Friday, March 04, 2011

Zimbabwe: Anti-sanctions campaign kicks off

President Robert Mugabe blames Zimbabwe's dire economic situation on the targeted sanctions

IRIN - Thousands of Zimbabweans attended a rally organized by President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party on 3 March in the capital, Harare, to mark the launch of an anti-sanctions campaign.

The aim is to collect at least two million signatures on a petition against the sanctions, which Mugabe has blamed for the country's dire economic situation and prolonged food insecurity.

Targeted sanctions imposed in 2001 and 2002 by the United States and the European Union (EU) banned travel and froze the bank accounts of individuals and companies linked to Mugabe and his party.

International financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have also restricted financial assistance to Zimbabwe.

The United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee has noted that "a great number of States and humanitarian organizations have expressed concerns at the possible adverse impact of sanctions on the most vulnerable segments of the population" and recommended that sanctions are "targeted at specific actors".

The EU has described the measures as targeting solely those judged responsible for violations of human rights and preventing the holding of free and fair elections. The sanctions were recently extended because of a lack of progress in democratic reforms despite a power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has been in effect since 2009.

Most commentators blame Mugabe's controversial policies, including the fast-track land reform programme, for the steep economic decline over the last 10 years and the hardship many Zimbabweans have suffered, but some argue that the sanctions have also played a role.

Brian Tengwa, 44, from Harare, believes he was retrenched from his job at a car assembly company in 2005 as a result of the sanctions. "We were told that the company was failing to import necessary parts for the assembling of cars because it was linked to influential people in ZANU-PF," he told IRIN.

"Even though I had worked for the company for almost 15 years, the money that I got was not enough to buy a plough to take to my rural home."

Tengwa and his family now live in a backyard shack in Mabvuku, a township east of the city. He has lost hope of finding another job "unless the government does the right thing in order for the sanctions to be removed" and in the meantime struggles to make ends meet by tending other people's gardens.

"Many problems that Zimbabweans have suffered and still experience are direct and indirect offshoots of the sanctions," said Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC).

He noted that restrictions on the operations of some local businesses and the withholding of financial aid had contributed to the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy after 2001, which was followed by a collapse in social services and severe food insecurity.

Abertina Mutsago, a vegetable vendor in a low-income suburb of Chitungwiza, a satellite town about 35km south of Harare, lost two children in a cholera outbreak in 2008 linked to a lack of government funds to maintain sewage systems and health facilities.

"Mugabe and his colleagues in ZANU-PF should take all the blame and stop blaming others for the problems that we are having today," she told IRIN. "The sanctions have caused untold suffering, but these politicians should see what they can do to have them removed [by meeting the conditions] without bothering us."

Mutsago said government militias had forced her onto a bus that took her to the rally on Wednesday, where she was told to sign the anti-sanctions petition.

Truckloads of militias escorted by army and police trucks descended on market stalls in the city and forced vendors to stop doing business. Some alleged they were beaten and ordered onto buses that transported them to the rally.

David Chimhini, former president of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust and a member of parliament, worried that the anti-sanctions campaign would lead to further politically motivated violence.

In recent weeks, there have been increasing reports of political violence following a call by Mugabe to hold national elections in 2011.

On 19 February, 46 union leaders, students and human rights activists were arrested for attending a meeting to discuss the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. They have since been charged with treason, which can carry a life sentence or the death penalty

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