Foreign analysis: Robert Mugabe's prayers answered as sanctions aid his cause

IT'S A protest with an oddly familiar ring. Pro-Mugabe priests in Zimbabwe have stripped off their dog collars and say they won't put them back on again until western sanctions are removed.

"The church in Zimbabwe is in solidarity with the government in calling for the total and unconditional removal of sanctions imposed on the country," the priests told state ZBC radio on Sunday. Sounds like? That'll be John Sentamu, the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York. He snipped up his dog collar live on British TV in 2007, vowing not to don one again until Robert Mugabe left office.

Not for nothing do locals call Mr Mugabe, 87, a wily old fox: he has cleverly managed to turn EU and US sanctions to his political advantage. And the West just doesn't get it. With elections looming, there's not a news bulletin that doesn't have the phrase "illegal western sanctions" in it. Company lay-offs? Blame sanctions. Reluctance on the part of the Kimberley Process to allow Zimbabwe to sell its (blood-tainted) diamonds? Sanctions. Queues to see a doctor at the public hospital? That'll be the sanctions, stupid.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Many swallow the propaganda: Mr Mugabe still has sole control over the airwaves. EU and US embassy officials attempt to insist targeted sanctions affect only him and 163 of his cronies but their voices have little carrying power. Around 2.2 million Zimbabweans have already been made to sign a Zanu-PF anti-sanctions petition in a sinister pre-run of polling. White businesses have been told that if they don't sign they'll be first to be targeted in Mr Mugabe's controversial black empowerment drive. Most of the few remaining white dairy farmers have signed to save their beef. ("I told those youths I don't sign anything without 'phoning the (Zanu-PF] governor first," one told me. "But he said I had to, so I did.")

Pro-Mugabe chiefs have a wild dream of handing the petition personally to the Queen, presumably to "prove" what support the president still enjoys. If the West meant sanctions to be part of a carrot-and-stick approach to restoring democracy and human rights to Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe certainly grasped the stick bit.

He is using it against his opponents: defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a possible successor to Mr Mugabe, said last month the more than three million Zimbabweans living in the diaspora won't be allowed to vote unless sanctions "go first."

Travel bans and asset freezes have never really hurt the regime. Mr Mugabe has managed to circumvent travel restrictions to attend numerous summits.

And as for the luxury-loving First Lady Grace Mugabe's shopping trips. I ask you: if you had to choose your international shopping destination, would you really plump for Paris? Or would you choose Dubai or Shenzhen, where Grace can browse freely in any case?

Related topics: