ZIMBABWE – Recent reports indicate that the European Union (EU) is working on lifting sanctions imposed on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his inner circle for human rights abuses committed against Zimbabweans that escalated in 2000.
In our considered view, sanctions played a role in modifying the behaviour of Mugabe and his band of fast and loose cohorts.
Although the perpetrators did not feel the immediate sting of the sanctions when they were intensified in 2007-08, the ‘inconvenience’ gradually took hold, hence the hollering for their lifting. There has indeed been some improvement in the political situation in Zimbabwe, though isolated incidents of violence against government opponents, among them lawyers and independent journalists, still occur.
There is reason for hope, following the drafting of a new constitution that is in the process of being adopted.
However, we take the opportunity to note our concern that the international community almost always takes long to impose sanctions on rogue regimes. The Zimbabwe case is one in point where there was much dithering long after it became manifestly clear that the world was dealing with an absolute dictator in Mugabe.
In our view, the obligation to halt, even pre-empt crimes against humanity far outweighs the tenet of respect for the sovereignty of nations. Mugabe made his intentions known early in the 1980s when his ZIPRA forces wiped out 20,000 people in the so-called Gururahundi campaign that was a clear case of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Ndebele.
The brutality of it was characterised by people being forced to dig their own graves in front of family and fellow villagers during a madness in which pregnant women were pierced alive with bayonets. While Mugabe’s credentials as a liberation war hero were in no doubt, there was no reason for the world to sit idly by as he maimed and murdered. Another case is the ongoing conflict in Syria in which people are clamouring for freedom after decades of a brutal rule by Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, inspite of their credentials as a bulwark against Zionist aggression. The point is that Assad and Mugabe did not just happen in one day.
In Zimbabwe, it started with a gang of ruling party members peeling away the civil liberties of citizens while members of the ruling cabal lived it up. It began with Mugabe and his cohorts becoming lawless gangsters who disregarded the independence of the judiciary, and the role of the media as the anchor of free expression and speech.
As we have said it before, it is incumbent on the African Union, European Union and United States to devise mechanisms for the detection of wayward behaviour in governments across the continent. While it is not for us to sound false alarms, we are disturbed that our own country, once a veritable democracy, could be losing that mantle