Zamuxolo Nduna | Economic sanctions have wide impact on African states

Economic sanctions are defined as the withdrawal of customary trade and financial relations for foreign and security policy purposes.

Sanctions take a variety of forms, including travelling bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes, capital restraints, foreign aid reductions and trade restrictions.

Economic sanctions in most instances in Africa are imposed on states which refuse to take orders from Western European states.

We would recall that in 1986 Japan and the US imposed economic sanctions on South Africa.

This was a strategic move to force the apartheid regime to its knees by means of economic sanctions.

The African continent, more than any other continent on the globe, has been targeted for economic sanctions from the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union and the US.

Sanctions imposed on African states are seen as a way of resolving conflicts and thus in recent years these have been overwhelmingly civil wars.

The level of “dependency” by African states is one of the factors which have led us to where we are today as the African continent.

For most Africans this topic is quite personal.

Basically, African states cannot solely function on their own without seeking financial assistance from their former colonial powers, yet we claim independence from France and any other Western countries.

While these sanctions are aimed at international peace and security, they often target individuals for gross human rights violations and, in some cases, for leading unconstitutional usurpations of power, recognising that these factors impinge directly on the intensity and duration of conflicts.

According to former US ambassador to South Africa Princeton Lyman, “these targeted restrictions have also largely replaced the use of broad-based economic sanctions that have had a negative impact on the populations of affected countries.

“Both kinds of sanctions have nevertheless been used in Africa and are worthy of evaluation as to their effectiveness.”

Economic sanctions are tools, not policies.

In some cases, they do not even achieve their objectives.

When sanctions are supported by international communities they work better and achieve their objectives.

Sanctions have worked better when they are aimed at specific outcomes – such as a peace agreement or “ending one country’s support for war in a neighbouring country as with Rwanda’s support for rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)”.

If the objectives of economic sanctions are to pressure dictatorial regimes to give up power, they have the least effect.

Therefore, it is only by combination with engagement, and organised and effective domestic democratic pressure that sanctions can help lead to transitions to democracy.

However, in “Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, restrictions on the trade in diamonds and other commodities weakened rebel or anti-democratic forces and facilitated either their defeat or their agreement to peace.

“But without supporting actions, sanctions alone would not have been sufficient.”

In South Sudan, sanctions have not produced the depth of political transitions needed.

I am currently witnessing the issue of South Sudan.

Conflicts in South Sudan can only be resolved once the country has reached political transformation.

The imposed sanctions in South Sudan are directed specifically to the conflict.

The sanctions have impacted severely on the economy of one of the newest states in Africa and isolated the regime.

They have not led the regime to undertake necessary or fundamental reforms.

Organisations such like Enough have proposed more sanctions being imposed on South Sudan.

These sanctions have negative impacts on South Sudanese whom are not residing in South Sudan currently.

International and African communities need to have serious engagement with the regime of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition elements.

Support for civil society will be necessary to effect such transformation.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the US has defended its policy by stating that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were not targeted against the whole country, but a small group of people – believing that these individuals undermined democratic processes in Zimbabwe.

As we might know, when the US intervenes in Africa it likes to do it in the name of “democracy”. Life in Zimbabwe is challenging. Zimbabwe has the highest unemployment rate anywhere in the world, according to the Statista website and in 2009 it was estimated to be near 95%.

People are living, but how? How are these once-fertile farms, which once made Zimbabwe the economic envy of Southern Africa, now lying in ruin?

I’m told stories of people literally taking wheelbarrows full of money to the store to purchase milk.

I’m told how people would pay millions of Zimbabwean dollars to take a bus.

With the incredible inflation rates of the time, the bus would stop mid-route, because the cost of fuel had risen so much it wasn’t economically viable to continue the trip.

I’m a firm believer that issues of the continent should be resolved by Africans.

Therefore these sanction are undermining the autonomy of our continent.

Zamuxolo Nduna is a master’s degree student in comparative education at the Teachers College, Zhejiang Normal University in China.