Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Lifting of Zim sanctions in SA's best interest

2019-01-31 10:34
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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Zimbabwean businesses people would benefit if opportunities were opened for them to forge partnerships all over the world. For this, it's necessary for sanctions on the country to be lifted, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

Robert Mugabe, the once invincible former president of Zimbabwe, had a foreign policy that was cold towards the West

In a defiant stance against US-led Western sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, he adopted the "Look East" policy. His political and economic diplomacy focused on building relationships with countries of the East. 

He would seek foreign direct investments and financial assistance from countries like China. His family also looked East. While many African leaders who either allowed their country's health systems to collapse (like Zimbabwe) or failed to build them in the first place, sought medical treatment in Europe, Mugabe turned to Singapore. For her expensive shopping sprees, his wife Grace, switched from London to Hong Kong. 

READ: Redi Tlhabi - 'New Zimbabwe' looks more and more like the old

On a serious note though, the policy yielded only survivalist assistance from China; not nearly enough to pull Zimbabwe from the self-inflicted economic trouble made worse by so-called smart sanctions imposed by the United States (US) and its allies.

US sanctions can be damaging. The US largely controls the international financial system. It owns the world's reserve currency, the mighty dollar. 

America has to exercise care when unleashing sanctions. Placed in the hands of a hawkish administration, the power to impose economic sanctions can be abused. 

Some countries like Iran and Zimbabwe don't really deserve to be sanctioned. Iran is a casualty of Trump's unmitigated dislike of President Barack Obama and his foreign policy successes, particularly the multilateral nuclear deal. You see, when a foreign policy is driven primarily by the ego of the leader, thus making other considerations irrelevant, then a crisis becomes inevitable in the long run. 

Clearly having learned from the disaster of George W Bush's "axis of evil" foreign policy that resulted in the misguided invasion of Iraq to destroy Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Obama crafted a rational deal with Iran to oversee its denuclearisation programme. The lifting of sanctions was a carrot to induce compliance. Of course, such rationality was bound to escape Trump's exclusively ego-driven presidency.

Zimbabwe's situation is a consequence of failure by President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government to quickly adopt a clear foreign policy of appeasement that could convince the US and its allies that Zimbabwe has changed. 

The heavy-handed reaction to the nation-wide protest against the maddening inflation makes the lifting of sanctions difficult. The response by the security forces, and the loss of lives in the process, make Zimbabwe look like a rogue state. Zanu-PF opponents would probably say it is. But in truth, Zimbabwe is not a rogue state.

The sanctions are partly the reason Zimbabwe is in a messy economic situation which, in turn, sparked uprisings. Originally the sanctions were a response to Mugabe's bad political and economic management of Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa must demonstrate his government is different, not just by word of mouth.

Typically calm Zimbabweans could no longer fathom the ever-rising prices of basic consumables. Mnangagwa should have – and still must – develop a clear, globally oriented (Look both West and East) policy to persuade the US and its allies to review the sanctions. 

His government should present a programme to deal with all the concerns that led to sanctions: human rights violations, arbitrary property deprivation, concerns about the rule of law and electoral rigging.

ALSO READ: Mnangagwa's backroom deals bedevil progress in Zim

South Africa, through President Cyril Ramaphosa, has already stated that the sanctions must be lifted. It's important that Ramaphosa has made the call as president of a leading economy in the southern African region. But instead of Mnangagwa focusing on developing a strategy to convince the West to lift sanctions, he goes to Russia. Of all places!

Russia itself is under US sanctions and its economy is in bad shape. It too has been looking for non-Western deals to shore up its weak economy. Much worse, Americans are investigating Russia for alleged interference in their presidential elections.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin seeks to build some form of alliance to counter the West. He nearly hit a jackpot when Jacob Zuma almost handed the economic sovereignty of South Africa to Russia through the nuclear deal. It seems Putin, unlike Bosasa's Gavin Watson, was too slow to get Zuma's attention, wasn't he? (Everyone knows how to get Zuma's attention). But I digress. 

Mnangagwa must dump the Look East policy and focus on rebuilding sound diplomatic relationships with Western countries. Even investors from the East have relationships with the West. In fact, they do deals with investors from the West.

Zimbabwean businesses people would benefit if opportunities were opened for them to forge partnerships all over the world. The idea that you could look to only a few countries to jumpstart your economy in this age of globalisation is naive. 

Often the egos of politicians stand in the way of sound policies. Unfortunately, it doesn't bring any value to their nations. Ordinary Zimbabweans are searching for jobs, any jobs, all over the world including the West. Mnangagwa should follow the lead of ordinary Zimbabweans and re-engage the West.

But he must first bring immediate stability at home. South Africa has a role to play in helping Zimbabwe to become stable and restoring its international standing. It's in our economic and security interests to do so. An imploding Zimbabwe will be a disaster for South Africa – if it isn't already.

- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    emmerson mnagagwa  |  vladimir putin  |  zimbabwe
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