The government has awarded the tender to carry out a scientific study of the economic impact of Western sanctions to a consortium of researchers at the University of Zimbabwe in a move that critics say is intended to boost the chances of the ruling party and its almost 93-year-old president in the 2018 general elections.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said a consortium from the University of Zimbabwe led by Dr Albert Makochekanwa, chairman of the department of economics and the deputy dean of the faculty of social studies, outbid nine other proposals.
About US$150,000 is to be made available to support the research, which is expected to be completed within a year.
“The study will focus on the actual economic impact of sanctions, not their ideological implications. The real impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary people in the national economy has not systematically been analysed, audited, understood and yet this is very important; important not just for the sake of knowledge but for policy intervention,” said Moyo when he announced the winners on 25 January.
“It is not about looking back and indulging in history but it is about understanding what has happened in order to have a basis for making informed policy on the way forward,” he said.
Upon completion, the study will likely be published in internationally reviewed journals such as the African Journal of Economic Policy, South African Journal of Economic History, Journal of Applied Science in Southern Africa and the Journal of Human Capital.
According to the higher education ministry, economic sanctions have only been described from a political perspective. However, a balanced understanding of their impact was essential in guiding the science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively known as STEM – education necessary for the country’s industrialisation and modernisation.
Using thumb-suck figures, the ministry claims that economic sanctions have cost the beleaguered nation over US$42 billion since 2001 – affecting the skills base and resulting in human capital flight, especially in critical scientific disciplines.
On public platforms, President Robert Mugabe blames economic sanctions for ruining the country but Western countries maintain the sanctions are not against the country as a whole, but a small group of individuals who undermine its democratic processes.
Sanctions as reprisals
Mugabe argues the sanctions are a reprisal for the expropriation by his government of white-owned land which has been redistributed to landless blacks.
The European Union imposed so-called 'smart' sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002, while in 2003 the United States government imposed 'targeted' sanctions on 98 individuals and 68 state-owned entities, against Mugabe’s administration, in response to allegations of gross human rights abuses and electoral fraud.
The EU has in recent years partly reviewed the sanctions on Zimbabwe while former United States president Barack Obama extended sanctions against the country for another year just before he left office.
Alex Magaisa, an exiled academic, blogger and former advisor to Morgan Tsvangirai who was prime minister during the inclusive government and is current leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai or MDC-T, argued the research was a strategic move by the Zimbabwe African National Union-PF, or ZANU-PF, led government to influence the 2018 elections.
“Next year, as the ‘findings’ of the research are announced, the nation will be bombarded with endless sanctions-based propaganda. That it’s packaged as ‘academic research’ is designed to lend it some weight. This is not an innocent research project," he said on social media.
“It’s also a well-calculated defence to the allegations of abuse of public funds – Who in ZANU-PF will accuse him of abusing public funds when his ministry is funding a research project that will ultimately benefit his party?”
Moyo and his deputy Godfrey Gandawa are accused of embezzling public funds from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund.
Magaisa said he expects ZANU-PF to run its 2018 election campaign on the “victim of sanctions” ticket.
“There will be a big fuss over sanctions… justification of failure on the basis of sanctions.”
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