The relation between the European Union with Africa and an analysis of the sanctions imposed by the EU on Zimbabwe in the millennium

Silviu Barbu
Silviu Barbu
Raveena Parbhoo
Raveena Parbhoo


This article will look at the relationship between the European Union and Africa which gained momentum in the 21stcentury. This paper will focus on Zimbabwe’s experience and will analyse how the country has been affected by sanctions that was imposed by the EU and will view its effectiveness as a law of enforcement tool. The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe was introduced in response to the political violence, human rights abuses, rule of law violations and the deteriorating democratic standards that followed the escalating violence in the country. These sanctions gave the EU the capacity to compel policy changes in developing countries and to persuade specific nations that were being affected to change their behaviour. The restrictive measures of the EU have increased in the 21st century in response to certain events taking place around the world. Sanctions has come across as a penalty imposed to ensure compliance with the law. Positive results would only arise if positive actions towards these extreme measures are placed on those countries.


In international relations, economic sanctions is a very important subject that has an impact on various levels when imposed on a country. It has become a common headline on the news and the effectiveness of this subject has become an open question that needs quick reactions, as it is only then that sanctions will bring about a change to an environment that is aiming for a positive result. Economic sanctions in relation to international law are debatable and open different perspectives and tensions in the international arena. The relationship between the European Union and Africa gained momentum in the 21st century by adopting the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and by organising the first EU- Africa Summit in Cairo in the Millennium. The year 2000 laid a foundation that created a joint Africa-EU Strategy that aimed to close the relationship gap between each other and planned to achieve a shared interest based on a partnership of equals.

Strengthening of governance, respecting human rights as well as building strong and effective institutions are all responsibilities that nations in Africa need to take into consideration and build on. These are responsibilities that the EU keeps an eye on, in case nations are not complying with (Karel De Gucht, 2009). The EU has 42 sanctions programmes in place. This makes it the world’s second-most active user of restrictive measures, after the US. The EU continues to toughen and refine its sanctions toolbox towards underdeveloped nations. Zimbabwe has been in an economic, political and social crisis since the turn of the 21st century. Even though the European Union has provided development assistance to Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, certain measures were taken to sharpen its targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe. Sanction against the country’s regime has been placed for several years as there has been a lot of violations on the travel ban as well as financial restrictions that have weakened the general effectiveness of what the sanction was aiming to achieve. It has been extensively used throughout history to achieve political objectives within a country.


Both Europe and Africa have had very close historical and geographical ties. The Africa-EU Partnership is a formal channel through which Europe and the African continent work together with common goals. This partnership is based on the joint Africa-EU Strategy (The Africa-EU Partnership, 2019). The partnership strives to bring both Europe and Africa together through strengthening economic cooperation, this continental approach is an instrument of political dialog and cooperation between Europe and African countries.

The relationship between the two is based on the Cotonou Agreement and EU-Africa’s main goal was based on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, promoting sustainable development, human security, effective governance, inclusive growth and political stability in Africa. The partnership aimed at building a peaceful, safe and secure environment (European Union External Action, 2016). The European Union has different objectives regarding the integration of Africa into the global economy. The need was not only to provide support but to bring about the compliance of the EU rules, regulations, standards, aid for trade as well as the environment and climate policies. With Africa being an important source of raw materials, it has become an important interest to the European Economic Community (EEC) as provides an opportunity to cement their relationship with Africa in order to pursue a pooled production model and assist in eliminating any threat of war among its members.  According to European Union External Action (2016) in 2014, Brussels held the 4th EU-Africa Summit that set objectives to achieve, which leaders agreed to implement and improve. The five key areas for joint action were discussed. These were:
1. Peace and security
2. Democracy, good governance, and human rights
3. Human development
4. Sustainable and inclusive development and growth, continental integration
5. Global and emerging issues


