Related Stories By Tichaona Zindoga Published: 20120224
Keeping guard against the EU

The recent review of European Union (EU) sanctions on Zimbabwe, which saw six politicians and journalists and 20 companies being de-specified, can be read in at least four major contexts.

The first is how the EU is using the classic diplomatic tactic of carrot-and-stick by ostensibly “rewarding progress, reform and reformers” while maintaining pressure on “hardliners”.

This can be read with last year’s stated intention of a “calibrated” or “gradual” lifting of the embargo that saw the removal of 37 individuals and six companies from the travel ban and asset freeze component of the sanctions.

This is what MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been advocating for as well, being on record as having advised that such “easing” of sanctions be anchored by the maintenance of “leverage” on Zimbabwe.

By “leverage”, it can be pointed out, Tsvangirai meant that sanctions should continue to hurt so that a significant measure of influence can be maintained over Zimbabwe's internal political and economic processes.

This leads to the other context ‑ that of a general election that President Robert Mugabe has since declared will be held this year.

With elections on the horizon, the EU seems frantic to engage President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party so that they can be amenable to a “free and fair” election, which ‑ needlessly ‑ should be held on EU terms.

In EU terms, “free and fair” with regards to Zimbabwe’s elections is synonymous with seeking a loss for President Mugabe and a win for Tsvangirai.

The other major context is that of lawsuits against the EU itself by Zimbabweans coupled with the exposure of the EU’s hypocrisy in defeating its vaunted causes such as democracy and free speech by sanctioning media practitioners.

An examination of the above elements will demonstrate why some quarters have dismissed the latest move as a non-event.

Simply because the EU illegally imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe outside of the UN and even its own regulations, there is a strong feeling that the embargo should be lifted unconditionally and in its entirety.

This rubbishes talk of “reform” and “implementation" of the coalition government agreement as the prime motivators for the partial lifting of some of the sanctions.

The full import of the sanctions does not fundamentally change because the EU has decided to de-specify a few journalists, politicians and deceased persons from an aspect of the embargo.

Zimbabwe remains far from accessing lines of credit from many Western institutions and in a world that operates on credit, the impact of such a sanction is as real as it is grave.

The EU will claim that the removal of two ministers – Patrick Chinamasa (Justice) and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi (Foreign Affairs) – demonstrates goodwill.

But the fact is that the suspension of their travel ban has been done grudgingly. Some will remember that on two occasions, Chinamasa – who along with Mumbengegwi form part of the six-minister Zimbabwe re-engagement team with the EU – was detained at Frankfurt International Airport by German officials, resulting in him missing key talks that were supposed to bring the two sides closer to each other.

It is widely believed that these were attempts to frustrate the re-engagement process and much embarrassment on the part of the EU has resulted from these actions.

Elections represent a big question in and between Zimbabwe and the EU.

The EU has not been recognising elections held in Zimbabwe since 2000, alleging that they lacked credibility.

Some will recall that the standoff with the EU started in 2000 when Zimbabwe embarked on its Fast-Track Land Reform Programme.

A report commissioned by the EU in 2007 established that the bloc itself sought to influence the 2002 Presidential elections in Zimbabwe and hence the rash imposition of sanctions against the rules and procedures of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

Since then, the EU has disregarded every election result that did not result in loss for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

There is thus a justified conviction that the West will only regard as “free and fair” an election that has Tsvangirai as victor.

It is a safe bet that this year, the EU will be trying to lay groundwork for an MDC victory – ironically this time with the help of ZANU-PF.

Another factor will be the regional bloc SADC, which for long Brussels has tried to use to influence Zimbabwe's politics.

Interestingly, there is a familiar face for the EU.

A key fulcrum in this push this year will be a lady called Lindiwe Zulu.

She is one of the President Jacob Zuma-appointed facilitators in talks between Zimbabwe's political parties.

She has previously served in South Africa's mission to Brussels and interestingly there have been numerous complaints about her conduct in the Zimbabwe talks.

It is for this reason that eyebrows should be raised when the EU talks glowingly about South Africa when partially lifting a component of its sanctions regime.

No one should make the mistake of thinking that the EU is altruistic in its interests in Zimbabwe.

The reasons for the partial lifting of the embargo have nothing to do with helping Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans.

They have more to do with political considerations and a fear of the embarrassment that could accompany court challenges on the legality of the sanctions.

Remember that when Senator Guy Georgias sued the EU in the British High Court over the embargo, he was struck off the sanctions list in 2011.

Zimbabwe has indicated that it can sue the EU in European courts and the Attorney-General's Office is understood to have drafted the founding claims.

Should courts within the EU itself rule that the sanctions are illegal and have harmed ordinary Zimbabweans, how much chagrin would that cause?

This means that Zimbabwe must pursue all measures necessary to counter the manoeuvrings of the West without being distracted or hoodwinked by petty gestures from the West.

If Zimbabwe decides to be complacent and thinks that the EU is doing it a favour, soon it is going to get a huge shock. Zimbabwe must not give room for the EU in the upcoming general election. The EU cannot have a say in the direction that the country takes: that is the sole preserve of the people of Zimbabwe.