Unmasking Europe’s role in Zimbabwe

Everyone who bandies the line that the sanctions on Zimbabwe are legitimate ignores a 2007 report by the European Union itself in which members of the bloc admit to the
illegalities and irregularities of the embargo.

Mabasa Sasa
Windhoek – The official European Union policy on Zimbabwe has always rested on the claim that theirs is a common position based on matters of morality and principle that make that continental bloc one and indivisible.
Officially, the bloc has repeatedly claimed that the implementation of the sanctions regime against Zimbabwe was the reaction of a morally indignant Europe that could not bear to look aside while the government in Harare killed its own people.
Officially, the EU has gone to great pains to convince the world that the sanctions regime has had no bearing on Zimbabwe’s economic performance and hence does not in any way contribute to the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Officially, the sanctions were put in place to help these ordinary people who are said to be at the receiving end of a demented regime.
Officially, the grouping of 15 European countries has been united in its condemnation of Harare and even when it was evident that there were some members who were not comfortable with the sanctions, the EU’s admittedly admirable PR machine moved swiftly to convince the world that there was consensus.
But there is a vast gulf between what is official and what is actually transpiring on the ground and – true to a Shona saying – “rine manyanga hariputire” (that which has horns cannot be hidden by wrapping it in a sack).
In 2007, the EU carried out a study evaluating coherence and co-ordination among its member states in the application of Article 96 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA).
The study was carried out by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium.
It can be found on ISBN 978-90-5260-264-6 (using Google or Yahoo! search), or at
The CPA came into being in 2000 as a replacement of the 1975 Lomé Convention as the defining document guiding relations between 77 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific on one hand, and the industrially and militarily powerful EU on the other.
Article 96 of the CPA outlines the procedures to be followed should a country be deemed to be in violation of certain governance, rule of law and human rights requirements of the agreement as defined in Article 8.
The contents of that study can embarrass the EU and those who support the sanctions on Zimbabwe, and maybe that is why it has not been given the publicity it deserves.


The EU is a powerful sovereign entity, which invariably means it will conduct its foreign policy as it pleases and the interests of small countries like Zimbabwe really do not count for much in their larger scheme of things.
Despite this, the EU tries to project itself as exerting “soft power” and that it really does have the interests of the smaller ACP countries at heart.
However, in the CPA implementation study, the EU admits that it has often wielded its awesome power in a manner detrimental to the development of smaller countries, Zimbabwe in particular.
The study is in five parts.

