Zimbabwe threatens to sue EU over sanctions

As though the European Union didn’t have enough to deal with already, there is reportedly much “panic” and trembling in the eurozone over the news that Zimbabwe will sue it for imposing “illegal” sanctions.

Attorney general Johannes Tomana, a Zanu-PF ally, wrote a letter at the beginning of September demanding that the EU lift its sanctions on Zimbabwe or face “consequences”—which he has yet to detail.

The Zimbabwe Herald reported that “panic has gripped the EU following last week’s ultimatum”.

Tomana’s letter to the Europeans reads like a verbose head teacher’s note to an errant learner.

“Unless I hear from you in the next 14 days,” Tomana announced, “I shall be taking steps as may be necessary and appropriate to protect the rights and interests of the government of Zimbabwe and all the natural and legal persons and entities, subject to the restrictive measures.”

The letter was sent to Greece, which holds the EU presidency. The two-week deadline has since lapsed and Europe anxiously awaits its fate at Tomana’s hands.

He is demanding that Europe explain why it has kept 163 Zim­babweans and 31 of its companies on the EU sanctions list.

The head of the EU in Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, responded by insisting that democratic reforms “would be considered as a very positive step by the EU and would have influence on the EU position on the restrictive measures”.

The EU imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002, after the government threw out the union’s top election monitor.

Since then, the sanctions have been a useful tool for President Robert Mugabe, who cites them as a reason not to implement the agreed reforms. The sanctions are also a handy excuse for anything that goes wrong.

‘Illegal sanctions’
Last weekend, when Harare was without water, Zimbabweans who turned to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), learned that the water shortage had been caused by a power cut at the water plant. This was because the power company was struggling to generate enough power, which was because, as it is always referred to by the corporation, of “illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by Britain and her Western allies”.

Also in the news: a dam in the southern Masvingo province, on which construction began nearly 20 years ago, was still not complete due to “devastating illegal sanctions”.

The poor grain yield was the result of sanctions, said Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, as he accepted Chinese food aid. And Rhodes Moyo, the deputy commissioner of prisons, said prisoners were crowded and malnourished because sanctions were “really straining”.

Although Zanu-PF blames every failure on sanctions, some of its opponents flatly deny any exist, despite the measures taken against some individuals and enterprises and the denial of credit.

For Zimbabweans, though, the entire sanctions debate is a mere distraction.

Zanu-PF knows this and has set out to make it a central issue. A mass anti-sanctions rally in March and a door-to-door campaign to collect two million signatures protesting against sanctions were meant to push the issue to the fore.

The two million signatures would be included in a petition to the EU, Zanu-PF said, to show the Europeans that Zimbabweans were fed up with their sanctions and all their meddling.

State media have been roped in to make it seem as though sanctions are the one thing keeping Zimbabweans awake at night.

Last week, when Prime Minister and opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai was visiting rural Murehwa, he was confronted by villagers demanding to know why he wasn’t going to Europe to plead with his masters to have sanctions removed, the Herald reported. Could he not see that they were poor because of sanctions, they reportedly said.

All foreign diplomats meeting are top government figures, particularly new officials presenting their credentials to Mugabe, required to state their position on sanctions.

Without fail, after every such meeting, they are confronted by a ZBC crew, a microphone is shoved into their faces, and they are asked how soon their governments will lift sanctions.

Two weeks ago, meeting the new British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mugabe suggested that, with the Conservatives back in power, perhaps Britain would finally come back to ask for forgiveness and end the embargo—only then would EU election observers be allowed in.

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