Monday, July 21, 2008



Kenya Times
July 22, 2008
By Barry Moody

The West has a limited arsenal in trying to bring change in Zimbabwe despite unprecedented international outrage over bloody elections last month that returned President Robert Mugabe to power. In fact, pressure by former colonial power Britain and the United States to impose sanctions on the Zimbabwean leadership could be counterproductive as well as ineffective, analysts say.

“For people in the West to think the United States or the U.K. in particular could throw a switch and all of a sudden Zimbabwe is going to change, that is just not going to happen,” said Mark Schroeder, sub-Sahara director of risk analysis firm Stratfor. Mugabe, 84, stood unchallenged in the June 27 election after the opposition pulled out a week before, saying a brutal campaign by pro-government militias made a fair vote impossible.

The veteran leader’s decision to press ahead and extend his 28-year-rule provoked a wave of condemnation that included several outspoken African countries--extremely rare in the continent’s politics. But translating that wave of condemnation into practical action to force change looks like being a difficult process.

Disagreements in the 15-member U.N. Security Council have already this week delayed a vote on a U.S.-drafted resolution that would impose an arms embargo and financial and travel restrictions on Mugabe and his entourage.

Washington had wanted a vote by Wednesday and Western backers are now hoping for one on Friday, but veto-holding powers China and Russia are sceptical about sanctions. Mugabe and his inner circle have been subjected to targeted Western sanctions for years without budging and experts say they have already adjusted their travel and the way they move their money accordingly.

At the same time, lingering resentment of former colonial powers makes many African nations prickle when Britain or other Western countries raise the rhetoric against Mugabe, a former liberation hero.

“There is a sense of frustration in the African Union that elements within the West are obsessed with Zimbabwe given the other problems and crises in Africa, “ said Tim Cargill of Britain’s Chatham House think tank.“That makes it harder to agree on U.N. resolutions,” he said. Schroeder agrees.

“It is almost obligatory for the United States, U.K. apply sanctions but it is largely for their own consumption...those sanctions by themselves are not likely to bring a change in Zimbabwe.” Fierce attacks by Britain in particular are exploited by Mugabe, whose use of London and white farmers as universal scapegoats still resonates in Africa.

“Especially when Britain is going to lead the charge, that is fantastic for propaganda purposes,” Schroeder said. At the same time, the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and the plunging of much of the population into poverty and hunger make broader sanctions unlikely without risking an even bigger humanitarian disaster.

The key to bringing change in Zimbabwe is South Africa and a small group of countries that seem highly unlikely to take the draconian action that would be needed to speed change. Zimbabwe is landlocked and dependent on South Africa and to a lesser extent Mozambique not only to export its vital minerals, including platinum, but to import mining machinery and to move money through financial institutions.

Despite a crisis that has flooded South Africa and other neighbours with millions of economic migrants -- contributing to an upsurge of bloody xenophobia earlier this year -- President Thabo Mbeki has stuck steadfastly to a policy of discreet negotiations that critics say favour Mugabe.