I was recently asked to sound out what effect, if any, the sanctions on Zimbabwe had had. With the help of Atta’s Chairman, Ross Kennedy, based in Zimbabwe, we obtained a pretty broad perspective of the subject and I thought some readers might be interested in our conclusions. Of course our investigations were principally aimed at tourism.
So what are sanctions?
International sanctions are actions taken by countries against other countries for political reasons, either unilaterally or multilaterally. There are several types of sanctions.
· Diplomatic sanctions - the reduction or removal of diplomatic ties, such as embassies.
· Economic sanctions - typically a ban on trade, possibly limited to certain sectors such as the banking sector or armaments, or with certain exceptions (such as food and medicine).
· Military sanctions - military intervention.
· Sport sanctions - preventing one country's people and teams from competing in international events.
n Zimbabwe’s case, the current sanctions were imposed by the European Union, United Nations, USA, Canada and Australia and others. But as the EU has now lifted most sanctions other than targeted sanctions, those against Zimbabwe are now largely limited to travel bans and asset freezes on certain key people accused or guilty of human rights abuse. There is also an arms embargo and sanctions on some commercial companies such as Zimbank and ZB Bank.
Despite imposing the sanctions and taking with one hand, the EU, UK and the US gave back with the other, by continuing to give enormous amounts of development assistance to the Zimbabwe people. They have supported the health sector, agriculture, food aid and many other areas of support – about $800m worth of assistance over the last few years – so there’s been enormous assistance pumped into the Zimbabwean economy and society by the West, usually channelled through recognised NGOs.
According to the distinguished Zimbabwean economist, John Robertson, the sanctions did not really affect the country directly, but it was, he says “the lack of earnings from the exporting companies in the country that meant that there was a shortage of money that might have been of assistance to the hospitals to prevent the cholera epidemic or money that might have been available to maintain the electricity supplies or the roads or the water supplies or whatever. So the lack of money was because we were no longer earning it. Once land reform started we lacked the ability from then on to service the debts we already had and therefore it was enormously difficult to borrow yet more money when we were not servicing the debts that were already in place. So all these were very much the effects of land reform and not the effects of sanctions.”
So, in a way, these remaining sanctions do not hurt those whom they are aimed at but, as always, it is ultimately the people on the street who lose out, as the adage says, “ultimately less investment means fewer jobs”.
Have these sanctions affected tourism to Zimbabwe?
Yes, probably, as in the early days arrivals into Victoria Falls dropped from 190 000 in 1999 to just 84 000 between 2002 and 2010 mainly due to negative media reports and negative travel advisories. But the tourism industry has proved remarkably resilient as those in tourism have successfully managed to avoid politics and get on with the job of selling tourism to one of Africa’s shining jewels. The turning point was perhaps in 2013 when UNWTO held its General Assembly in the region, co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe. This sent a global message that Zimbabwe was open and safe for tourists and since then the arrival figures are climbing back up.
Some sanctions do continue, yet tourism arrivals over the last year reached close to the 200 000 mark in Victoria Falls, despite the Ebola threat, which cast a shadow over all tourism in sub-Saharan Africa, fuelled by a media hype for something that never touched the region. This strong recovery is a remarkable achievement indeed, and tourism will undoubtedly contribute significantly towards the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe, and the Government already recognises tourism as one of the three pillars of the economy.
In the words of one commentator: “Sanctions, what sanctions? We have one of the Seven Wonders of the World and no sanction could ever take that away.”