Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

UN Sanctions Veto No Victory for Mugabe

Behind the bravado, Zimbabwean leadership seems to realise that its narrow escape from sanctions means it is running out of time.
By Meshack Ndodana
The defeat of a draft United Nations resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe is no cause for celebration for President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, analysts inside the country say.



Zimbabwean officials hailed the outcome of the July 11 vote in the UN Security Council, in which the sanctions plan was vetoed by permanent members China and Russia, supported by South Africa, Vietnam and Libya.



But analysts say that rather than giving the Mugabe administration a fresh lease of life, the divided vote will place more pressure on ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, to work towards a solution to the long-running political crisis.



Nine out of the 15 Security Council members – led by the three other permanent members Britain, France and the United States – voted in favour of sanctions, with Indonesia abstaining.



A diplomat based in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, who did not want to be identified, voiced anger at the behaviour of Russia and China. He said it was disturbing that while the people of Zimbabwe were being abused and reduced to begging by their own government, there were still countries that supported the Mugabe administration in the name of promoting dialogue.



Other analysts, however, were optimistic that the outcome of the UN vote would have a positive effect on negotiations between ZANU-PF and the MDC by showing that neither party could depend forever on its friends to carry the day.



A ZANU-PF member of parliament told IWPR his party could not celebrate the failure of the resolution “because it was not defeated but vetoed” by Russia and China.



“If a decision were to be based on the vote [alone], the sanctions resolutions would have passed at nine against five,” he said.



“ZANU-PF is now so badly indebted to those countries which voted against or vetoed the resolution that it will need to justify their faith in finding a negotiated settlement.”



China and Russia argued that sanctions would complicate negotiations on a political settlement in Zimbabwe, and would also set a dangerous precedent for the Security Council to intervene in electoral disputes.



Mugabe’s government appeared acutely aware of the depleted ranks of its allies and the limited options still open to it.



In a statement thanking China and Russia for blocking the resolution, deputy information minister Bright Matonga said it was time for Zimbabweans to work together to rebuild the shattered economy.



“We do not need to take our friends for granted by always putting them in difficult circumstances, as they might fail to defend us next time,” he said.



According to Eldred Masunungure, a politics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Matonga’s comments indicates that the government is worried.



“They are obviously not sure any more that their so-called friends will keep defending them at the United Nations. The fact that nine out 15 nations voted for sanctions indicates that the international community is sympathetic to the cause of Zimbabweans. This should add urgency to the negotiations,” he said.



“The veto by Russia and China should have been cause for celebration by ZANU-PF. The irony is that it is not Both the party and government have been made so deeply indebted to the two countries they can no longer play games at the talks.”



At the same time, Masunungure believes the fact that a resolution sponsored by the US failed to get through the Security Council should sound a warning bell for the MDC, too – showing that there is a limit to what outsiders can do to help the opposition. He said the MDC was making increasingly strident demands because it believed the US, Britain and their EU allies could force ZANU-PF to change.



“The vote against the US resolution has exposed the limits of the MDC’s international leverage,” he said. “This should force the MDC to be more serious in its demands and what is achievable. The international community is not as homogeneous as is often assumed.”



The European Union, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland already have visa restrictions and financial sanctions in place against key members of the Mugabe administration. Now Britain and others are indicating they will seek broader measures, still targeting high-placed individuals and their assets.



Although the sanctions target only Mugabe and his lieutenants, they have made doing business with the US and the European Union almost impossible, because it is precisely this circle who run the country and manage international relations and trade.



Masunungure's view, with which many Zimbabweans would agree, is that the country as a whole is effectively suffering from sanctions already.



“Let us not forget that the country is already under crippling sanctions. What the UN Security Council resolution sought to do was simply to formalise what already exists,” he said.



Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly – a non-government group pressing for a new constitution – has suggested the veto may have been a blessing in disguise.



“We don’t need those sanctions,” he told a local weekly. “Sanctions play into the hands of the Mugabe regime, allowing him to claim that he is fighting foreign interference in Zimbabwe.”



ZANU-PF and the MDC have been engaged in negotiations to end the country’s political and economic crisis since March last year, with South African president Thabo Mbeki acting as mediator. After some limited progress, the talks broke down in January after Mugabe unilaterally announced a date for elections, ignoring the MDC’s demand for a postponement.



The situation took a turn for the worse after the March 29 polls, when – after a long delay – electoral officials ruled that the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai had beaten had not secured the majority needed to be elected president. Tsvangirai boycotted the June 27 run-off vote because of the scale of political violence against MDC supporters, and Mugabe duly won.



The international community has condemned the election and called for a power-sharing government, prompting a new round of discussions which began in South Africa last week.



Mugabe is demanding that the MDC acknowledge him as legitimate president, while the opposition party has insisted political violence should end and Tsvangirai be made head of any transitional administration.



“Even Mbeki will use this veto as a stick to whip Mugabe’s negotiators by telling them he cannot keep on fighting in their corner indefinitely,” said Masunungure. “They [ZANU-PF] will need to demonstrate that their gratitude to Russia and China goes beyond words and that they can come out with a solution to end the crisis.”



Meshack Ndodana is the pseudonym of a reporter in Harare.