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Zimbabwe Under Siege 5/13

Three months later, on December 14, the IMF issued a statement regarding recent consultations with authorities in Zimbabwe. The IMF characterized Zimbabwe's efforts to reverse the ESAP-induced economic plunge as "deterioration," and worried that Zimbabwe's "inappropriate economic policies" had "undermined investor confidence." During consultations in Zimbabwe, IMF officials had advocated "significant changes in the government's economic policies," and "underscored the importance of sustained structural reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy." (15)

IMF policy was only one component in a broad-based Western effort to discipline Zimbabwe and force it to return to a neoliberal economic model in which the interests of Western capital would have primacy over the needs of its people. On December 21, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law S. 494, the "Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001." The law instructed American officials in international financial institutions to "oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe," and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of "indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe." The law also authorized President Bush to fund "an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe," referring to media opposed to the government of Zimbabwe. Six million dollars were granted for aid to "democracy and governance programs," a euphemism for groups seeking to topple the government. (16) The bill was sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who had been a supporter of Ian Smith's apartheid Rhodesia. After the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 396-11, an African diplomat in Washington remarked, "The passing of the Bill is a triumph of right wing people who have always been against Zimbabwe and do not understand the land issue but would want to safeguard the imperial rights of Britain." (17)

Zimbabwe's path ran counter to Western efforts to integrate the economies of sub-Saharan Africa in the interests of Western capital. The African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), designed to primarily benefit U.S. textile producers wanting to take advantage of cheap labor in Africa, offered the prospect of expanded trade with African countries the President designates as establishing "market-based economies" and "elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment." At the first meeting of the AGOA Forum on October 29, 2001, President Bush announced the "creation of a $200 million Overseas Private Investment Corporation support facility that will give American firms access to loans, guarantees and political risk insurance for investment projects in sub-Saharan Africa." In addition, Bush announced the establishment of a "regional office in Johannesburg, to provide guidance to governments and companies which seek to liberalize their trade laws" and to "improve the investment environment" for U.S. corporations. (18)

In the period leading up to the March 2002 elections, Western leaders attempted to tighten the screws on Zimbabwe, hoping to affect the outcome. Already a sort of de facto sanctions regime was in place, in that Western officials were actively discouraging trade with Zimbabwe, while overheated news reports painted a picture of instability and unreliability, which also tended to deter trade. In November 2001, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw revealed that during the past few months he had been "building coalitions" against Zimbabwe. (19)

As the Extraordinary Summit of the South African Development Community (SADC) opened in Blantyre, Malawi on January 14, 2002, Great Britain threatened to withhold $18 million in budgetary support from Malawi, the chair of the SADC, unless it agreed to direct the SADC towards the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe. This was a significant portion of Malawi's budget. Some sources also indicate that Great Britain held the threat of withholding aid for Malawi's food crisis. Similar threats to withdraw budgetary support were wielded against Mozambique. (20) At the summit, President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania announced that British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Baroness Amos telephoned him directly and urged him not to support Zimbabwe at the SADC and at the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth. When that call failed, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw then telephoned and attempted to bully him. (21)

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