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Heather’s Challenge: Canada and the Zimbabwe Crisis

July 2, 2008

My colleague Heather here on Canada’s World has offered a difficult question: What should Canada do about the crisis in Zimbabwe? To that end, she’s also provided a helpful round up of the various responses proposed so far: Canada is proposing tough sanctions on a Mugabe-led government, Professor Linda Freeman implores Canada to work more closely with multi-lateral institutions like the African Union, and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney advocates appointment of a special Canadian ambassador to Africa, to address the matter.

I will not presume to answer Heather’s formidable question in part, let alone in full. But I do have a few ideas to throw out there, based on recent events that provide some hope for resolution of the crisis. To begin with, I agree with Professor Freeman that Canada has recently spent too little time speaking to, and addressing, Canadian foreign policy concerns in Africa. One hopes that the number of foreign affairs officials currently manning the “Africa desk” at DFAIT are seeing a bit more resources and personnel given the recent crisis.

That said, it is quite easy to say, as Freeman does, that Canada must offer “muscle and support”, without providing specifics as to what exactly muscle and support means in this context. Are sanctions the answer? Not really. As Heather points out, poverty is a serious concern in Zimbabwe. The recommendation from the Canadian Government, that foreign investors take their money out of Zimbabwe, will only destabilize the precarious economic situation in the country further, driving inflation, which will increase the cost food of other necessities. This, like most forms of international economic sanctions, will hurt the poorest in the country first, before having any deep impact on the policies of Mugabe’s regime. Moreover, Canada’s measures do little to address the current democratic crisis: restricting the travel of Zimbabwean government officials is unlikely to push Mugabe into a power-sharing situation with the MDC, who, in an election free of corruption and violence, would likely have triumphed.

At this point, the best institution to force Mugabe’s hand is, very likely, the African Union. Mugabe is used to being a pariah internationally, but not in Africa. Mugabe can still proclaim legitimacy– in spite of international pressure — so long as African nations continue to recognize his government. Fortunately, the AU just today turned an important corner by issuing a statement rebuffing Mugabe and recommending a Kenya-style national unity government. The AU has, in the past, advocated a more passive principle of non-interference with member countries. But what the AU has done is opened the door for the international community, with Canada hopefully taking the lead, to line up behind its recommendation for a power sharing unity government.

Canada should announce its backing of the statement, and willingness to support a internationally-sanctioned negotiation process between Mugabe and the MDC. Even more important, is to provide a common front among members of the international community to pressure the AU to put some teeth to its resolution. While sanctions from Western countries may not move Mugabe and the ZANU-PF, official sanction and illegitimacy within the African Union itself, may provide the necessary bite.

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