The new European Union (EU) ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Dell Ariccia said the word was among the first five mentioned during the first five seconds of his first meetings with government officials when he first arrived in Zimbabwe two months ago.
The word is mentioned several times as the politicians painstakingly try and convince Zimbabweans that the sanctions imposed on only 98 individuals and companies are directly linked to the collapse of the country’s economy and the drop in the quality of life.
“These measures are restrictions on Zanu (PF) officials, their entities and those individuals and entities associated with them,” said Dell Ariccia while speaking at a recent public debate on how the so-called sanctions or measures are affecting the Zimbabwean economy.
In 2002 the EU imposed targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe, members of his Zanu (PF) party, armed forces, the police, judges, individuals and companies with links to the party and its officials.
The sanctions were a direct response to the deterioration in the human rights and political climate in the country.
The terms of sanctioning included a travel ban to EU territory, freezing of assets, embargo on arms and related materials and a ban on equipment that might be used for internal repression.
“The sanctions are not designed to hurt the ordinary people of Zimbabwe but those targeted and those who are close to political power. To demonstrate this fact the EU remains the second biggest Zimbabwe trade partner after South Africa,” said Dell Ariccia.
To buttress his point he said the grouping is working on an US$18 million project to support the recovery of the country’s important sugar sector.
The EU also remains actively involved in several humanitarian projects in the country.
But economic historian Dr Tafataona Mahoso, differed sharply with the argument by the EU envoy.
“These sanctions are an economic war on the people of Zimbabwe. Lives of people have been devalued and pushed back to levels of 1953,” said Mahoso.
He said the sanctions are a Trojan horse on the people of Zimbabwe. He cited examples of the millions of Zimbabweans who migrated to neighbouring countries and western capitals where they are forced to take up menial jobs that they would not have accepted back home as a sign of effects of sanctions.
“We have witnessed the loss of pensions and dignity which explains why this is a war. It affects everyone in the path,” he said.
In outlining how the country’s economy has been affected by the sanctions, Dr Mahoso said Zimbabwean companies are not able to source equipment abroad because they can’t access lines of credit. The country’s government is struggling to provide basic services because it is forced to operate a cash economy.
“A sanctioned economy produces a sanctioned people. The economy is like a river and whoever decide to impose sanctions on a country is like putting poison in a river and anyone who depends on that river is affected,” said Mahoso.
But while Mahoso tried hard to explain the general effects of the sanctions word on the streets of Zimbabwe points to a different direction.
“There are no sanctions on the economy of Zimbabwe and its people from the EU and other western countries. We know the real sanctions were imposed on the people of Zimbabwe in 2008 by a certain regime which barred us from enjoying freedom of expression and association with a political party of our choice,” said Okay Machisa, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS) Director.
Biko Mutsaurwa a youth from Highfield said the collapse of the country’s economy had nothing to do with EU targeted sanctions but was a direct result of poor economic policies.
“The crisis was triggered when the government was persuaded to adopt neo-liberal policies in the 90s based on the recommendations of the International Financial Institutions IFIs,” said Mutsaurwa.
“The fact that only 98 people and their companies are sanctioned and the effects are felt by the whole country tells of the corruption and plutocracy of the 98 people who control everything.”
But have the sanctions achieved their intended purpose of bringing democratic reforms to the country?
“There has been an impact on the people who are targeted. If they had not they wouldn’t have been this campaign against their removal,” said Dell Ariccia.
Mugabe was forced into a government of national unity in September 2008 with his long-time foe Morgan Tsvangirai after an inconclusive presidential run-off election in the same year.
At the time the Zimbabwean economy had imploded and was characterised by a hyper inflationary environment and a general lack of basic commodities.
Furthermore the country has witnessed a relatively peaceful environment, a stable economy, the return of civil servants to work and re-opening of a handful of companies, schools and hospitals.
However John Chimunhu a freelance journalist is of a different opinion.
“Nothing much has changed, the repression goes on and the targeted people have transferred their loot to Hong Kong and are continuing looting here at home,” said Chimunhu.