The European Union has suspended sanctions against 81 officials and eight firms in Zimbabwe that were imposed 11 years ago in response to human rights abuses and political violence under the rule of President Robert Mugabe.
But Mugabe isn’t included in the EU’s decision, meaning sanctions against him will remain in force. Nine other individuals and two firms will also continue to be subject to sanctions.
The lifting of sanctions against the large swath of Zimbabwean officials appears to be a reward for the country’s vote on a new constitution earlier this month, which the EU called “peaceful, successful and credible.”
“The EU congratulates the people of Zimbabwe on a peaceful, successful and credible vote to approve a new constitution,” the EU said in a statement, adding that it “represents a significant step” toward general elections.
But it added, “key decision-makers” would remain subject to sanctions until peaceful, transparent and credible elections have been achieved.
The constitution approved, Zimbabwe is now set to hold presidential and general elections later this year. Mugabe, 89, who has been in office since independence in 1980, is allowed to run for president once again under the new constitution.
Other elements of the new constitution include limiting the president to two, five-year terms; barring the president from vetoing legislation; creation of an independent prosecuting authority, anti-corruption commission, and a guaranteed independent electoral commission; a bill of rights that stipulates freedom of expression; and a free media.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been in desperate straits for much of the last decade. Many of the problems have been attributed to Mugabe, who drew a slew of international sanctions, a loss of international investors and devastation to the tourism industry when he seized white-owned farms.
The international response to Mugabe’s actions caused the economy to shrink by half. Zimbabwe was the center of international ridicule when its currency was inflated by 231,000,000 percent — at one time, the Zimbabwe currency included 100 billion-dollar bills. Millions of Zimbabweans were left to starve.
Zimbabwe made worldwide news again in January, when the finance minister made the admission to journalists that after the government paid its civil servants, it had just $217 left in its bank accounts.
But after that scary news quickly spread, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the news stories distorted the point he was trying to make. He said he was just making it clear that Zimbabwe could not afford the $106 million it would cost for new elections — not that the country was completely broke. He said the day after the account hit $217, the country received $30 million in payments.
“You journalists are mischievous and malicious. The point I was making was that the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have the funds to finance the election, to finance the referendum,” he said. “To dramatize the point, I simply made a passing reference, metaphorically, that when we paid civil servants last week on Thursday we were left with $217… but even the following day we had $30 million in our account.”
But his last point was lost on much of the world community, which ran with the story about the insolvent African country and turned it into a joke, with bloggers writing posts advising the government on how to live on $217.