How US sanctions on Zimbabwe have hit ordinary citizens

Members of the Broad Alliance Against Sanctions hold anti-sanctions placards in front of the US embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 4, 2022. PHOTO / TAFARA MUGWARA/ XINHUA

What you need to know:

  • The sanctions against Zimbabwe have been piled on since 2001, following a government decision to repossess land from minority white farmers for redistribution to landless indigenous Zimbabweans.

Opposite the US embassy northwest of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare sits an anti-sanctions camp marking 1,200 days of protest.

On July 4, the organiser of the camp, Broad Alliance Against Sanctions (BAAS), organised a demonstration outside the embassy compound while the Americans were observing their Independence Day.

"We're demonstrating against the Americans for celebrating their Independence Day while we are suffering because of their sanctions," said protestor Jesca Vhiyai, a BAAS member and mother of five.

The 48-year-old woman spoke out partly due to the agony afflicting millions of Zimbabweans from decades of sanctions imposed by the US and its western allies.

The anti-sanctions lobby BAAS said their camp set up on March 29, 2019, would only be removed when the sanctions are lifted.

The sanctions against Zimbabwe have been piled on since 2001, following a government decision to repossess land from minority white farmers for redistribution to landless indigenous Zimbabweans.

Though the Zimbabwean government said the land reform would promote democracy and the economy, Western countries launched repeated sanctions with little regard for the average person's suffering.

Over the years, Zimbabweans have spoken out against the sanctions.

BAAS is one of the staunchest. "So we are here to stay until they remove these illegal embargoes that they have enforced on our nation," said BAAS spokesperson Sally Ngoni.

"We realized that most industries closed due to sanctions, meaning that sanctions are actually the major cause for all our other problems in Zimbabwe," she said.

Ngoni said they would soon build an anti-sanctions village at the campsite, which will be molded along the traditional African huts in rural areas, adding that they want the Americans to "feel the pinch" by seeing first-hand how the sanctions have impacted the lives of the poor.

According to BAAS Chairperson Calvern Chitsunge, agents sent by unknown people have tried to bribe the group's four leaders.

"We said no. Paying us will not empower the 15 million Zimbabweans. Paying us will not change our industry," he said.

"We want our industry to function. We want our people to go to school. We want our people to seek medication which will be affordable."

The US embassy in Harare did not comment on the bribery allegations in its reply to Xinhua.

Linda Masarira, president of the Labour Economists and Afrikan Democrats (LEAD) political party, said sanctions have been used as a tool of economic warfare against Zimbabwe.

Tanking economy

"It was an action that the United States of America decided to do on Zimbabwe to ensure that they make our economy scream, they make things hard for Zimbabweans and imply that black Zimbabweans, native Zimbabweans cannot do their own farming, or run their own economy," she said.

When asked about the impact of the sanctions, the US Embassy in Zimbabwe directed Xinhua to a 2021 briefing by US State Department spokesperson Ned Price in which he repeated that the sanctions target only 83 individuals and 37 entities, denying the Zimbabwean people as the targets.

However, the sanction-induced economic mire has inflicted a myriad of real challenges on Zimbabweans, especially amid an unprecedented global pandemic.

"The sanctions are slowing down our progress, inhibiting our economic recovery and punishing the poorest and most vulnerable in our society," said Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Celia Rukato, founder of Chjaa Enterprises, a textile print and garment manufacturing company based in Harare, is one of the entrepreneurs suffering under sanctions.

Like many modern retailers, her brand promoting a Zimbabwean identity has utilised online platforms to reach a more extensive customer base in and outside Zimbabwe.

However, payment options have been a problem due to Western sanctions.

"There are certain companies that are not allowed to interact or work with Zimbabwean-based companies," she told Xinhua, citing US firm PayPal.

Jobs denied

"We have to make alternative plans that cause the customers to pay more for transaction costs or a middleman's commission in a third country," said Rukato, adding that these barriers have made Zimbabwe-based startups miss opportunities and funding.

In early June, The Herald newspaper reported that Andela, an international job placement network for software developers, had denied Zimbabwean national Michael Nyamande's attempt to join the service because he resided in a country under US sanctions.

"Sanctions are actually targeted at the ordinary men and women in the street, in the townships, in the rural areas," said Obert Gutu, member of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and former deputy minister of justice and legal affairs.

Describing the sanctions as a weapon of mass destruction, Gutu said Zimbabwe has failed to build new roads, hospitals, clinics or even rehabilitate old infrastructure because it "has been denied access to affordable finance by international institutions."

"Since 2002 when the sanctions were effected, this economy has never been the same again because the most deadly effect of sanctions on Zimbabwe was just to first and foremost paint Zimbabwe as a pariah state," said Gutu.

Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, said the sanctions had a devastating impact on the Zimbabwean economy and the competitiveness of local businesses.

"The business operating environment changed for the worse, and foreign direct investment ceased to flow into the country," he said.

"We will not allow the US to continue lying to the people of Zimbabwe that the sanctions are targeted," LEAD President Masarira said.

On a public occasion in March 2022, Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the country is reeling from the effects of sanctions.

Bank losses

"Banks lost over 100 corresponding resources. We experienced massive loss of jobs, and we were unable to create jobs easily."

The minister said foreign direct investment was 95 million dollars in the 1990s before plummeting to around 20 million yearly in the 2000s.

Given the distressing effect of the sanctions on the viability of businesses in Zimbabwe, there have been outcries against the economic punishment in and outside the country.

"You cannot do much when you are under a yoke," said Mutashu, adding that some regard the sanctions as a new form of neo-colonialism.

"We should be seeing countries being able to determine and chart their own destiny according to their own traditional cultural, political, socio-political and socio-economic backgrounds," Mutashu said, urging an immediate removal of the sanctions.

Led by President Mnangagwa, Zimbabweans embarked on a march to demand an end to foreign sanctions in 2019, which has gained support from various regional and international organisations.

In a statement released in October last year, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat said the AU calls "for the immediate and unconditional removal of sanctions imposed against the Republic of Zimbabwe."

The Southern African Development Community, a 16-country regional bloc, has designated October 25 of each year as Anti-Sanctions Day since 2019 to show solidarity with Zimbabwe against illegal Western sanctions.

UN concerns

The United Nations special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, Alena Douhan, also called for the lifting of the sanctions after her 10-day visit to Zimbabwe to assess the impact of the sanctions in October last year.

"Over the last 20 years, sanctions and various forms of over-compliance with sanctions have had an insidious ripple effect on the economy of Zimbabwe and on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including access to health, food, safe drinking water and sanitation, education and employment," Douhan said.

Despite minimal progress with several individuals and state entities removed from the sanctions list, mainly by the European Union, Zimbabwe and its anti-sanctions fighters have never given up.

"We have seen some institutions such as the Infrastructural Development Bank of Zimbabwe being removed from the sanctions list as well as some individuals," said BAAS spokesperson Ngoni, who is confident that their efforts yielded some results.

"We can't really say it was a direct result," said Ngoni, "but it did contribute to the removal of those sanctions."