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Letters: Zim’s sanctions a smokescreen

File: President Emmerson Mnangagwa at Davos

LAST week, the United States updated targeted sanctions against Zimbabwean individuals and entities responsible for committing grave human rights abuses, undermining democracy, or contributing to corruption on a massive scale.

The targeted sanctions regime, introduced in 2003, was intended to pressure and isolate those most responsible for political violence and the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.

Policymakers hoped that establishing concrete disincentives for the worst excesses in the country would stem the tide of authoritarianism and kleptocracy, creating more space for the many Zimbabweans who wish to express their political views without reason to fear, and who support genuine democracy, accountability, and the rule of law.

Nearly two decades on, the sanctions regime has succeeded in inconveniencing some of the most odious actors in Zimbabwe.

But it has not stopped Zimbabwe’s seemingly endless descent into dictatorship and despair, in which a small circle of elites enrich themselves and protect their access to power while the rest of the country suffers.

At the same time, sanctions serve as a handy scapegoat for the elite, who often mischaracterise them as a blanket ban on trade and investment in Zimbabwe and assert that these restrictions, rather than their own mismanagement, are to blame for the country’s troubles.

The result is a disheartening stasis. The individuals and entities on the list continue their repression and self-dealing, offering neither justification for lifting restrictions that target them, nor hope that those restrictions will be sufficient to disincentivise further brutality.

Instead, as the 2023 elections draw closer in Zimbabwe, the situation in the country seems to be getting worse.

Opposition parliamentarians Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole are languishing in detention on dubious charges, while their family members find themselves targeted by security services.

Political activists have good reason to fear even worse treatment.

An eyebrow-raising report about the State’s recent harassment of visiting US congressional staffers suggests that the Zimbabwean authorities have no interest in even affecting a façade for outsiders.

They want the sanctions lifted, but also openly intend to continue down a path of violent, repressive, ultimately ruinous governance.

The sanctions have also become something of an irritant in Washington’s relations with other African nations and the issue was among the items on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s agenda during his bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden last week.

Xenophobia is on the rise in South Africa and attempting to address upstream factors pushing migrants across the border makes sense.

But it is difficult to imagine that Ramaphosa or other southern African leaders really believe that Zimbabwe’s economy will recover due to a decision made in Washington.

Would Zimbabweans who fled their dysfunctional country wish to return if only leaders responsible for political violence could do business unencumbered by targeted sanctions?

Would Zimbabwe’s business climate have a positive reputation if only the entities siphoning off State resources were not on a sanctions list?

For too many African leaders, pretending to believe in these unlikely propositions is apparently far more comfortable than acknowledging the rot at the heart of the State, or their own role in enabling it. - Michelle Gavin

No to politisation of operating spaces

THE Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) is disturbed by the reports of politicisation of operating spaces on a piece of land adjacent to the traffic lights at Malvern and Chitungwiza roads in the Hopley area.

The Transport ministry recently ordered the closure of the Mbudzi roundabout to allow for construction of an interchange and this has led to alleged Zanu PF youths taking advantage of the situation to charge amounts as high as US$50 per square metre to traders.

A Viset team visited the area on September 22 and witnessed youth clad in party regalia chanting slogans to gathered informal traders.

We consider these acts to be in total violation of the national Constitution, where politically exposed persons take the law into their own hands to parcel out State land.

This also flies in the face of pronouncements by Harare Metropolitan Affairs and Devolution secretary Tafadzwa Muguti, who recently vowed zero tolerance to space barons who exploit their political influence to unjustly extract economic benefit.

We urge Muguti, the local authority and indeed the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to move in and restore order as well as persecution of the offenders to show that corruption will not be tolerated.

The authorities are also urged to relocate the affected traders, in a non-partisan and transparent process and we avail ourselves as an association to assist in this regard so as to weed out those who would seek to use their economic and political power to be space barons at the expense of long-suffering genuine informal traders. - Viset

African countries can manage rising monetary, fiscal policy constraints

MONETARY and fiscal policies are two powerful tools that governments use to steer economies. When applied correctly, these tools can similarly stimulate an economy and slow it down when it heats up.

Fiscal policy is when a government uses its spending and taxing powers to impact the economy. Monetary policy relates to the techniques a country’s central bank uses to check the amount of money in circulation and its value to the economy.

The combination and interaction of government expenditures and revenue collection is a delicate balance that requires proper timing and a little luck to get it right.

Fiscal policy’s direct and indirect effects can influence personal spending, capital expenditure, exchange rates, deficit levels, and even interest rates, usually associated with monetary policy.

African nations currently confront significant monetary and fiscal policy issues. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed economic growth, and the recovery will probably leave production below the pre-crisis level.

Several African countries have seen inflation rise in recent months. The rising inflation has posed a problem exacerbated in certain instances by fiscal dominance from high levels of public debt.

Many of these economies may experience capital outflows as well. In the coming months, major central banks in advanced countries will reduce policy stimulus and hike interest rates.

The economic effect of the Ukrainian war, notably the consequent rapid surge in oil and food prices, is expected to exacerbate the issues. The biggest question is how African nations will react to and deal with this highly volatile situation.

Public debt ratios have peaked at their highest levels in more than two decades, and several low-income African nations are in or near economic shutdown.

As a result, protecting the most vulnerable families without jeopardising debt sustainability must remain a priority.

Fiscal policy must support disadvantaged families from rising food and energy costs while not increasing debt vulnerability. The first-best approach is targeted cash transfer programmes to needy families. However, targeted tax cuts or price subsidies may be a better second-best option, particularly in nations with low social safety nets.

Finding the resources to safeguard the disadvantaged may need a reprioritisation of expenditure in nations with tighter economic restrictions. Higher commodity prices, on the other hand, may produce a fiscal windfall in commodity-exporting countries. However, given the uncertain forecast and often unstable budgetary conditions, most of these advantages should help to strengthen policy buffers.

It will be tough to navigate this complicated policy route, and many nations will need international assistance. While international bodies such as the IMF have been a steady source of help, the international community could go farther, for example, by eliminating barriers to allow for rapid and efficient debt restructurings where necessary. - Afrikan

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