The key elements of the Cotonou Agreement (CA) which was signed in 2000, focused on the respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law which had been stipulated in Article 9 to reinforce all EU’s policies.This agreement was the most comprehensive partnership between EU and 79 developing countries which were from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). This included Zimbabwe as well as the EU and its 28 Member States (EEAS, 2016). The three fundamental principles of the partnership were political relations, trade, and development cooperation. The CA framework was meant to cover a period of 20 years from 2000 to 2020 (Babarinde & Faber 2004: 35). The Cotonou Agreement aimed to provide the basic structure that would pursue future relations and focused on the Cairo process to culminate into the 2007 joint Africa-EU Strategy. The strategy would be more purpose-driven and would address the most pertinent issues on EU-Africa relations. The CA has become a revolutionary approach to the Africa–EU relations. The leaders of Zimbabwe in the last three years of the 20th Century demonstrated to the EU that they were not following the rule of law. The principles of democracy and human rights were violated and as a result, in October 2001 the EU Foreign Ministers decided to invoke Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. The strategic objectives of the agreement on the EU’s development cooperation with Zimbabwe were aimed to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty and support peace and stability within the nation.


Zimbabwe at the turn of the new millennium had received widespread disapproval from the European Union, particularly following the abandonment of the Structural Adjustment Programmes. The image that had been portrayed of Zimbabwe had been based on reports of violence, instability and, abandonment of the rule of law, which had created a serious challenge to modern developments on democracy and human rights. The relationship that The European Union has had with Zimbabwe started in 1982 and was governed by the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement.

The relations between Zimbabwe and the EU are subjected to the respect and the commitment of the Cotonou Agreement by Zimbabwe (EEAS, 2016). The values and principles contained in Zimbabwe’s Constitution represent a progressive element in which the European Union would offer its future support. Trade was an important catalyst for the growth of the economy and would help to reduce poverty in the county. This resulted in the EU becoming Zimbabwe’s third major trading partner (National Indicative Programme 2014-2020). The role of EU Aid was focused on economic restructuring and political issues which were a mutual concern for them both and it encompassed a regular assessment of developments.

Restrictive measures placed on Zimbabwe impacted the country at the beginning of 2002, due to the unstable situation being presented by the escalation of violence and intimidation of political opponents which affected people in the country. The Council of the EU expressed serious concerns about legislation in Zimbabwe which violated the right to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and association as well as and legislation to regulate the media. The Government of Zimbabwe continued to engage in serious violations of human rights. With all this in mind, the Council of the EU imposed an embargo on arms and equipment, travel restrictions as well as an asset freeze. In 2008, the Council of the EU strengthened the restrictive measures in relation to the violence organised and committed by the Zimbabwean authorities during the presidential election campaign of 2008, which turned the election into a denial of democracy (EU Program ZWE, 2019).


In 2002 restrictive measures against Zimbabwe were first introduced in relation to the situation in the country. The EU identified several benchmarks for Zimbabwe to meet, these included short term and medium-term measures. The short term measures included the ending of political intimidation and violence, restoring democratic values, freedom of mass media, removing all obstacles currently delaying the provision of humanitarian rights, food assistance by International NGOs and lastly to review the land reform process with full United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) participation (Houses of the Oireachtas 2003). The European Union’s foreign policy can be analysed as a case of trying to construct its normative powers worldwide. Normative power is understood as a process whereby the EU promotes its norms, such as human rights, democracy, rule of law and environmental protection. The EU-Africa relationship provides a framework of understanding how the EU is using its normative powers through empowering others while endeavouring to promote its core values internationally (Scheipers Sibylle and Sicurelli Daniela 2008).

The medium-term measures that needed to be undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe included introducing several proposals to parliament, that would re-dress the situation given to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), which is the premier regional organisation in Southern Africa. In doing so, the EU aims to generate a greater understanding in Southern Africa, using the principles behind the decision made by the EU to impose sanctions on the Government of Zimbabwe and to refute inaccurate statements made by the Government (Houses of the Oireachtas 2003).

Despite the difficulties, the EU never imposed what can be described as ‘trade sanctions’ on Zimbabwe. The country went ahead and signed an Economic Partnership (EPA) in 2009, which was ratified and enforced in May 2012 and only after the period of hyperinflation in 2008 did trade between the EU and Zimbabwe pick up again (EEAS, 2016).

The economic situation in Zimbabwe has been deteriorating from the end of the last century till the present day. The government of Zimbabwe faced several difficult economic problems, a large external debt burden and a high rate of unemployment. 2000 brought about many big changes, Zimbabwe embarked on the fast track land reform programme that saw the eviction of white farmers without notice and in many cases done in a violent way. This strained Zimbabwe’s relationship with the western countries and resulted in the cutting of aid to Zimbabwe (Zwizwai, B. 2007). EU foreign policy towards Zimbabwe has revolved around the need to see a functioning democracy and the practice of good governance in the interest of not only to the Zimbabwean people but also in the overall cooperation as agreed by the Code of Agreement of the EU-ACP partnership.


