Zimbabwe – Time to lift sanctions


(Posted 23rd October 2019)


ATCNews rarely goes into the mainstream political field, unless of course those politics impact on conservation, the protection of our natural resources like forests and wildlife and related topics such as the health of our rivers, lakes and other water sources.
Last month I visited Zimbabwe again, one of my favourite destinations in Africa, and spent two weeks traveling across the country.
While enjoying some absolutely superb moments of wildlife encounters, cruising the Zambezi, seeing the Victoria Falls at the possibly lowest level for a long time and getting updates on conservation efforts for the painted dogs of Hwange, was I also able to interact with Zimbabweans. I used every opportunity to speak with them, hear what daily challenges they face and how they are struggling to cope.
I spoke to business owners to gauge market confidence by tourism operators and related ventures, in Victoria Falls, in Bulawayo and in Harare as well as along the way of my journey.

I ended up almost overwhelmed by the sentiments and insights but, one thing did however come out loud and clear: Sanctions must be lifted if the country is to begin the long journey of recovery. Of course, there were plenty of other issues raised too with me but the one common denominator were the sanctions.

I witnessed during my travels the extend of how a debilitating drought is savaging the key agricultural sector in Zimbabwe and saw the widespread wildfires which only added to the devastation caused by one of the harshest droughts the country ever encountered.
A visit to Lake Kariba also confirmed that water levels have fallen to the lowest level ever since the dam started to fill up decades ago.
Electricity production is under imminent threat, should the rains fail again and the water levels not rise to sustain continued electricity generation at the dam.

Whatever one’s opinion is about the Zimbabwean government, both past and present, one thing is clear that the ongoing sanctions hit the ordinary people now the hardest. The initial sanction target, the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe, was replaced as Head of State last year and has since passed on. His chequered history as both hero and villain is now subject to historians’ interpretations, though the impact of his actions still very much affects the day to day lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Many of his former close associates are now facing a range of investigations by the country’s judicial authorities, trying to clean up house and hold them to account. Again, I only note this but ATCNews’ range of topics does not and will not include a wider discussion of these issues here.

Last week were electricity tariffs raised by over 300 percent and the previous month were fuel prices doubled, in some small way mitigating the fuel shortages encountered before.

The fallout of the drought, combined with such living cost increases, will further aggravate an already precarious economic situation.

Zimbabwe – and most of those I spoke to have assured me that they would like to receive support and aid from the international community – however needs to be able to trade freely again, as the bottom line is that trade, not aid, will pull the country out of the doldrums. Restored free trade, coupled with targeted aid, will be the basic recipe to kickstart Zimbabwe’s economy.

Tourism, as evident elsewhere, has the capacity to generate much needed foreign exchange, restore jobs lost and create new ones and also attract foreign direct investment in the sector. It is here that the government of the day will need to invest their scarce resources in to aid the sector’s recovery and boost visitor numbers.

Air connections to Harare and Victoria Falls are presently sufficient – though could be more of course – giving tourists visitors plenty of options how to reach the country. Airlines however need to be able to repatriate their sales proceeds to halt any further airline exodus and rather have carriers come back and offer more connectivity.

But most Zimbabwean still work in or live on agriculture and no matter what other measures government, and the international community will take from here on, mother nature too needs to play its part and bring sufficient rains to allow farmers to produce enough food to feed the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has reacted to the challenges posed by the ongoing sanctions by declaring the 25th of October a public holiday, ‘Anti Sanctions Day‘ to tell the world that enough is enough and that, notwithstanding the issues the present government is facing up to, the time has come to lift sanctions, sanctions which by now only hit the population and clearly no longer the one who triggered them.

I wish all my many friends in Zimbabwe well and hope that in a little way my own call to lift sanctions will help to create momentum and help the country out of the economic hardships it has encountered.