On February 18, twenty-eight European Union foreign ministers will meet in Brussels to answer the same question they have faced every year since 2002: ‘What should we do about Zimbabwe?’ After the recent weeks of state-directed violence and repression in Zimbabwe, this year’s decision will be another stern test for the credibility of the EU’s response. In truth, seventeen years of restrictive measures on Zimbabwe have provided a tough lesson in the limits of the EU’s influence and global reach.
Put simply, the EU is nursing a failed Zimbabwe policy in the absence of better alternatives. It must now decide how much confidence it has in its restrictive measures policy and whether it is time to re-explore more imaginative options to pursue in parallel.
This decision probably won’t make anything better in Zimbabwe, but it could yet make things worse.
The restrictive measures — financial and travel restrictions on a series of specific named individuals — were originally imposed in 2002, as a statement against violent, repressive and undemocratic actions directed by senior government and security sector officials. The scope of the measures has waxed and waned over the years, initially applying to 20 individuals — including Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Constantino Chiwenga and Perence Shiri. By 2004, the list numbered 95 individuals, then rising to 203 individuals and 40 entities in 2009, following the severe electoral violence of the previous year. Since then, the EU has progressively reduced the scope of its measures, both during and after the period of the inclusive government, essentially as a confidence-building step to improve relations with the Zimbabwean government, to foster better, less violent and more democratic governance, and to prepare for the inevitable post-Mugabe future.
In their current, much-reduced state, restrictive measures are only active against two people, Robert and Grace Mugabe, as well as an arms embargo against state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries. There are also a small number of suspended measures targeting five securocrats, including current Vice President Chiwenga, Agriculture Minister Shiri, and Chief of Defence Forces Philip Valerio Sibanda. The irony should not be lost: the EU is currently subjecting two (albeit involuntarily) ‘retired’ private citizens to active measures, whereas it treats more leniently everybody currently serving in the Zimbabwean government and security sector. Therefore, the causal link between this posture and the EU’s presumed objective of shepherding the current government to less violent, more democratic behaviour is, to be charitable, somewhat elusive.
Another week has passed&we remain gravely concerned about continuing human rights violations in #Zimbabwe .Reports of rape by security forces are shocking.Any violations should be stopped immediately &thoroughly investigated.See our unfortunately still topical statement