Cross Examination of Sanctions Imposed on Zimbabwe

In a world of almost two hundred countries, it’s not easy to come up with a uniform approach on democracy, economics, and values. There are so many cultures that creating a common set of world values becomes a complicated process. What is deemed as common sense by a group of countries, could be construed as offensive by another group of countries. Achieving equity then is not easy when creating universal rules.  

In light of this, the authority to make and enforce universal rules comes with great responsibility. The rules must be clear, identifiable, and consistent in how they are applied. Any sign of selective application of the rules would not only undermine those rules but cause tension in the world. A stable world like a stable country is built on accountability, justice, and freedom to pursue your destiny. No country should ever feel it’s not allowed to pursue its destiny if that destiny is not a threat to other countries.

Countries that are deemed to have breached universal rules are often put under sanctions. Restrictive measures are put in place to stop them from participating in the highly interconnected global economic system. Such a prospect is catastrophic as the country won’t be able to do business, develop itself and realise its destiny. As such, sanctions are not only controversial, but they are a blunt instrument.  Justified in some cases, questionable in other cases and unjust in others.


One of the first sanctions were recorded in 432 BC. The Megarian decree levied economic sanctions and banned citizens of Megara from accessing markets in the Athenian market. As a result of this decree, the Megarian citizens suffered starvation and it’s believed this was the cause of the second Peloponnesian war.

Napoleon imposed an embargo on British exports, but they were ineffective. British businesses found a way to go around the embargo and it led to a huge underground market.

During the first world war, both sides tried to starve each other into submission.

In south Africa, sanctions achieved the desired outcome. Nelson Mandela submitted that the trade embargoes fast tracked the demise of apartheid.

US President, Woodrow Wilson said of sanctions “apply this economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy, and there will be no need for force.”  This line of thought confirms that sanctions can do the same damage as military action. They are the preferred option when considering prohibitive human and financial costs of military force for coercion.


The United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe known was ZDERA in 2001. In imposing these sanctions, the Senate said they designed the ZDERA Act to “support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable growth, and restore the rule of law.”

The word “support” above carries a lot of weight for the support is seen as good by those in favour of sanctions and detrimental by those against. In essence, those in government hate sanctions because they restrict their ability to do business. The ordinary Zimbabwean with no way of holding his government to account, is hopeful that the government may finally change its ways. The ZDERA sanctions clearly divide opinion in Zimbabwe.


Under section 4 of ZDERA ACT, the senate submitted the following findings:

“Through economic mismanagement, undemocratic practices, and the costly deployment of troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Government of Zimbabwe has rendered itself ineligible to participate in international Bank for Reconstruction and Development and International Monetary programs, which would otherwise be providing the substantial resources to assist in the recovery and modernization of Zimbabwe’s economy. The people of Zimbabwe have thus been denied the economic and democratic benefits envisioned by the donors to such programs, including the United States.”

Those in favour of sanctions would welcome the above findings as they attribute corruption as the main catalyst for the dysfunction in Zimbabwe. The ruling party Zanu PF does not believe in strong, independent state institutions. The party is effectively above the law. They govern in their own interests as opposed to the interest of the people. The decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo should have been made by parliament but the President’s decision is often more powerful than parliament. That is not how a government should operate.

Another interesting point from the Senate’s findings is that the loans given to Zimbabwe for reconstruction and development were not used for what they were intended for. The effect of this as submitted above is that the people of Zimbabwe were “denied” the “benefits” expected from the loans given. Through economic mismanagement the people of Zimbabwe missed out on the “recovery and modernisation” of the economy. This is brutal. A government for the people would have considered the needs and interests of the people.

On the contrary, the people against sanctions could say what you call economic mismanagement, started with the seeds of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). The country was put off balance by the adjustments which reduced investments in key infrastructure as demanded by the IMF.

On sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the anti-sanctions brigade could say many countries have been to the DRC going back in history. Many more countries have been to the DRC after Zimbabwe. Why would Zimbabwe’s deployment of troops warrant sanctions when more countries are in the DRC right now? Does this mean that other countries are allowed to send their troops to DRC, but Zimbabwe is not allowed? The anti-sanctions brigade would say this is unfair.


The Senate submitted that “the rule of law must be restored in Zimbabwe, including respect for ownership and title of property, freedom of speech and association, and an end to lawlessness, violence and intimidation sponsored, condoned, or tolerated by the Government of Zimbabwe, the ruling party, and their supporters or entities.”

Most Zimbabweans would say there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe. The number of political prisoners is unprecedented. Not only are they unjustly imprisoned but they are persecuted constantly. Job Sikhala has just spent one hundred days in prison on manufactured charges. They refused him bail and yet have not provided the date for the trial. Job Sikhala is member of parliament for the opposition and he’s also a lawyer. In this case, the law was weaponised against Job Sikhala. This is standard practice on many opposition members, and anyone deemed to be against the government.

