Southern African countries have joined calls from the Zimbabwe government for the sanctions to be lifted, saying they’re damaging the region’s economy.
So why are sanctions in place and what impact are they having?
The United States and the European Union (EU) have both maintained sanctions, citing a lack of progress in democratic and human rights reforms as well as restrictions on Press freedoms.
They target both specific individuals and companies.
United States financial and travel restrictions currently apply to 85 individuals, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa.There are also 56 companies or organisations facing restrictions.
“We have sanctions against certain individuals and certain corporations… not against the country of Zimbabwe. There is nothing to stop US businesses from investing in Zimbabwe, from going to Zimbabwe,” says US assistant secretary of State on African Affairs Tibor Nagy.
Washington says the economic impact is mostly on farms and companies owned by these designated individuals.The US also imposed a ban on arms exports to Zimbabwe.
EU sanctions also target specific individuals both within the Zimbabwean government and associated with it.
Travel restrictions and a freeze on assets have been imposed, along with the sale of military hardware and equipment which might be used for internal repression.
Originally imposed during the era of the late former President Robert Mugabe, these sanctions were reviewed earlier this year and have been extended until February 2020.
The EU says these restrictions have no impact on the economy of the country.
Zimbabwe’s economy has faced deep economic crises over the past few years with periods of hyperinflation rendering the local currency worthless.Once again this year Zimbabwe has been reeling from high levels of inflation as well as severe shortages of fuel, power and water.
Recent economic data suggests Zimbabwe’s economy has recently been shrinking as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, the average economic output per person.
Are sanctions to blame?
The government of Zimbabwe has regularly blamed the dire economic performance on sanctions, and its neighbours in the southern African region are concerned about the impact Zimbabwe’s worsening economic crisis is having on the region.
But there’s little evidence to suggest that US and EU sanctions are responsible for Zimbabwe’s troubles.The US blames the crisis on what an official described as “catastrophic mismanagement” of the economy.
The EU also points to economic policies, a poorly carried out land reforms programme, drought and the HIV/Aids pandemic.Data from 1980 to 2015 shows no evidence that sanctions had a negative effect on formal employment and poverty, says Carren Pindiriri, a lecturer at the Department of Economics, University of Zimbabwe.
For its part, the Zimbabwean government argues that sanctions have cost the country billions of dollars.“You can’t say sanctions are targeted when you specify 56 of the biggest companies in Zimbabwe. What is left?” Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana says.
When Mugabe was forced from office in 2017, two United Nations human rights experts supported calls for the lifting of sanctions.
They said the measures could not be said to be “limited” or “targeted”, as the people and companies affected represented the vast majority of the economy.
“Zimbabwe’s economy is heavily concentrated in particular sectors, and sanctions on only a few people or companies can have a devastating impact.”