The sanction policy of the EU aims to maintain and restore international peace and security together with the principles of the United Nation Charter and their foreign and security policy. Sanctions have become a central element of the EU’s policy.  EU sanctions were divided into the following types of measures, arms embargoes, trade sanctions, financial sanctions, flight bans, restriction of admission, diplomatic sanctions, a boycott of sports and cultural events as well as the suspension of co-operation. The purpose of imposing extreme measures on developing nations is to restore the status quo and to establish and enforce an international standard by applying pressure on a state to take a different course of action that will create a positive impact within the borders of their nation (Russell, M. 2018).

The most widely used sanction policy measures used on Zimbabwe are asset freezes which blocks’ the country from accessing bank accounts and investments held in the EU. This policy is combined with visa bans which prevents them from entering EU territory. Arms exports are another restrictive measure imposed on Zimbabwe that prohibits other nations to export arms and materials to the country. Technical and financial assistance services that fall under this measure are also prohibited. The arms embargo was implemented to restrict any military material flowing into Zimbabwe. Restriction on equipment used for internal repression prohibits exports of equipment that might be used for internal repression to Zimbabwe and lastly the restriction on admission measure allows all member stated to enforce travel restrictions on the country listed in Annex 1 of Council Decision 2011/101/CFSP (EU Sanctions Map, 2019). These measures that have little overall economic effect, but which still make an impact when imposed and have a considerable effect as the EU is the world’s biggest trading power. That impact is hard to quantify, given that sanctions are only one of many factors influencing a country’s economy. The declared purpose of sanctions is to achieve change and an absence of change does not mean they have necessarily failed, even when certain nations cannot be persuaded to change their behaviour. Sanctions can at least constrain their capacity to cause harm.

– To protect the common values, independence and integrity of the Union
– To strengthen the Union’s security in all areas and directions
– To create peacekeeping and international security
– To build the development of democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

EU sanctions first imposed on Zimbabwe in 2002 was done to send a clear message condemning the misrule, to build pressure for reform and to avoid further suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. The key objective of the use of restrictive measures was to urge Zimbabwe to reject policies that lead to the suppression of human rights and would lead a way to freedom of expression and good governance.


Political violence in Zimbabwe continued while the state agricultural extension service started to formalise the land reform in early 2001. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated minimum of 100 000 households had been forced to leave their homes by the end of 2001. The EU started to voice their concern over human rights abuses during the land reform and whether Zimbabwe fulfilled the criteria of the Cotonou Agreement in October 2001 (Chaumba, Scoones and Wolmer 2003, Eriksson 2004). Apart from the escalating political violence and lack of respect for property, the EU voiced concern again over the level of media freedom allowed and the administration of the upcoming Presidential elections. Relations deteriorated in February after Zimbabwe refused to renew the visa of one of the leaders of the EU Election Observer Missions and on 18 February 2002, sanctions were imposed. Targeted measures aimed at travel and financial assets were imposed against the Mugabe leadership as well as an arms embargo including materials that could be used for internal repression (Chaumba, Scoones and Wolmer 2003, Eriksson 2004). Sanctions were imposed on certain members of Zimbabwe’s leaders and their spouses after pulling the EU election observer team out of Zimbabwe in February 2002 (The European Union, Council Regulation (EC) No 310/2002 on 18 February 2002).

The European Union aid to Zimbabwe was largely governed by the structural power patterns. The EU took the opportunity to intervene and influence the socio-political and economic life of the Zimbabwean State. On July 22nd 2002, the EU Council meeting in Brussels upgraded the sanctions on Zimbabwe by targeting 35 Zimbabwean leaders and on an annual basis new names were to be added to the list if no change was seen. Just before the presidential elections in 2002, the EU member states felt an urge to act, they implemented a travel ban and financial restrictions against twenty people, including late President Mugabe. The Council of the European Union imposed restrictive measures against individuals and companies that were considered responsible for human rights violations in the country (EEAS, 2016).