It demonstrates that the bloc calls for Article 96 consultations (on whether or not to sanction a CPA signatory) on the basis of its own interests rather than on the basis of issues of human rights, governance, rule of law and the other catch-phrases of 21st century liberal democracy.
Part of the study reads: “The EU is patient towards continuing problems in the human rights situation, democracy and rule of law. It is widely recognised that there are ACP countries where violations of these essential elements have not led to the invocation of Article 96.
“On the part of the Commission Directorate-General for Development these are cases of intended incoherence.
“There is no willingness to use the Article if prospects of its positive impact are low. In such cases the emphasis is put on tailoring the co-operation so that it could strengthen positive
developments in the country in question.”
Hence, the EU only intervenes where it wants to and the CPA thus becomes a foreign policy tool used to influence political and economic developments in countries that are of interest to Europe.
And this is exactly what happened in Zimbabwe.
Page 50 reads: “…here (in the case of Zimbabwe) consultations were started even though freedom of participation had improved from the previous year and even the absolute level of freedom of participation was better in Zimbabwe than in an average ACP country.
“Zimbabwe has also performed better than most of the other ACP countries with regard to competitiveness of participation.”
On page 73, the study explicitly states why Zimbabwe was singled out even though it was better than the average ACP country.
“The fact that the EU decided to commence the Article 96 process even though no effective dialogue had taken place under Article 8 points toward incoherence in the EU approach, since the aim of the EU had been to proceed to Article 96, only if dialogue did not solve the
“The explanation for the haste was the forthcoming elections (2002 Presidential elections). In other words, foreign policy goals were safeguarded and considered more important than the partnership principle in the Cotonou Agreement.”
In essence, Article 96 was invoked to influence the 2002 Presidential elections.
The EU had a pre-determined result for the election and they wanted to use sanctions to reach this determination and that having failed they have refused to accept the result of the elections.
The imposition of sanctions was a form of punishing Zimbabwe for embarking on the Land Reform Programme and was a means of trying to force the electorate to vote out Zanu-PF.
Furthermore, the EU flouted its own procedures in its haste to re-direct Zimbabwe’s politics ahead of the elections.
According to the Agreement, ACP countries are engaged in dialogue for a maximum of 60 days over any contentious issues and are given a chance to respond to any allegations before a decision is made, which was not the case with Zimbabwe.
“The Commission and the Council Secretariat were already preparing the papers for the passing of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
“This again points to incoherence as the EU was not waiting for Zimbabwe’s response, even though the aim of the consultations had been to try and solve the problem,” the study says.
“Article 96 has usually been considered as an instrument of last resort instead of an instrument that could be used to prevent major constitutional crises.
“It is often initiated in a reactive manner only after flagrant breaches of the essential elements have taken place. Zimbabwe is an exception in this regard,” reads page 55.
The idea is that ACP countries should be given an opportunity to respond to any charges brought by the EU but this was not the case with Zimbabwe.
It is not clear if the ACP countries can also bring about their own charges against the EU and then sanction it as well!
Page 74 says, “When the EU imposed smart sanctions, many Zimbabweans observers accused the EU of double standards. Some EU member states also saw grounds for such accusations, since there were worse cases which had not even let to discussion on Article
“The General Affairs Council’s decision to impose smart sanctions on the high officials of the Zimbabweans (who were believed to be in a position to influence the government decisions) was a unilateral CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) measure.”
The EU cannot claim to have had inadequate information on what was transpiring on the ground as they had 13 embassies in Zimbabwe compared to an ACP average of between one and three.

Not-so-smart sanctions

Another revelation in the report is that sanctions were slapped to erode capacity for governance and place pressure on the economy and key institutional structures with the eventual aim of seeing Zimbabwe collapse.
It also accepts that the so-called targeted sanctions have adversely affected the economy.
Page 38 admits: “…the EU has recognised that isolating countries can lead to State failure, which in turn is related to several conflict risks, including that of terrorism. In the EU Security Strategy this is grasped with the notion of ‘preventive engagement’.
“Following this line of reasoning would imply that the EU respects the principle of partnership and remains a partner even with countries that are violating agreed principles.”
This indicates that the EU was prepared to follow this line of reasoning with other ACP countries but not Zimbabwe.
It is stated openly on page 37 that, “The EU in some cases prefers ‘silent diplomacy’ instead of a consultation process that attracts public opinion.”
More damagingly, page 19 admits that sanctions are harming the economy.
This flies in the face of oft-repeated claims that the EU’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart sanctions’ have had no bearing on Zimbabwe’s economic performance and the shrinkage of the national economy is solely attributable to mismanagement by Harare.
The paragraph in question reads, “Since any sanctions or even a threat of sanctions can have negative impacts on the economy (for investments for instance), it is easy to blame the EU for all economic difficulties the country is facing.”
The study shows that the EU was quite aware of the negative impact of sanctions on the economy and governance capacity.
The EU suspended budgetary support under the 7th and 8th European Development Funds (EDF) National Indicative Programmes, suspended all financial support for basically all projects, redirected most funding to NGOs working in the domain of human rights, democracy et al, suspended the signature of the 9th EDF National Indicative Programme
under the Cotonou Agreement among other economic measures.
The question that arises is, “why then are the sanctions not being lifted?” The answer is found on page 76 of the study.
“The appropriate measures have been maintained much longer than was initially hoped for and predicted by the member states. As the basis for an exit strategy, in 2003 the EU set out benchmarks, according to which any positive moves on the side of the government of
Zimbabwe could be assessed.
“The benchmarks are consistent with the initial concerns of the EU and are comprehensive. Although this is an internal EU decision, the benchmarks have been communicated to the Zimbabwean government.
“The member states discussed the feasibility of the benchmarks in June 2006 and it appears that for the Northern ‘hardliners’ the question is one of principle and the EU has not been able to soften its approach in fear of losing its credibility.”
This is consistent with what came out after a meeting between Susana Roson, the Zimbabwe Desk Officer in the European Commission and a Zimbabwe official at the Embassy in Brussels in February 2002.
She told the official that for the EU to backtrack after having issued the threat of sanctions would have resulted in a loss of international credibility.
In that meeting, also Roson admitted that the sanctions regime would have an impact on the entire population of Zimbabwe and not just on senior government officials.
In a nutshell, the EU is saying that it will continue with this sanctions regime – which it has discredited itself – because it fears losing international credibility even though it admits that the action has hurt ordinary Zimbabweans.

