from Africa in Transition

U.S. Sanctions and Zimbabwe

September 25, 2013

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Sub-Saharan Africa


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Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party repeatedly assert that the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy is the result of Western–especially American–sanctions. He repeats it enough that African public opinion may start to believe it. Mugabe used sanctions as the pretext for refusing to allow U.S. election observers in Zimbabwe during the July elections this year.

Hence U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton did a service by addressing U.S. sanctions in a radio interview on September 20. He highlighted the limited reach of the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, including travel restrictions of 113 individual Zimbabweans and financial restrictions on seventy entities linked to the ruling party. U.S. sanctions are designed “to bring pressure to bear on those people we believe have the power to make decisions that either strengthen or weaken Zimbabwe.” Sanctions, Ambassador Wharton said, are in fact a means by which the United States supports Zimbabwe, and will remain in place until democratic reforms are achieved.

The ambassador said that the reforms the United States looks for include “bringing the new constitution into full force, clarifying how the indigenization program is to work to build confidence in investors, continuing with some reforms suggested under the previous unity government and ensuring the Human Rights Commission is robust and effective.” Such reforms, the ambassador said, “will elicit a positive response from my government.”

There are few if any signs that such reforms will be forthcoming anytime soon.

In fact, U.S. sanctions are highly limited and have little effect on Zimbabwe’s economy. Rather than being the result of sanctions, the collapse of Zimbabwe economy was directly caused by Mugabe and his ruling party’s policies, including its wholesale violation of the rule of law and the employment of violence targeted against their political enemies.