Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 14:56 UK

Limited options for squeeze on Mugabe

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

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New efforts are being made to tighten the squeeze on the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, but the fact is that the pressure points are few and the will to increase that pressure is not universal.

The danger is that wider sanctions will hit the poor, which is why there is no support for the suggestion that South Africa should cut electricity supplies or that remittances from Zimbabweans living abroad should be blocked.

Nor is force even being contemplated.

Instead, the strategy is to deny legitimacy and recognition to Mr Mugabe and to try to apply measures that hurt either his government or his associates in the hope that this will force him to negotiate.

The British minister for Africa Lord Mark Malloch Brown, briefing reporters in London, said: "We need a broader set of economic measures against the government but ones that do not hurt the poor.

"We must look at how British and EU companies do business with the state enterprises. We must stop economic ties and cut back political ones."

Britain, he said, would propose or support new measures in the Security Council, the European Union and at the G8 group of industrial nations.

However, the extent to which China and Russia will go along with sanctions must be doubted. China in particular has a policy of not interfering with the affairs of other countries, especially those in Africa, where it does a lot of business.

Asked about the British company Barclays, which describes itself as one of the leading banks in Zimbabwe, Lord Malloch Brown said it had not broken any law or sanctions. Its business in Zimbabwe was carried out by a subsidiary, he added.

Activists in the UK have said that action should be taken against the company. They allege that some of the money it has lent the government for agricultural development has been used by ministers who have taken over farms.

Denying recognition

Some of the measures contemplated indicate a certain desperation. One idea is to ban children of the Zimbabwean government from being educated abroad.

Travel bans on the elite and freezing of their assets abroad might be extended from the 130 or so people currently named.

The British strategy is based on the tactic of changing this confrontation from one in which Mr Mugabe was able to claim that it was himself against the former colonial rulers into one in which it is him against the world

But these measures seem unlikely to shake Mr Mugabe and his associates.

So a great deal of attention is being given diplomatically to the idea of isolating him and denying him recognition as president.

Lord Malloch Brown called on the African Union to apply its rule denying a seat to any president not properly elected.

Britain will not break diplomatic relations, on the grounds that the British government recognises states rather than governments. In any case, it has proved useful to have diplomatic eyes and ears in Zimbabwe.

The British strategy is based on the tactic of changing this confrontation from one in which Mr Mugabe was able to claim that it was himself against the former colonial rulers into one in which it is him against the world.

Mbeki's role

Beyond sanctions, there is a hope, if not an expectation, that regional governments in southern Africa, grouped under Sadc (the Southern Africa Development Community), will begin to exert pressure.

There have been signs that Sadc is shifting gear. President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, the current Sadc chairman, has said that the current political situation fell far short of the group's principles on the conduct of free and fair elections.

The role of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is seen as crucial. But even if he applied the pressure he has so far declined to do, the result is not guaranteed. Even a comment from Nelson Mandela, currently in London for his 90th birthday celebrations, might have limited effect.

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