ON 25 October as Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) joined efforts in calling on the Western world to lift the two-decade economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. It gives us an opportunity to real look back, introspect and unmask this thing we call sanctions and how they have enabled corruption to take root in Zimbabwe.
The founding president of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe (May His soul continue to rest in peace) always maintained that sanctions were never imposed on Zimbabwe to ensure compliance with human rights. They were in fact a tool used by Western countries to threaten little countries that threaten their interests. In Zimbabwe’s case, the land reform programme and the indigenisation policy.
Western sanctions on Zimbabwe
Are the sanctions working? Yes. They have been instrumental in impoverishing the average Zimbabwean who is not connected to those who run state institutions and have access to the gravy train. Are they targeted?
Yes, they are. Zimbabwe, let us be honest and tell it like it is. If we are to carry out a lifestyle audit of those people on the targeted sanctions list and we proceed to do another audit of the Zimbabwean companies on that list and the banks, the findings will be telling. The people who run these institutions are some of the richest and most comfortable Zimbabweans who can fly business class to South Africa, the Asian countries and get first-class medical treatment. In their minds, there is no shame to it. They did not place Zimbabwe under sanctions, therefore why should they suffer?
How corruption took root in Zimbabwe
Why is corruption so deep rooted in Zimbabwe? Why is it embedded in all state institutions, including the Office of the President and Cabinet. To illustrate the impact of these sanctions, an average Zimbabwean trying to buy something payable in foreign currency to supply to Zimbabwe will jump through the hoops before that is realised. Paying school fees to overseas universities can also be quite a task for an ordinary Zimbabwean.
The truth is any company that buys, sells or trades with Zimbabwean firms and individuals on the sanctions list is targeted and blacklisted by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
What has since happened is that the government has devised means of flying under the radar and finding friendly countries willing to risk being blacklisted, willing to supply equipment, for example. Banks are afraid of being blacklisted. So, minerals are smuggled out and sold on the parallel market. The money is routed using BIGWHITE and systems set up when Rhodesia learned to bust sanctions during Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
RBZ epicentre of corruption
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) became central to running off-book operations in the name of sanctions busting. It smuggled and continues to smuggle gold and diamonds to the parallel market to bust sanctions. The RBZ buys directly from makorokoza (small-scale miners) and diverts to the parallel market. The same is done with foreign currency deals being done through kingpins who have direct access to the central bank, the presidium and close relatives.
A system was created where income-generating institutions would retain certain percentages every month to keep their operations running. These retained funds were abused, as evidenced by numerous reports that implicated the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Zimbabwe National Road Administration, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Holdings, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the RBZ. The ZRP had stopped depositing fines with JSC, they had created their own ticketing system. Some monies were delivered to high-profile individuals in boxes. Ultimately, a system had been created that allowed for loopholes, grey areas in pursuit of sanctions busting. Tender systems turned upside down to combat sanctions. Criminals connected to those in power stepped into the gap.
“You can have a white horse or a white horse … that’s Hobson’s choice!” Meaning you have no choice at all. The only option you have is the one that is being offered to you. As long as the sanctions remain in place, this systematic corruption can never be rooted out. Calling for sanctions to remain on Zimbabwe amounts to calling for corruption to continue. Hobson’s choice, it is a necessary evil.
Some have suggested arrest. But can they arrest each other, knowing that they were doing it together, knowing why they did it, why they must continue to do it to get around sanctions? The army in the Democratic Republic of Congo was unable to feed its troops because of the sanctions. In came John Bredenkamp, Nick Van Hoogstraten, all the Rhodies with the rule book on how to bust sanctions.
“Let us assist you feed the army; we know how to bust sanctions.” Money was deposited into bank accounts in the British Isles. Those sent to do so on behalf of government started pocketing for themselves. They are now rich. They are the new cartels.
The challenge for Mnangagwa will be to genuinely demonstrate the political will required to end the endemic corruption. The political will to restore key state institutions to their original constitutional functions without destroying them.
How does he gracefully neutralise key allies, relatives and comrades who fuel corruption and state capture? If he were to remove the rotten eggs, who does he replace them with and by which date? 2023 is around the corner.
Will this be strategically wise? The danger is that the rotten eggs will coalesce and remove him. The bigwigs relegated to “Shake Shake building” (Zanu PF headquarters) are a restless lot. They have nothing to do.
Dealing with corruption
Let us be honest with ourselves. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and prosecutor-general Kumbirai Hodzi will never give us the way forward about successfully dealing with corruption. We need a policy on criminal prosecutions to prevent selective application of anti-corruption legislation. What sort of policy? We use timeframes: 2000 to 2005; 2006 to 2010; 2011 to 2017; 2018 onwards.
Or perhaps we can use estimated monetary value of the prejudice to the taxpayer: US$100 000 and less; US$500 000 and less; $1 million and less; US$5 million; US$10 million and so on. Let us start with those who corruptly acquired assets after the new dispensation and move downwards, or vice versa. Or we can use a third way. A reconciliatory way which acknowledges that this scourge arose through attempted sanctions busting. This approach acknowledges that most state institutions were roped into off-book practices to bust sanctions.
Which in essence is truthful in that it acknowledges that most people participated either directly or indirectly in corrupt practices. Or we tell them to simply surrender two thirds of corruptly acquired property or cash by a set time and get immunity from prosecution.
Mnangagwa tried this with his “name and shame” list. He failed. He tried getting civil servants to declare their interests in business ventures. He failed. So, maybe amnesty? Immunity from prosecution? Carrot and stick. If there are no sacred cows, all Zacc must do is check from number one downwards what assets or bank balances everyone has. Then serve them with High Court orders to explain how they acquired such wealth and, if they fail, they lose the assets.
Political and electoral reforms
On political and electoral reforms, the harsh reality is that the party with the majority in Parliament will push those reforms that benefit its policies and support its government. That is democracy, the tyranny of the majority. The opposition should accept the proposal of being officially appointed, recognised and appropriately remunerated in Parliament, Westminster-style. That way, they can effectively hold government to account and check its excesses. Sadc, the African Union, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, domestic and regional bodies endorsed the 2018 elections. There will be no power-sharing government, no transitional authority, no back-door entry to the table. 2018 is not 2008. Let us move on.
The opposition should focus on its role in Parliament and force the pace of reforms. They should influence the legislative agenda to cause debate on the necessary changes.
The Government of National Unity did not result in robust electoral law reform agenda. What was its purpose? Whose interests did it serve? Certainly not the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans.
The way forward
Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy. Strengthening the institutions set up by the constitution will strengthen our democracy. How? Accountability. How do we hold institutions to account? In Parliament and speaking with one voice.
As Zimbabweans, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that Europe, America and Britain are our saviours. We need to stop outsourcing the solutions to our problems to outsiders. Let us tell each the truth as Zimbabweans, to build Zimbabwe for ourselves. Our future generations. Sanctions are affecting everyone. Indeed, sanctions must go — but so should corruption, patronage and nepotism.
*About the writer: Lloyd Msipa is a UK based Zimbabwean lawyer and politician. He is the deputy president of the People’s Party which was formed in November 2019. Msipa is also the son of the late Zanu PF politician Cephas Msipa.