In addition, the EU and other Western countries have imposed their own sanctions.

On occasion, Mugabe’s detractors have been caught out in their deceptions about sanctions being targeted solely at a few highly placed members of Zanu-PF rather than the economy, and therefore Zimbabweans, as a whole. At those times, they have countered that while sanctions may exist, they have had little impact, and anyway, they play into Mugabe’s hands. As progressive scholar Horace Campbell put it: “The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.”

Campbell turns reality on its head. The fact of the matter is that the US government has deployed a range of propagandists, both within and outside Zimbabwe, in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to the alleged folly of redistributing land stolen by European settlers to the descendants of the original owners.

Campbell’s argument echoes similar sophistry used to excuse the US blockade on Cuba. Economic sanctions on Cuba, the Castros’ detractors argue, have had little impact on the island’s economy, and are used by the Cuban government to falsely link its economic difficulties to US economic warfare. The Castros, they say, stay in power by diverting attention from their own mismanagement and laying blame for their country’s economic problems at Washington’s doorstep. That this argument holds no water is evidenced by the reality that Washington could easily deprive the Cuban communists of their alleged diversionary tactics by lifting the sanctions, but choose not to.

The idea that power-hungry leaders exploit mild sanctions as a dishonest manoeuvre to disguise their failings is insupportable. Far from having little impact, economic sanctions devastate economies; that’s their purpose. Denying the role they play in ruining economies is tantamount to denying that dropping napalm on villages creates wastelands. John Mueller and Karl Mueller pointed out in a famous 1999 article titled “Sanctions of Mass Destruction” – it appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of the uber-establishment journal Foreign Affairs — that:

…the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…

The improbable idea that sanctions have little impact invites the question: If they make little difference, why do Western governments deploy them so often? Supporters of the view that sanctions are minor inconveniences that punish a few powerful leaders, who then exploit them to draw attention away from their own economic management, expect us to believe that the leaders of major powers are simpletons who devise ineffective sanctions policies – and that they persist despite their sanctions playing into the hands of the sanctions’ targets.

If the sanctions supporters’ laughable logic and the reality that US sanction legislation is on the public record for all to see weren’t enough, legislation brought forward by US Senator Jim Inhofe ought to lay to rest the deception that sanctions haven’t torpedoed Zimbabwe’s economy.

The title of Inhofe’s bill, the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010, makes clear that sanctions have indeed been imposed on Zimbabwe and have had deleterious effects. According to the bill, now that the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change holds senior positions in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, US sanctions against Zimbabwe need to be repealed “in order to restore fully the economy of Zimbabwe.” In other words, sanctions are preventing Zimbabwe’s economy from flourishing – the same point Mugabe has been making for years, cynically say his critics.

Yet, while the implication of Inhofe’s bill is that sanctions have undermined Zimbabwe’s economy (otherwise, why would economic recovery require their repeal?) Inhofe tries to disguise the role US sanctions originally played in creating an economic catastrophe in Zimbabwe, arguing that the sanctions were imposed only after Mugabe allegedly turned Zimbabwe into a basket case by democratizing patterns of land ownership. But it makes more sense to say that sanctions ruined the economy. After all, the purpose of economic sanctions is to wreak economic havoc. And what would be the point of trying to devastate Zimbabwe’s economy after Mugabe had allegedly already ruined it? Finally, in pressing for the repeal of sanctions to allow for economic recovery, Inhofe acknowledges that the sanctions do indeed have crippling consequences.

Inhofe may be able to argue (improbably) that the sanctions were imposed to punish Zimbabwe for Harare’s economic mismanagement (which would mean that Washington expected Zimbabweans to suffer an additional blow on top of the one already meted out by Harare’s alleged mismanagement — a pointless cruelty, if true); but he can’t argue that the sanctions didn’t undermine the country’s economy: his bill acknowledges this very point

Finally, the fact that Inhofe’s legislation seeks repeal of the sanctions because the MDC holds key positions in the Zimbabwean government, reveals that the MDC, as much as sanctions, is an instrument of US foreign policy. Sanctions were rolled out in response to land redistribution with the aim of crippling the economy so that the ensuing economic chaos could be attributed to land reform itself. With MDC members brought into a power-sharing government in key posts, it has become necessary in the view of Inhofe and others that sanctions be lifted to allow an economic recovery. If the bill is ratified and signed into law, the ensuing recovery will be attributed to the efforts of the MDC cabinet members, an attribution that that will be just as misleading as linking the destructive effects of sanctions to Zanu-PF’s efforts to fulfill the land redistribution aspirations of the national liberation struggle. The major part of Zimbabwe’s economic troubles – and a large part of the prospects for economic recovery – are sanctions-related.

