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Why Western sanctions on Zimbabwe may not matter anymore

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After the EU announced yesterday that it might lift sanctions, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – a longtime rival of President Mugabe and now a member of a coalition government with Mugabe – was among the first to praise the move.

"Linking the suspension to the successful implementation of the constitution referendum is evidence that the EU is willing to respond to progress in reform of the democratic process in Zimbabwe," Mr. Tsvangira said yesterday.

In truth, by imposing sanctions for so long, the EU and the US may be losing their leverage. Today, Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner is South Africa, and China is its largest export destination, receiving 5.6 percent of all the goods and products that Zimbabwe produces.

These sanctions, though, have effects far beyond their “targets.” When Mugabe’s government launched a brutal “land invasion” campaign, urging militias to use force to push white commercial farmers off their lands starting in 2000, the agricultural economy began to collapse, and Zimbabwe began to run into arrears on its foreign loans. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which rely heavily on US budgetary support – cut off Zimbabwe from any further aid until 2009, after President Mugabe had formed the coalition government with Mr. Tsvangirai’s party.

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