If Mnangagwa is unable to explain ‘sanctions on Zimbabwe’ then just how real are they?

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Did you know that countries that have genuine economic sanctions imposed on them by world powers, oftentimes, actually deny their true impact on the affected nation's economy?


Simply because they do not want to give those who imposed them the pleasure of knowing that their restrictive measures are actually yielding the desired results — that of squeezing and choking the economy, so as to bring the country on its knees. Thereby sending out signals of the possibility of either the leadership capitulating or the people suffering enough to rebel against their administration.

As such, whenever they mention sanctions — they always try to paint a picture of victory, and that there are not causing any harm at all, or at least minimal harm is caused on the economy.

In other words, these nations seldom repeatedly moan and whine over “economic sanctions imposed on our country that are crippling the economy and causing the ordinary citizens ” to suffer.

That is exactly what we witness in countries such as Russia, Iran and Cuba — which choose to put on a brave face, and act as if all is normal.

Such is what is to be expected of those under the yoke of economic sanctions!

Of course, this is in stark contrast to our own Zimbabwe — where the leadership goes to extremes in trying to pin each and every thing that has gone wrong, is going wrong, and can go wrong, on supposed “economic sanctions imposed on the country”.

Even a university professor who fails to secure international grants, disingenuously blames his misfortunes on “economic sanctions”.

As much as it is laughable that damage to the economy clearly caused by looting of billions of dollars of our resources can be blamed on sanctions — what stands out the most is how even those at the top in government cannot articulate, without stuttering, how exactly these restrictive measures have “crippled the economy”.

I have tried — believe me, I have really tried — attentively listening to those in power (including, President Emmerson Mnangagwa) describing how the travel bans, asset freezes and transaction restrictions on only a handful of top officials and entities can harm an entire country — but, have come out none-the-wiser.

I have challenged all those who contacted me directly in their attempts at defending Zimbabwe's ruling establishment, but have come out empty-handed as they simply went silent.

For the past 20 years — since the first smart sanctions were imposed by the British and Americans, at the turn of the millennium — no one in government, the ruling Zanu PF party, or their various sympathisers, have been able to provide a detailed account linking the measures to specific economic challenges faced in Zimbabwe.

Yet, I can easily give a blow-by-blow description of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia a few months ago — after its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and how these are intended to bring the country's economy to knees.

The US has barred Russia from making debt payments using foreign currency held in US banks; major Russian banks have been removed from the international financial messaging system; and there is a ban on the export of dual-use goods (items with both a civilian and military purpose, such as vehicle parts) by the UK, US and EU.

Furthermore, the EU will ban imports of Russian oil brought in by sea from December 2022; it will also ban imports of refined oil products from February 2023; and the US is banning all oil and gas imports; and the EU has stopped importing Russian coal.

There is also a ban on all Russian flights from UK, US, EU and Canadian airspace; an importation ban on Russian gold; a ban on the export of luxury goods to Russia and Germany has frozen plans for the opening of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

These are what we call “economic sanctions”  and, what I have noted above is just a fraction (due to limitations of space) of the sanctions imposed on Russia. I believe that the point has been successfully put across.

In fact, in addition to these tough restrictive economic measures, there are also targeted sanctions against 1 000 Russian individuals and businesses including, President Vladmir Putin, Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, and so-called oligarchs — which is why even a football club in the UK, Chelsea, was affected after its owner Roman Abramovich was placed on the sanctions list on March 10 2022.

It is not too difficult to list and describe real economic restrictions and, equally easy determining how these impact and hurt the targeted country's economy. Russia is losing billions of dollars in oil, gas and gold revenue, failing to access high-tech components for its war machines, annual inflation hovering around 15 and 17% car sales dropping to 83% in May, and its GDP forecast to fall by 30% by year end.

This is so clear that it does not require over two decades of trying to convince a nation, or the international community, of their existence and impact.

What about Zimbabwe?

What are these “economic sanctions”, we are sick and tired of being repeatedly told, all about?

Besides the generalisations — such as our local currency free-falling, prices of basic commodities and fuel skyrocketing, poor salaries, high unemployment, massive de-industrialisation, electricity shortages, and much more, all being attributed to sanctions — how exactly are travel bans, asset freezes, and transaction restrictions on 73 individuals and 37 entities responsible for all this mess?