23 thoughts on “US Senator comes clean on Zimbabwe sanctions

  1. Am surprised and saddened there are Africans amd particulary Zimbabweans who still believe Britain and its allies are concerned about the welfare of blacks.Just yesterday Mandela was considered a TERRORIST by US, the same people who are now falling all over their feet claiming he is a statesman par excellence! These people have not the slightest idea what democracy is! Equal distribution of resources is KEY, MWANA WEVHU.

  2. Is there a chance that anyone or anycountry is going to come out oneday and say i/we imposed sanctions on zimbabwe i doubt that very much. Whats your take on this matter

  3. you are right the writer has ommitted all these things but i think that he has gone to the root of the matter unlike you the period of expulsion of the EU representative(s) was it before or after the land ressettlement?it was after this program,the US government imposed these sanctions as retaliation for the way the Zimbabwe government had handled the resettlement program. Are you saying that the US government imposed these sanctions simply because their representatives had been chucked out of the country?

    The 2000 elections marked an era where the Zimbabwean people for the first time where more than willing to chuck Robert out, not because they where fed up with him but primarily because they had seen the onset of hunger and untold poverty and attributed this to bad governance when yet it was part of an oiled plan to lead the economy to a complete meltdown by the US government.

    The sanctions are not targeted as illustrated above and as the Senator has said because for me a Zimbabwean, the so called people on the Sanctions list are living in splendor and their lives have not stopped a bit from the effect of these sanctions to a point where its a local joke that everyone wants the sanctions if they get to live such a life as they.

    Yes there have been human rights abuses, everyone agrees to that but what had brought it on?Was it just blatant abuse of human rights?I beg to differ that is not the case.Look at the Iraq case everyone might say Saddam was a bastard but based on whose word?Were we all there to see his barbarism or was it part of a long time plan to oust the Iraq leader that they might access the Gaza strip at will?Now it turns out that the primary data used to consent to the invasion of Iraq was information cooked up by a bitter man.And Saddam was hung.A song in Zim goes Saddam waenda kwasara Bob(now that Saddam is gone its time for Mugabe).Its a pity some people do not look beyond their hunger at the bigger picture.

    And by imposing these sanctions instead of crippling the people on the sanctions listss’ economic ability it is actually working their favour as they are the ones who have resources(state owned) at their disposal to procurre and supply all the basic goods and services and you tell me these sanctions are targeted, targeted at what, making them rich?

  4. Russ Feingold has just lost his senate seat. I wonder what this is going to do to ZTDERA, which he has sponsored.

  5. Wait… I’m confused. First you whine that Mugabe and his folks instituted the land reform program solely to enrich themselves, and now you’re complaining because you and your 3 brothers didn’t get a piece of the pie?

    I’ll ask you the same thing I ask everyone who claims to have “fled” their country: What did you do?

    ‘Just as they did three years ago detractors of Zimbabwe’s governing party ZANU PF and President Robert Mugabe are already forecasting that the election in Zimbabwe is rigged, even though it has not happened yet. All of the propaganda machines are in motion to plant misgivings about any outcome that announces victory for Mugabe.

    One Mary Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean “human rights” activist has been feverishly providing anti-Mugabe articles and analyses to set the stage for whatever happens. In one published by Pambazuka News she supports her prediction with a diatribe of misinformation and over simplifications asserting, “there is no minutest possibility of a ‘free and fair’ election. Those observers from SADC who boast that it can still be so are only destroying their own credibility.”

  7. Mr Pig:
    ‘ Mr Mbeki said those who fought for a democratic Zimbabwe “with thousands paying the supreme price during the struggle, and forgave their oppressors and torturers in a spirit of national reconciliation, have been turned into repugnant enemies of democracy”.

    In a direct reference to Britain, he said: “Those who, in the interest of their [white] ‘kith and kin’, did what they could to deny the people of Zimbabwe their liberty, for as long as they could, have become the eminent defenders of the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe.

    —Mbeki claims UK to blame for crisis in Zimbabwe

    youre no pro-liberationist

  8. pas de pig..youre the sort of person who is undemining Zimbabwe, and trying to return it to white colonial domination. You claim to be a suporter of liberation>? Yet what you right is to support ther white colonials…so yes i think youre lying
    do where are you living now?

    Thanks god youre gone.

