March 14, 2002 | Backgrounder on Africa
President Robert Mugabe and his political cronies in the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) exercised no restraint in making sure he would win another term in the March 9-10 presidential election. Over the past year, Mugabe instituted measures that further destroyed the country's economy and trampled the rule of law,1 even sanctioning attacks on opposition supporters, in his single-minded determination to remain in office. Moreover, his supporters used various measures to steal the election and prevent people from voting, including vote fraud, intimidation, and delays. Following a court-ordered third day of voting on March 11, the official results show that Mugabe's tactics were successful in an election that was neither free nor fair.
Before the election, the United States and the European Union (EU) had imposed "smart sanctions" targeting Mugabe and his inner circle of advisers as punishment for their brutal policies.2 This approach should be expanded by the Bush Administration to include a ban on multilateral and bilateral assistance to Mugabe's illegitimate government, a downgrading of diplomatic ties, and direct support for the opposition. Shunning Mugabe politically and economically in such ways may have an adverse effect on the people of Zimbabwe in the short term, but short-term hardship is necessary to eliminate the greatest impediments to to their long-term best interests: Mugabe's repressive economic and political policies.
When the European Union election monitors were prevented from fulfilling their mission, the EU and the United States retaliated by applying "smart sanctions" targeting Mugabe and other important members of his administration. These sanctions included a travel ban on Mugabe and high-level members of his government and their families, as well as a freeze on their overseas financial assets.
Such measures are appropriate and should be broadened to apply to more officials in the Mugabe government. In addition, the Bush Administration, along with other democratic nations, should complement the targeted sanctions by taking steps in the near term to:
This situation in Zimbabwe is more serious than Zimbabwe's arrears to international financial institutions. Mugabe and his cronies alone are responsible for Zimbabwe's economic crisis, and they should not be rewarded for sacrificing the prosperity of ordinary Zimbabweans for their own political interests. While the United States, as the largest donor to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has significant influence over their lending decisions, it cannot by itself prevent them from providing new loans to Zimbabwe. Therefore, it is imperative that the Bush Administration voice serious opposition to any additional multilateral assistance to Zimbabwe until independent monitors from both the United States and the EU verify that free and fair elections are held; the Administration also should solicit the support of other key donor nations for that policy.10
Failure to punish Mugabe through such direct actions would have negative repercussions across the region, sending the message to repressive governments that elections by any means and regardless of how flawed are acceptable to the international community generally and the United States specifically. The minimally acceptable standard desired by the international community is free, fair, and transparent elections that establish representative governments and that seek to adhere to the rule of law.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has criticized the "smart sanctions" imposed by the European Union and the United States as "economic terrorism," but it is Mugabe and his cronies who terrorize Zimbabwean citizens in a desperate attempt to maintain power. The United States and its allies should warn Mugabe that a stolen election will not absolve him of responsibility for his despicable actions that include murder and that increase poverty and the destruction of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.
1. Zimbabwe's economic policies and enforcement of the rule of law have grown increasingly worse over the past decades. This decline is documented in the Index of Economic Freedom between 1995 and 2001. The 2002 Index classifies Zimbabwe as a "repressed" economy characterized by corruption, bureaucratic impediments, and weak rule of law. See Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Jr., Kim R. Holmes, and Mary Anastasia O'Grady, 2002 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones and Company, Inc., 2002), pp. 425-426.
2. See White House, "Zimbabwe Proclamation: Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Responsible for Actions that Threaten Zimbabwe's Democratic Institutions and Transition to a Multi-Party Democracy," press release, March 4, 2002, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/02/20020222-4.html , and Judy Dempsey, "EU Imposes Immediate Sanctions on Zimbabwe," The Financial Times , February 19, 2002.
3. See Brett D. Schaefer, "Past Time to Isolate Zimbabwe," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 747, May 10, 2001, and Brett D. Schaefer, "How Washington Should Respond to Instability in Zimbabwe," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 705, November 2, 2000.
9. World Bank Group,
"World Bank Places Zimbabwe on Non-Payment Status," News Release
No. 2001/082/AFR, October 3, 2000, at
f56323150261fb048525696d0072d584?OpenDocument , and International Monetary Fund, "IMF Declares Zimbabwe Ineligible to Use IMF Resources," Press Release No. 01/40, September 25, 2001, at http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2001/pr0140.htm .
10. The key donors are Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries are the primary donors to the World Bank and the IMF, controlling approximately 40 percent of the voting stock in the IMF and the World Bank, and the institutions are unlikely to lend over their objections. However, with the cooperation of a small number of other donors to reach 50 percent of the voting stock, these nations can block lending decisions.