Where are the details?

We witnessed the same vagueness during the recent 77th UN General Assembly in New York,  US  as several African leaders were visibly at great pains regurgitating this drivel and generalisation, about the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans being affected without proffering a single piece of incontrovertible evidence.

What are these economic sanctions?

Why, after 20 years, can we still not list them on a piece of paper?

Why all the lies then?

Let us never forget that Western countries are in the habit of letting both the world and the targeted country know what the real intentions of restrictive measures are — whether to cripple the economy, or punish a few individuals and entities, yet being careful not to harm the broader nation.

That is never a secret, or something left to speculation — since making the world and country know exactly why these measures are in place, and their consequences, is a huge factor in piling enormous psychological pressure on the subject to capitulate quicker than normally expected.

It is akin to an armed robber threatening to kill anyone who does not do as he says — as such, denying that he intends murdering his captives, yet having every intetion to do, will not make any sense, since that takes away the psychological advantage.

It cannot be denied that all this noise about “economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe” is more for the benefit of the domestic audience — used as an excuse for the deplorable state of the economy, which can be justifiably attributed to the disgusting levels of looting in our country by the political elite as well as gross mismanagement and incompetence.

The ruling elite and their sycophants — some of whom are incredibly well spoken and highly learned, yet acting like complete dimwits — give examples of the failure to access credit lines by the country, as a reason our economy has not been performing well.

Yet, they conveniently forget to mention that the government has not been honoring its pledges in repaying over US$13,5 billion in loans to various multilateral financial institutions, bilateral partners, and other creditors — a sure guarantee of any credit taps being closed.

Nevertheless, does Zimbabwe not boast of over 60 identified precious minerals?

What has been happening to the billions of dollars in revenue from their sale?

In fact, according to renowned economist, business person, and former RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) Monetary Policy Member, Eddie Cross, the country has sold over US$25 billion worth of diamonds over a 15-year period — yet, only one measly percent has found its way into national coffers.

What happened to the rest?

Did ousted President Robert Gabriel Mugabe not allude to a staggering $15 billion that vanished into thin air?

The same fate faces our gold reserves - with over US$1.5 billion in revenue being lost to politically-linked smugglers (a third of total output) each and every year.

Why would we ever need credit lines, when we have such vast resources — if only we were faithful in their administration?

In other words, the Zanu PF regime knows that it is squarely at fault for the intolerable poverty and suffering faced by millions of ordinary Zimbabweans — so, merely using this sanctions narrative for electioneering purposes, in order to shift the blame for its own disgraceful failures.

Honestly, if these sanctions were real - what tangible moves have been taken by the government of Zimbabwe in pushing for their lifting - save for the endless monotonous speeches, and noises (usually louder as we draw closer to the 25th October so-called 'Sadc Anti Sanctions Day'), and the half-hearted theatrics of marches and music galas...all in Zimbabwe, without any engagement with the supposed 'imposers' of these restrictions?

Mnangagwa was in New York City for the UN General Assembly — who, in the US administration, did he meet to discuss these sanctions?

In fact, did the man not return bragging over striking 'mega deals' with US multi-billionaires?

Would Putin, for instance, have been allowed to conduct all those business engagements on US soil - and, considering the economic sanctions imposed on Russian, which multi-billionaires would have been prepared to be seen in public with him, or dare invest in his country?

Surely, if these sanctions were truly economic and harmful to our economy - would it have taken an entire two decades to convince the citizenry?

In fact, the ruling establishment is still struggling, and clearly failing, to achieve this goal — yet, in less than a few days, I personally (as with numerous other Zimbabweans) could tell which economic sanctions had been imposed on Russia, and how they could affect their economy.

As a matter of fact, the rest of the world did not have to wait long, since fuel prices skyrocketed within a matter of days after their imposition.

No wonder it is undeniable that, those in power in Zimbabwe are actually more focused on making Zimbabweans believe that these sanctions are real - than, actually getting them removed!

Which says a lot about how authentic (or rather, inauthentic) these wild claims are!

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator.

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