  9. I hate it when idiots post comments pretending they are ordinary Zimbabweans and they are living a happy life in Zim. If the land reform programme benefitted the rank and file Zimbabweans, how come we have over 5 million Zimbabwean refugees in foreign countries (including myself) who fled not the sanctions but the brutal Zanu (PF). Do not even try and disguise your identity by using English names because it’s so easy to identify a comment by George Charamba or Jonathan Moyo or any Zanu sympathiser for that matter. FYI I am a black Zimbabwean who supported the liberation struggle during my youth, 3 of my brothers are actually former Zanla combatants and have nothing to show for their contribution to the country.

  10. Skint war vet…your very name suggests brain washing vet. MDC ws and is funded by westen powers…as we learn from Greg Elich :

    Mugabe won elections as has been reported here:
    Zimbabwe elections free and fair, says Tonchi

    THE head of the Electoral Commission Forum of Southern African Development Countries’ observer mission to Zimbabwe, Victor Tonchi, has given his blessing to that country’s elections, declaring them free and fair.

    Tonchi led an 11-country observer mission to Zimbabwe
    and said the mission was encouraged by the “peaceful
    environment” in which the election took place.

    “The mission hereby records its satisfaction with the
    high level of compliance with regulations and election
    rules which was displayed by the electoral staff at
    all stations visited,” said Tonchi, who is also
    Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Namibia.’
    So vet, why are you pandering to the neocolonials? You seem to be fighting against independence…
    ZANUPF should rule as long as the people want them to….and they willl so long as the white imperialists keep out of africa and stop corrupting the electoral process by their embargoes.

  11. From what I can see, when compared to the other posters, you haven’t contributed your claims with any backing whatsoever – so there it stands for what it is, merely a claim. We’ve all expressed clearly why the claims proposed by both you & Pas Pa Dig is wrong & misleading. If you have anything to share that may change our minds, I’d recommend you backing your claims up, thank you.

  12. @Brian
    You have been so brain washed by ZanuPF to the extent that you cant even think. You are wrong to say that MDC was created by the westerners. It is only ZanuPF thugs like yourself who do not believe that Mugabe lost the last 2 elections, because you were part of the rigging machine, you were being bank roled by Gideon Gono to intimidate, assult and murder people for supporting an opposition party. Sanctions should stay until justice and fairness is achieved. Every Zimbabwean faught for this country, it is not only Mugabe and his fellow thugs who liberated Zimbabwe. The war was won because of the ‘fish and water’ relationship between the mass and the freedom fighters. So to think that only ZanuPF should be the ruling party for ever is not only dictatorial but criminal. They (including you) deserve the sanctions. Pasi nekudzvinyirira vanhu.

  13. Excuse me on my error on the last part. The UK claimed the economy of Zimbabwe was collapsing, not because of the sanctions brought against them, but because of the land redistribution instead. Though, the US is in full support of this claim I’m sure.

  14. Ah Mr Gownas the truth at last. We Black Zimbabweans agree fully with your analysis. For so long we have been trying to tell the world of the evil shenanigans of the USA and the EU. This Bill actually strengthens our resolve to oppose US Foreign Policy instruments (the MDC) as never before. Icho!

  15. Oh, we were stealing land long before 1492.

    In response to Pas Pa Dig’s tired and tiresome comments, get over it, and get over yourself. SADC has never ruled that the land redistribution program was illegal, in fact several members of SADC have consulted with Zimbabwe’s government recently in an effort to better understand how they successfully pulled it off. There have been a few court rulings in countries like Botswana against the program, but these have been non-binding and Zimbabwe has rightfully chosen to ignore them.

    Frankly, as a white American living in Harare, I very quickly got sick and tired of listening to you privileged white farmers moaning and groaning about the evil Robert Mugabe. One woman looked me straight in the eye, and with a hatred I’ve seldom seen in this world insisted that Mugabe was the devil incarnate. You work yourselves into a frenzy because for the first time in your lives you’re ending up on the short end of the stick, and that simply can’t be right, can it?

    I also noticed that you constantly assert your identity as Zimbabweans. You are not Zimbabweans, you are Rhodesians. Just because your country ceased to exist does not mean you can claim a stake in what came after, you have to earn it. I have spoken to the few whites who have accepted a place as equals in Zimbabwe. They stood in lines with everybody else, waited in the heat of the sun for days with everybody else, and when it was their fair turn, put their names down on those long lists of people waiting for their fair share of the land that has been and is still being redistributed. And you know what? Despite all the hatred, despite all the nasty tricks, they were awarded land like everybody else. They are Zimbabweans, no matter their color.

