Mugabe death symbolises new era as Zimbabwe seeks international development aid from EU & US

The death of former Zimbabwe Leader Robert Mugabe, whose reign witnessed hyper- inflation, catastrophic economic collapse and the confiscation of white-owned farms, may provide some politically useful symbolism as the country’s new administration seeks to mend its international reputation, end the imposition of EU and US sanctions, tap into international development aid and, eventually, reaccess global bond markets.

Already southern African states lined up behind Zimbabwe at their recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Dar es Salaam. The group of 16 SADC nations made it clear that the Mugabe-era sanctions were no longer acceptable and were hurting the growth of the entire region.

John Magufuli

Zimbabwe has “opened a new chapter and it is ready to engage with the rest of the world,” said Tanzania President John Magufuli (pictured left), who took over as the SADC chairman. 

“These sanctions have not only affected the people of Zimbabwe and their government but the entire region,” he said. “Therefore, I would like to seize this opportunity to urge the international community to lift sanctions it imposed on Zimbabwe,” the SADC chairman added.

The EU and the U.S. first imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 and 2003 respectively, following reports of human rights violations, media repression and widespread brutality against white farmers during the controversial land reform programme under Mugabe. 

EU sanctions included restrictions on arms exports, travel bans, the freezing of assets and the suspension of certain financial and development cooperation programmes. 

These have been reviewed several times, significantly reducing the number of officials facing sanctions and gradually giving Zimbabwe greater access to EU assistance.

The EU and Zimbabwe have since begun normalising their relations and this process has accelerated since the election a year ago of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has made reform a priority. His government is reviewing 30 Mugabe-era bills to bring Zimbabwe in line with Western standards, especially when it comes to media laws and public order and policing legislation.

On the economic front, the government has launched a challenging currency reform to achieve de-dollarisation and restore the national currency of Zimbabwe. 

It has achieved a budget surplus and a positive current account for the first time since 2009. Moreover, Mnangagwa launched a programme to compensate white farmers who suffered fromMugabe’s discriminatory land policies.

Current EU sanctions do not target any government officials. Only Mugabe, his wife Grace and a state-owned defence firm remain on the EU’s sanctions list, which is accompanied by an arms embargo. 

The start of political talks between the EU and Zimbabwe in June was perceived as a positive sign towards abandoning the sanctions against the southern African country.

In contrast, the U.S. has announced that it would maintain its sanctions on 141 entities and individuals, including government officials and military figures, at least until March 2020.

This despite the progress the Zimbabwean government has made in reforming its economy and laws. 

While some of the U.S. sanctions are targeted at specific individuals via asset freezes and travel bans, others restrict Zimbabwe’s access to international loans and developmental assistance by international financial institutions and governments. The U.S. insists on media reforms and the freedom of assembly as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions, while noting the importance of Mnangagwa’s reversal of Mugabe’s anti-white land policy.

The SADC has expressed its confidence in Mnangagwa by appointing him Chairman on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation of the body, an important endorsement that cements his powerful domestic position and also gives him wider clout in the region.

Tanzanian President Magufuli has further pointed out that Zimbabwe is ready for a new future, and that the U.S. and the EU sanctions are no longer necessary given the country’s recent political and economic reforms.

In fact, the EU and the U.S. would benefit from encouraging the ongoing reform process in Zimbabwe instead of continuing with sanctions. As long as the sanctions are in place, the country cannot fully re-engage with the world, attract investors, or improve its growth and development prospects. 

More importantly, the sanctions are exacerbating the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe, which has been further exacerbated by recent tropical cyclones and droughts this year.

With the normalisation of relations, the EU is stepping up its support for Zimbabwe, announcing an additional funding of €10 million to meet humanitarian challenges. In addition to development cooperation and trade relations, the two sides cooperate in the areas of health, public finance management, migration governance, technical cooperation and food security under the EU’s 2015 Action Programme.

This growing relationship could be further enhanced by the lifting of Western sanctions. This would also benefit EU-SADC ties. The southern African region is of great importance to the EU, with the EU signing the first regional Economic Partnership Agreement to be fully implemented in Africa with six SADC member states: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Estwatini and Mozambique.

SADC leaders have declared October 25, 2019 Zimbabwe Solidarity Day, when the 16 member states will stage events and other activities to issue a joint call for the “immediate” lifting of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

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David Thomas

David Thomas

David Thomas is currently MNI euro zone correspondent and is based in Brussels.

He formerly worked for Deutsche Boerse in a communications role and was also head of communications for WFE - the global exchange industry association. 

David was also Brussels bureau chief for Knight-Ridder Financial and later for BridgeNews, covering the run-up to and launch of the single currency in 1999 and the euro’s early years. 

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