AllAfrica is featuring an editorial calling for the U.S. government to keep its sanctions on Zimbabwe. Todd Moss argues that, “removing sanctions now would arguably make matters worse for Zimbabweans' hopes for a full return to democracy.” While I suspect most Zimbabweans are more concerned about their health than democratic representation, the points Moss makes should be addressed. If we really care about the impoverished in Zimbabwe we should be arguing for the lifting of sanctions, not for their renewal.
Moss lays out three arguments against sanctions on Zimbabwe and attempts to dismantle each of them.
The first argument is that the sanctions are illegal. This is a weak argument. Economic sanctions can be imposed by the President under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Whatever one might think about the legitimacy of this legislation the fact remains that the sanctions on Zimbabwe are on solid legal foundation.
The two remaining arguments targeted by Moss are more interesting.
The second argument is that the sanctions hurt the poor. Moss dismisses this argument calling it ‘silly’, claiming that the sanctions target seventy-seven particular members of the Zimbabwean elite listed in George W. Bush’s Executive Order. Moss dismisses the claim that investors are more put off by economic restrictions than they are by human rights abuses and political corruption.
However, many investors do business in countries where there are worrying human rights abuses and no sanctions. Western nations do business in China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, all of which have far from laudable human rights records. I cannot think of any reason that investors would make an exception to Zimbabwe.
That the sanctions target seventy-seven particular people is of little consequence. Investors must undertake additional costly work to prove that none of these particular people will benefit from a trade in Zimbabwe, a piece of regulation that puts off many would-be investors.
The last argument Moss tackles is the argument that lifting sanctions will remove a scapegoat the Zimbabwean government has been using for years. Moss doesn’t think it likely that ZANU-PF would stop blaming the sanctions for Zimbabwe’s poverty were they lifted. Why he thinks this is not made clear. While it might be the case that ZANU-PF wouldn’t stop blaming sanctions for poverty, it is certainly the case that they couldn’t do so with any credibility.
Sanctions have a poor track record of helping the poor or motivating change. Iran, Cuba, and North Korea have not been motivated to change their policies as a result of sanctions, and there is no reason to think that Zimbabwe is any different.