    You? You sip tea in the shade of the your multiple acre estates in Borrowdale with NYT journalists smuggled into the country as tourists. You take them to the hospitals in the rural areas where no one dares speak out, and you spin tales of beatings and atrocities. This man with the broken leg? He was attacked by a ruthless gang of ‘war vets’ because he dared to vote for the MDC, you claim. That woman, bloodied and scared? She was raped and left for dead by Zanu-PF youths, you insist. Except none of it is true. I watched you force your gardener to drag the body of his dead father to an MDC office in the city to have pictures taken. The man had died of AIDS, but you documented it as another victim of Zanu-PF. Then you drove the body to Zanu headquarters, foreign reporters in tow, and left it there on the street in some sick attempt at showing the world how defiant you were against this oppressive regime. How brave of you. Except you wouldn’t even touch the body yourself, you coward. You liar.

    There was violence, I won’t deny that. But you and I both know that it was coming from both sides, and you were egging everyone on, cameras eagerly waiting. What a farce. You printed pictures of Mugabe seeming to wear Hitler’s mustache, and you pointed. “See? See the evil man who oppresses us?!”

    All the while you sipped tea in your garden, enjoying the fruits of the labor of others. The real farmers, those men and women working your fields for you, paid with worthless Zim dollars while you hoarded your inflation-proof US notes, they enjoyed none of it. I saw you, and I was disgusted. You treated me as an ally because of the color of my skin. You joked about how you were doing them a grand favor, letting them work extra for half a bottle of cooking oil. They were barely better than monkeys, you would insist, and so they should be grateful for your magnanimity.

    You love that word, magnanimous.

    Get over it. You lost, the majority won, so go to Hell.

  16. Westerms created the MDC, and in so doing created the violence we see today…dont blame Mugabe or his govt for the eforts to orchestrate chaos the europeans are doing:

    ‘Zimbabwe’s path ran counter to Western efforts to integrate the economies of sub-Saharan Africa in the interests of Western capital.’

    In the period leading up to the March 2002 elections, Western leaders attempted to tighten the screws on Zimbabwe, hoping to affect the outcome. Already a sort of de facto sanctions regime was in place, in that Western officials were actively discouraging trade with Zimbabwe, while overheated news reports painted a picture of instability and unreliability, which also tended to deter trade. In November 2001, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw revealed that during the past few months he had been “building coalitions” against Zimbabwe. (19)

    The root of zimbabwes problems are the latent and continunig eurpoean neocolonialism of africa.

    Are you really zimbabwean? or just a greedy white settler?

  17. Pas de dig may not be aware of how the 2004 elections on zimbabwe were found to be free and fair, and how that didnt satify the EU/US or UK..
    Thats what angers the EU…that Mugabe and his govt get elected and not a european toady…

    Then the EU with its legacy of colonialism and genocide is in no place to rebuke let alone sanction Africa. Esp as they long to congrol the continent and its resources. Mugabe stabnds in their way THATS why they force sanctions..

  18. Western Democracy, Freedom, and Human Rights=Orwellian Newspeak for Western capitalist exploitation and White settler land theft.

    Since 1492.

  19. How about mentioning how these farmers resisting the land distribution were upper-bourgeoisie white Euro-African’s, in which Mugabe fought against for the majority of those that had no land? And yes, the sanctions are because of these reasons, like Gowans mentions in this article, as being a response against the land redistribution, away from the upper white Euro-African’s, & back to the hands of exploited masses of Zimbabwe.

    Hell, even the US tried claiming that the economy was collapsing, not because of the sanctions brought against them, but because of the land redistribution instead:

  20. The writer conveniently omits details of the ROOT CAUSE of the sanctions. Doesn’t he/she remember that the EU representative was expelled from Zim and the EU was barred from monitoring the 2000 elections? Doesn’t he/she remember the people murdered for their political affiliation before and after that election? Doesn’t he/she remember the farmers murdered for resisting the UNLAWFUL farm take overs which Sadc have also confirmed as such ( and Mugabe called them only a demonstration). Does he/she remember any perpetrators of all this violence being brought to justice? Has any of the farmers who were protected by BIPPA’s but were violently dispossessed of their properties been compensated? And was the Commonwealth not justified by suspending Zimbabwe for it’s gross human rights abuses and the violent and fraudulent conduct of it’s elections? OMG! The list goes on. Please don’t try to justify to us Zimbabweans, we witnessed it all!

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