It was through project support that the EU was able to control indirectly the direction and pattern of Zimbabwe’s development process through the country’s development programmes. Between the years 2000 and 2008, the EU agenda was mainly based on regime change and by its support of opposition political parties and civil society groups. The EU openly and secretly provided financial support to various civil society groups to help bring about change. Zimbabwe’s high need for foreign assistance translated itself into an almost total surrender of national sovereignty (Herbert, G 2009).

The sanctions on Zimbabwe contributed to a high rate of inflation and a high level of unemployment in the formal sector. For people to survive the difficult economic situation, families had to devise strategies to survive to get through each day. People had no other choice but to sell family assets, reduce household expenses on food and at times decisions were made for families to cancel the school enrolment of their children. In some cases, children dropped out of school completely to join street begging and prostitution. It was such actions that lead to an increase in social crimes such as child abuse, illegal smuggling and child abandonment. The level of social vices increased and was due to the economic implosion in which the force of sanctions did not help the environment.

The Zimbabwean crisis remains unsolved despite being imposed by sanctions, and it has shown that the people in high positions that have the power to make decisions, seem to lack interest in making real progress towards a democratic and economic renewal of Zimbabwe. In 2010 SADC urged the EU to lift its sanctions against Zimbabwe in order to help the unity of the government. Instead of withdrawing the measures, the EU and the US maintained their sanctions and even extended them on the claim that Zimbabwe’s human rights situation and the democratic performance had not improved (Grebe 2010: 23-24). The decision of the EU to maintain its sanctions against Zimbabwe was worrisome for the people living within the borders of the country, as living in Zimbabwe has become a struggle. On the 18th of August 2019 the new SADC Chairman, President John Magufuli, had appealed to the international community to eliminate sanctions against Zimbabwe. He explained that the country had turned a new page and has been waiting to move forward with help and support (Mugarula F, 2019).

The problems that face Zimbabwe affected all countries in the region as decisions made and actions taken had a domino effect. According to the Tanzanian Head of State, Zimbabwe had been under sanctions for years and he states that the world needs to understand that when a hand is chopped off, the whole body gets affected and therefore the problems that happen within a nation have a multiple effects on neighbouring countries (Oteng, E 2008). In response to everything that the EU has thrown at Zimbabwe, they still stand their ground in defending their actions without bowing down to the demands and threats from the EU.


Between 2010 and 2015 EU’S major contribution in Zimbabwe was in the health and agriculture sector. More than 600,000 people were assisted in order to boost agricultural development which in turn created jobs and supported vulnerable communities. Between 2015-2016 the EU and the Member States came together and contributed a total of €118 million to assist over 2 million of the most vulnerable areas in Zimbabwe, supporting them with food assistance, water, sanitation and nutrition (Chigono, 2010: 1-6). The Water facility initiative of €11 million was developed from 2011 to 2017 and benefited 500,000 people in 2,000 villages around the country. This initiative contributed to improving access to adequate quantity and quality of water, toilet facilities for households, schools and clinics in order to improve the hygiene practices in the communities. Since 2011 the EU supported the capacities and the independence of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (Chigono, 2010: 1-6). The EU continues to provide humanitarian, development assistance and food aid though on a smaller scale than before.


Since the beginning, the European Union has always been present with humanitarian and development programmes in its relationship with Zimbabwe. The sanctions that were placed on Zimbabwe by the EU were due to the concerns of the economic environment and the intense situation of the country. The policies placed on Zimbabwe made a huge impact, it restricted the freedom to operate at an international level, freezing bank accounts held in EU financial institutions and banning the sale of arms and instruments of repression. Zimbabwe is a very good example of how extreme measures can be taken into action if communication and implementation is not a two-way street. Imposing extreme measures is a harsh way of helping a nation in the long run, as it makes them aware and grabs the attention to their actions on the current situation that they are facing. The European Union is strongly committed to the welfare of the Zimbabwean people but considering the whole situation, sanctions on Zimbabwe lacked the capacity to resolve the conflict in the country and instead have created more suffering for the general population who live there. The European Union reiterates its wish to see the Zimbabwean authorities work with the opposition and civil society, to develop a constructive dialogue respecting the rights of everyone and they confirm its willingness to cooperate with all Zimbabweans who accept these principles. These extreme measures have not improved the environment in Zimbabwe as the economic situation continues to escalate in the year 2019.

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Judge Silviu Barbu
Raveena Parbhoo

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