A few days ago, Makomborero Haruzivishe was acquitted but he spent ten months in prison during covid. Instead of following the rules of practice which provides for bail before trial, the Government of Zimbabwe refused bail and sent him to prison even though they knew he would be acquitted. They turned the county’s legal system into an instrument of evil works. The court system is captured and operates as an extension of the government’s arm.

On property rights, Sipho Malunga and his business partners are on trial for the farm that they legally own. Obert Mpofu a senior figure in Zanu PF Government took over their farm by force when they were preparing for harvest. He harvested all the crops and effectively reaped where he didn’t sow. A court decision found in favour of Sipho Malunga and his business partners that they were the rightful owners of the farm. Obert Mpofu appealed the case, and the trial is ongoing. Whether facts are on your side or not, justice in Zimbabwe is not guaranteed.

Political violence is standard practice in the Zimbabwean political landscape. Many people die because of politics. Recently, Moreblessing Ali, an opposition activist was found murdered with her intestines in a plastic bag after she had gone missing for two weeks. The person who murdered her is not in prison but the lawyer and member of parliament who fought for her is in prison. This would imply that the law is applied on a selective basis because there is no reasonable justification why a murderer is not in prison.

There are many examples of miscarriage of justice where Judges were an obstacle to justice. They are the embodiment of “perverting the course of justice” and people of Zimbabweans have to appear before such dishonourable judges. It must be one of the worst legal systems in the world. it’s a danger to citizens.

On rule of law, the anti-sanctions brigade has no legs to stand on.


The Senators submitted that “Zimbabwe must hold a presidential election that is widely accepted as free and fair by the independent international monitors, and the president elect is free to assume the duties of the office.” In addition, they also provided that the “Government of Zimbabwe must sufficiently improve the pre-election environment to a degree consistent with accepted international standards for security and freedom of movement and association.”

From capturing the courts, the Government of Zimbabwe captured the electoral organisation. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which is responsible for manging the election process is effectively a government instrument designed to ensure no other party can govern apart from the Zanu PF government.

The reforms that are needed for free and fair elections have not materialised since the sanctions were imposed in 2001. There is a saying within the Zimbabwean system that the government will not reform itself out of power. The inference is crystal clear that there is no hope of the government winning a free and fair election.

All the essential preparations expected of a free and fair election never happen. The registration process which is meant to get people excited about voting is not fit for purpose. The number of polling stations has been reduced from the previous election. Many people will have to walk long distances in order to vote. The registration centres are not easily accessible. It is clear that the electoral commission is not interested in getting as many people registered to vote.

The government does not want people to register to vote because huge numbers are not easy to manipulate. The pre-election environment essential for free and fair elections will not happen under the current government.

There is no ascertainable way of verifying the election results because the server is held secretly by the government. Opposition parties have demanded that the server with the election results should be available for scrutiny, but the Government of Zimbabwe will not allow anyone to scrutinize the results.

It is believed that the Government of Zimbabwe has never won an election after the year 2000. Their rigging and manipulative strategies are always deployed at the detriment of democracy. Morgan Tsvangirai won the election in 2008 and Mugabe acknowledged that Tsvangirai received 73% of the votes. The government frustrated the process, and the results were announced after 3 months. They told the country that there was no clear winner which was false. A re-run was done, and more than three hundred people lost their lives in which the government ended up regaining power.

This violation of people’s will in which the leaders of their choice are not allowed to assume power has to be one of the reasons why Zimbabwe is struggling. In its 42 years of independence, Zimbabwe has not had peaceful transfer of power. Only two presidents have governed in the same period.

On free and fair elections, the anti-sanctions brigade has no arguments to push back.


The senate provided that “Zimbabwe should commit to equitable, legal, and transparent land reform program consistent with agreements reached at the International Donors’ Conference on Land Reform and Resettlement in Zimbabwe held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998.”

The land redistribution program is a controversial matter given the way it was carried out. It was not an orderly process. However, Zimbabweans from all political persuasions acknowledge that though the process could have been better, the land issue is a done deal. They see the land as their inheritance.

Robert Mugabe through the Lancaster House agreement in 1979, agreed with the British Government that The British would pay compensation for the land after 20 years. At the time Margarete Thatcher was Prime Minister. Twenty years later, Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Constitutionally, he was not bound by the decisions of a previous Prime Minister. Clare Short, international Development Secretary wrote a letter to the Zimbabwean Government saying, “there is no money.” The Zimbabwean Ministers were livid.

