The harm in helping Zimbabwe

Imagine if you can, trying to hunt chipmunks using a slingshot loaded with cottons balls instead of rocks. Canada placing weapons and financial sanctions on Zimbabwe is a similarly ineffective way for Canada to try and help that country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson announced that Canada is placing targeted sanctions upon Zimbabwe on Sept. 5. The sanctions are designed to prohibit the export of arms and finances which would help the current Robert Mugabe-led government remain in power. The Conservative government stated that the sanctions have been imposed because Mugabe and his government have created a regime based on violence, violated human rights and did not follow a legitimate democratic process.

Canada is not the first country to impose sanctions upon Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and the European Union have had sanctions in place far longer than Canada. The sanctions simply allow Mugabe to deflect blame from his government’s actions and politics onto foreign powers. For years Mugabe has been blaming economic conditions and the almost unbearable lives of the Zimbabwean people on British sanctions. Clearly, these sanctions are not working as Mugabe is still in power and many Zimbabwean people are still unemployed and lack the basic necessities of life.

If the Conservative government wishes to help the people of Zimbabwe, they should provide them with food, medical supplies and other basic necessities. Currently, many Zimbabweans travel over the border to Botswana or use the black market to purchase food and supplies. I have been to grocery stores in Zimbabwe and have seen that they contain very little except for Coca-Cola and tea. The little food that is on store shelves is too expensive for many Zimbabwean people. The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is close to 80 per cent with 68 per cent of people in the country living below the poverty line. It is hard to buy food and provide the basic necessitates for your family when you have no money. Many smaller hotels, restaurants and even hostels must phone around the country to locate enough food for guests, and even this comes from the black market.

In the past, Canada has donated medical supplies and food stuffs to Zimbabwe. In June of this year, $3 million in medical supplies were donated to the Salvation Army Howard Hospital, north of Harare. The supplies were donated by Health Partners International of Canada, an organization that works hard to provide aid to numerous countries around the world. Three million dollars will help, but more must be done so that every person in Zimbabwe may receive medical treatment and food. Organizations like the HPIC provide impoverished countries with supplies, but the government needs to step in and supply more money to allow these organizations to help people.

While it is important to find ways to stop the Mugabe government from practising violence on Zimbabweans, Canada should continue to find ways to ensure the people of Zimbabwe receive food and medicine and leave the policing of Mugabe to countries with more influence in Africa, such as the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa.

While the Conservatives have been busy polishing their foreign policy resume, Mugabe has said he is ready to form a government without sharing any power with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who won the first election this year, but did not get enough votes for an outright majority. A second election was later held, from which the MDC withdrew when their supporters were subject to considerable violence. Talks are currently being held to arrange a power sharing agreement between Mugabe’s ruling party and the MDC. If Mugabe refuses to dethrone himself and give power to the MDC party when the U.K. and South Africa say so, what makes the Harper government think that Mugabe will lessen his power after sanctions by Canada– clearly a major voice in Africa? As a country, Canada needs to adopt policies that provide aid for the people of foreign countries and not police them.