The European Union has threatened to take against Robert Mugabe and his Government unless it agrees to certain conditions by Sunday. The EU is determined to send observers to the March presidential election to determine whether it is free and fair and the ensure media freedom to cover the election.
The EU move is a welcome one. The action threatened by the EU against Zimbabwe is to impose smart sanctions. These would put a travel ban on Mr Mugabe and his main Zanu-PF leadership group. It would also freeze their overseas assets. There would be a ban on the export of any equipment that might be used for internal repression. These sanctions would apply from Sunday unless Mugabe’s Government allows the first group of observers in.
These smart sanctions are a far better weapon than general sanctions, which do more to hurt the poor within the country than the rich ruling elite.
To be really effective, though, the bans and asset chase must be taken up more generally, than just the 15 EU democracies. Mr Mugabe – like so many other leaders of poor countries who abuse power – like to plunder whatever wealth they can lay their hands on and stash it in bank accounts in the West for use by themselves and their family and friends. Taking away this enjoyment and the privilege of swanning around the five-star hotels in western cities is a step that will hurt and might even sway Mugabe from some of his more extreme anti-democratic measures. Cronyism is rife in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s thugs will do his bidding because he offers them personal gain. If part of the personal gain dries up, so will the hitherto unswerving loyalty.
Mugabe came to power as a popular figure with a legitimate democratic mandate in 1980 and has been re-elected in every election since – most recently in March 1996. But his support has dwindled, largely due to wide scale favouritism and corruption. From 1980, land reform has been a major question. In the colonial period the whites took the best land. Mugabe promised redistribution. Britain underwrote redistribution to the tune of about $150 million, acquiring about 3.5 million hectares from white farmers. But the land was handed to Mugabe favourites. Only 70,000 families in a population of 11 million benefited. Nearly half a million hectares went to senior colleagues in Mugabe’s Government.
On seeing the corruption and how no benefit was going to ordinary Zimbabweans, Britain stopped the subsidisation. This led Mugabe to instigate (or at least condone) the occupation of white farms and the forcible expulsion of farmers by Mugabe cronies who he referred to as veterans of the war for independence. Mugabe stacked the courts to ensure the occupations without compensations could continue.
Before the expropriations the white farmers were producing the foreign exchange and the food for the nation’s people. Now half a million Zimbabweans are starving, the economy is in ruin and the violence instigated by Mugabe has caused tourism to collapse. Mugabe has led his nation to destitution and wants to rig the March 9 election by intimidation, violence against opposition candidates, banning of Opposition meetings and any media coverage unfavourably to him.
It is now important that calls in recent days from Australia and Britain for the Commonwealth to take action against Zimbabwe result in Zimbabwe’s expulsion from the Commonwealth at the heads of government meeting in early March. It may be that it will be too little too late, but Mugabe loves the richly undeserved mantle of African statesman – expulsion would tarnish that and he might be responsive tot eh threat of it.