The war veterans had been putting pressure on Mugabe to get the land issue resolved behind the scenes and when all efforts failed with Tony Blair, they took matters into their own hands. There is nothing Mugabe could have done to stop the war veterans. They had been waiting for 20 years. They told him they went to war to fight for land and they were living like third class citizens in their own country. If Mugabe had resisted, they could have easily removed him from power hence the process did not manifest in an orderly fashion. Mugabe lost complete control of the land issue hence he felt bitter and betrayed by the British.

Historians will ask themselves, did Britain have a duty to honour the Lancaster House agreement? Did Tony Blair have a duty to honour such an important agreement? Did Thatcher make the agreement in good faith? or she was kicking the ball in the long grass knowing she would not be Prime Minister in twenty years later? Is it fair to say, Britain had no intention of honouring that agreement from day one?


Those campaigning against the removal of sanctions believe sanctions are a smokescreen. They say sanctions are not really for rule of law and free and fair elections but a punishment for taking back the land. As the first country in the world to take back land after being colonised, they allege it is a precedent that terrifies powerful countries. As such, sanctions on Zimbabwe are designed to deter other countries from taking back their land.

They use South Africa as a reference on why the land issue is such a sensitive matter. In the South African political landscape, there is an argument that if land is taken, South Africa will become like Zimbabwe. The argument is given more weight by the fact that Zimbabwe is currently struggling economically under sanctions. In essence, a prosperous Zimbabwe gives other countries appetite to take back their land. A poor Zimbabwe is a bad advertisement for taking back land. There is a battle being fought in Zimbabwe which could determine the destiny of many countries if not the whole of Africa and other developing countries in the world.


Nicolas Mulder the author of a new book: The Economic Weapon – The Rise of Sanctions As A Tool of Modern War said, sanctions have always proved controversial given their capacity to immiserate, impoverish and injure citizens. In addition, he said, “sanctions have often failed to achieve their desired political outcome for all the damage they cause, and the history of sanctions is largely a history of disappointments.”

Nicolas Mulder cited Russia as a reference saying the United States sanctioned Moscow’s central bank and other financial institutions were kicked off SWIFT, part of the global payment system. PayPal, Visa and Mastercard are no longer working in the country.

He submitted the implications for the liberal Russians who are fleeing the country can no longer access their money and their savings. Many fled to Central Asia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan & Finland. None of them can access their money anymore because their cards don’t work. The private sector response is hitting the Russian society hard.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, a vigilant effort must be made to ensure that the sanctions regime of restrictive measures must both secure respect for human rights and foster accountability. Human rights cannot be adequately protected if they are profoundly undermined by sanctions that are violently enforced.


Zimbabwe is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is suffering from external sanctions and internal sanctions. There are those who don’t agree with ZDERA sanctions imposed by the United States, but they see the internal sanctions caused by the Government’s misgovernance as the worst sanctions on Zimbabwe. They claim that the biggest sanction on Zimbabwe is the Zanu PF government.

Former Vice President, Professor Mutambara said his bone of contention is that “we must address these sanctions we impose on ourselves – misgovernance, corruption, rigging of elections, murdering of our people.” He went further, I am not interested in discussing the external sanctions because we are not solving sanctions, we impose on ourselves.” Shame on us he added.

“Why would you want others to remove sanctions on you when you are busy imposing sanctions on yourself? Let’s answer this question first then look at other sanctions afterwards. I acknowledge the sanctions from external players undermine the prosperity and the progress of our country.”

He concluded by saying “I am not prepared to have this discussion. There is no moral basis, I have no moral authority, no basis to discuss the sanctions imposed by other people. Let us remove sanctions we are imposing on ourselves then we can discuss the sanctions imposed on us by others.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa made a call for sanctions to be removed as part of SADC heads of state decision. According to Clayson Monyela, The SADC position is not reflective of South Africa’s position on the matter even though President Ramaphosa says so. He said South Africa does not believe that Zimbabwe’s sanctions are the genesis of the problem of Zimbabwe.

Even if ZDERA sanctions were removed today, there is no hope that Zimbabwe will change. Zimbabwe needs a new kind of politics. A politics based on accountability, separation of powers. Respect for individual rights and most importantly, a government of the people for the people and by the people.


Although Zimbabwe is not in the same group of countries sanctioned for threatening the use of nuclear weapons, the state of politics does not allow anything good to come out of Zim. If the politics does not work, nothing works. If Zim leaders are serious about addressing the country’s problems, they need to look at themselves. They cannot resolve a problem they do not acknowledge.

External sanctions are disproportionate but internal sanctions are destroying the country. The Government of Zimbabwe cannot blame external sanctions for lack of development when more than $100 million in smuggled gold leaves the country every month. No one is coming to help Zimbabwe. Only Zimbabwe can help itself.

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