The New York Times on Nov. 7, 2013 published a column by Murithi Mutiga of Kenya’s Nation newspaper entitled “Why Zimbabwe Sanctions Boomerang.” It contained a number of questionable assertions. Here is my list and commentary:
1)“the staggering mass exodus of…3 million Zimbabweans” have fled because of Western sanctions. Wrong. They have fled because of President Robert Mugabe’s repressive policies. Under Mugabe, about 80 percent of all Zimbabweans remain unemployed. GDP per capita has fallen to 1953 levels (adjusted for inflation). Nearly 10 percent of Zimbabweans are hungry, being sustained by World Food Program handouts.
2) Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on Zimbabwe have not brought about regime change. Correct. But the sanctions (most importantly “travel” sanctions) are primarily directed at Mugabe and his close associates, not at the regime or the country. Thus, it is incorrect to suggest that foreign investment has “dried up” because of sanctions. More likely foreign investment has have largely vanished because of the Mugabe administration’s threat to confiscate 51 percent of all foreign-owned businesses and because of massive corruption. Only Chinese investors are exempt, thanks to their close ties to Mugabe and the notorious diamond industry.
3) “Britain and the United States insist the election was rigged but offer no convincing evidence….” The fact that up to 1 million voters were kept off the election rolls, that about 100,000 persons on the rolls were supposedly aged 100 years or more, and that the security forces and chiefs systematically intimidated rural voters might not persuade Mutiga but it surely influenced Western reactions, the criticism of the election by the president of neighboring Botswana, and the alarm of independent NGOs inside Zimbabwe. Note, too, that independent outsiders were not allowed to observe the poll in July.
4)More ”moderate” African voices have stood up for Mugabe and “denounced” sanctions. To call former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, since 2000 a firm backer of Mugabe’s worst excesses, a “moderate” is to play with words. Likewise, former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia backed Saddam Hussein of Iraq as well as Mugabe. To suggest, further, that Mbeki “provided a steady hand after Nelson Mandela retired” is to be unaware of intense South African critiques of the Mbeki era.
5) To equate the sanctions on “ordinary” Zimbabweans with the West’s misguided policy of “constructive engagement” toward South Africa in the 1980s is again to misunderstand how and on whom sanctions are applied.
6) It is incorrect to suggest that “the West is effectively surrendering a chance” to influence the future of Zimbabwe by maintaining sanctions. Quite the reverse is at least one informed proposition.
Within Zimbabwe, only Mugabe apologists take the line espoused by Mutiga from afar.