Monday, March 12, 2007

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Does Zimbabwe support or weaken the smart sanctions argument?

Last week Michael H. Cognato blogged at Passport about the fact that smart sanctions seemed to be having an effect in Zimbabwe:

[The International Crisis Group] found that targeted sanctions have played an important role in undermining Mugabe's support:
Targeted EU and U.S. sanctions on senior regime figures are working. ZANU-PF leaders cite their personal financial situations as motivation for wanting Mugabe out. “We have businesses which we worked hard over years to set up which are collapsing. It is about time we change course”, said a senior politburo member.
The possible implications stretch far beyond Zimbabwe. Targeted sanctions, which limit the activity of specific regime members, rather than the entire country, are a relatively recent innovation. The hope has been that they would better pressure a target government while sparing its citizens needless suffering. Officials in Sudan, Iran, and North Korea are currently on the receiving end of these appeals to their unenlightened self-interest. The news out of Zimbabwe is reason to hope they might be similarly persuaded.
Sounds promising... until we get to more recent events. Like today's AP report:
Top opposition leaders were assaulted and tortured by police who broke up a prayer meeting planned to protest government policies, colleagues of the activists said Monday.

One protester was shot dead by police in Sunday's unrest in the outskirts of the capital and scores of others were arrested. Journalists trying to cover the events also were arrested.

In a statement, organizers of the prayer meeting, an alliance of opposition, civic, church leaders and student and anti-government groups, said lawyers who visited the detainees Monday reported the main opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, fainted three times after being beaten by police.

The alliance, called the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, said another opposition leader, Lovemore Madhuku, was taken to the main Harare hospital early Monday after collapsing from police assaults.

At least four other opposition and civic leaders were beaten and tortured in custody, the campaign said.

``The police thoroughly assaulted leaders of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign while in custody,'' the group said.

The alliance said lawyers were still trying to establish the whereabouts of all those picked up by police, saying some were denied food or legal advice.

No comment was immediately available from police on Monday.

There are two ways to interpret this kind of repression. One way is that this is the last gasp of a dying regime. You can find this interpretation in this Washington Post story by Craig Timberg:
[Former member of parliament Roy] Bennett, speaking in Johannesburg after consulting with other opposition figures by phone, said Sunday's gathering was the beginning of mass protests against Mugabe's government under a newly formed Save Zimbabwe Coalition.

"This is what everybody's been building up to," said Bennett, who fled Zimbabwe a year ago. "It's the beginning of the end."....

Tafadzwa Mugabe, from the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said from Harare that attorneys were denied access to Tsvangirai and the others who were arrested. Judges at the High Court of Harare declined to hear the case Sunday night but scheduled a hearing for Monday morning.

Mugabe, who is not related to the Zimbabwean president, said there had never been such a broad crackdown on opposition figures there. "In terms of magnitude and profile, I'd safely say it's unprecedented," he said.

Zimbabwe has been in economic decline for seven years. It has inflation of more than 1,700 percent, unemployment exceeding 80 percent and chronic shortages of such basics as gasoline, bread and cooking oil. Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe's ruler since the end of white-supremacist rule in 1980, has become increasingly authoritarian, sharply limiting political freedoms....

The International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization based in Brussels, reported last week that the crisis in Zimbabwe was nearing its conclusion because of deepening splits in Mugabe's ruling party, but warned that spontaneous violence could erupt.

The opposition has been severely split as well. There are now two rival factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, the group Tsvangirai helped found. The leader of the other faction, Arthur Mutambara, also was arrested Sunday, as was Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly, which also opposes Mugabe's rule.

The thing is, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign has been around for six months now, and prior efforts to mobilize have not panned out.

So there's another, gloomier possibility: smart sanctions are insufficient, and the state's ability to repress will not be tamed anytime soon.


posted by Dan on 03.12.07 at 03:30 PM


I am not sure that proponents of smart sanctions argue that they can single-handedly engender a peaceful transition. The sanctions have the benefit of concentrating costs among regime insiders to provide incentives to change policies, while not punishing those unrelated to the bad policies of the leadership. The question then to be asked is what is the cost of smart sanctions? Do smart sanctions encourage repression? If they do encourage repression, what is the average lifespan of such repression? These questions can and probably should be probed empirically as smart sanctions become a tool in policymaker's arsenals.

posted by: Justin on 03.12.07 at 03:30 PM [permalink]

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