The hardliners

What is evident is that there are some members of the EU who pushed for and are still advocating for a tough stance on Zimbabwe for fear of losing credibility and as a means of pursuing their own foreign policy interests.
There are some in the EU who have become victims of those with ulterior motives linked to the destruction of Zanu-PF and what it stands for at all costs, including the collapse of the economy and the loss of human life.
Page 76 highlights this difference in attitudes thus: “Within the EU there are two different analyses of the usefulness of Article 8 and later Article 96: one that did not expect reversals and another that hoped for such reversals.”
And that is why Zimbabwe-EU dialogue is yet to yield anything momentous.
There were some in the EU who do not want the matter resolved amicably and want to punish Zimbabwe thoroughly.
The study names these hardliners on page 70 as the United Kingdom, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Germany.
Though strenuous efforts are made in the study to hide the role the UK played in pushing for punitive sanctions, the role is so large that it cannot be whitewashed.
For example, it is stated that “while the UK had a larger concentration of interests in Zimbabwe than any other EU member state, its approach did not stem from those interests but rather from principles and values of the Cotonou Agreement”.
But page 58 then concedes, “The United Kingdom was active (although not alone) in pressing the Commission to propose consultations with Zimbabwe in a speedy manner.”
On page 70, after identifying the hardliners, the study says: “France, Belgium and Spain were moderate. France in particular opposed invoking Article 96, however in line with its agreement with in the UK in Saint Malo in 1998, which stipulated that both countries should respect each other’s Africa policy, it left the EU-Zimbabwe policy largely to the British.”
There is a direct correlation of the extent of the economic and political interest in Zimbabwe and the “hardness” of the approach.
The UK has the most such interests and is the most vocal critic of Zimbabwe. After them come the “Northern hardliners” who are protecting “their” lands in the country.
The rest come in with the line that they are defending the CPA when in reality they were merely showing solidarity with their EU brothers and sisters.
Page 71 tries to explain this situation thus: “…there is a Council position, which is very close to the UK position, a French position which is very different, a Commission position which is somewhere in between, and a critical position held by several member states that
simply are not comfortable with the current situation.”
The study notes on the same page that there was displeasure in the hardline quarters with the conciliatory tone adopted by the then Head of Delegation of the European Commission in Zimbabwe, Ambassador Xavier Marchal.
“Some member states criticise the current Commission delegation for being too lenient and overlooking the common view of the member states.
“Under the previous Head of Commission Delegation, the Commissioner’s approach was more centered on human rights.”
Ambassador Marchal longer represents the EU in Zimbabwe.
The study again contradicts itself when it tries to hide the role of interests in the EU’s intervention methods.
On page 58 it says, “…direct European relations and interests with a given ACP country do not automatically translate into softer or harder policy towards the ACP country.
“In the case of Zimbabwe, the EU policy has been hard in spite of the diverse European interests in the country ranging from European business or confiscated commercial farms owned by European citizens to the great number of European descendants living in the country.
“Cote d’Ivoire, where the European interests are comparable to those in Zimbabwe, in turn, has been treated in a softer manner.”
And the extent of the EU’s interest in Cote d’Ivoire became evident not long afterwards.

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