Morgan's tough mission

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met United States President Barack Obama on Friday as part of an eight-nation tour Tsvangirai hopes will soften Western scepticism about Zimbabwe’s unity government.

The mission is important for Tsvangirai because, in a deliberate strategy to undermine him before new elections, his Zanu-PF coalition partners have begun blaming him for Zimbabwe’s failure to raise enough aid.

Zanu-PF has said openly that Tsvangirai’s tour must result in a removal of travel bans on its senior officials.

Tsvangirai has voiced fears that Western reluctance to extend aid is arming his opponents. He told a visiting French minister last week that by denying Zimbabwe aid, the West was strengthening the “hardliners”.

The state media were jubilant when Tsvangirai won only guarded support on a visit to the Netherlands. The Herald screamed “Dutch government turns down Tsvangirai” across its front page.

A day later the paper declared that Tsvangirai was heading for failure in the US, where he “is on assignment from the president [Robert Mugabe] to press for the removal of sanctions”.

Over three weeks Tsvangirai will visit the US, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Denmark and Belgium.

According to Tsvangirai’s officials, he will give world leaders assurances on the security of foreign investment and aid to Zimbabwe, emphasising that aid will bypass the discredited Reserve Bank and be channelled to a trust fund set up outside the country.

The US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has said his government will not provide budgetary aid to the country beyond existing aid programmes while Gideon Gono remains central bank governor.

Ahead of the tour, Finance Minister Tendai Biti told the Mail & Guardian that the international community had “an obligation” to support Zimbabwe. The country faced “catastrophe” without financial support, he said.

Zimbabwe has secured more than US$1-billion in credit lines, whereas global lenders, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have begun re-engagement. Ministers from Western governments have been arriving in Harare and pledging increased humanitarian aid. But they have fought shy of offering the budgetary support needed.

US congressman Donald Payne, chairperson of the US Senate subcommittee on Africa and global health, met Mugabe and Tsvangirai last week. He was central to sanctions legislation against Zimbabwe in 2001. Payne supports Tsvangirai’s call for the removal of “restrictive measures” against the economy, but rejects Mugabe’s desire for the removal of smart sanctions against Zanu-PF members.

Western diplomats in Harare are debating whether aid to Zimbabwe will strengthen Tsvangirai or Zanu-PF. “Once aid starts coming in, it’s either the MDC [Movement for Demo-cratic Change] that will look good or Zanu-PF itself will claim credit and use the opportunity to reorganise itself,” one diplomat said.

Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, was quoted this week as saying substantial aid and lifting of sanctions depend on further reforms, including an end to media restrictions and a commitment to free and fair elections.

The new government falls short of these requirements and Tsvangirai will find it difficult to convince the West that there has been enough reform to warrant support.

Top army figures and war veterans have publicly rallied behind Gono. Mugabe used the funeral of Gono’s brother to praise the central bank chief for helping his regime bust “illegal sanctions”.

This week a group of independent journalists won a landmark high court ruling that allows reporters to work without being licensed by a commission packed with Zanu-PF supporters.

Despite this, security personnel barred the media from covering a trade summit of regional leaders in Victoria Falls because they were not on an approved “government list”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall reports that Britain is edging towards closer political engagement with Zimbabwe, despite continuing concerns in London about appearing to legitimise Mugabe.

Minister for Africa Mark Malloch-Brown is expected to discuss Zimbabwe during a tour of Southern African countries this week when he will make what is billed as a “major address” in Mozambique.

Zimbabwe is not on his itinerary. But officials say a ministerial visit is more possible now than at any time since 2001 when Lady Valerie Amos met Mugabe in Harare. Malloch-Brown’s regional visit follows a meeting with Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, at last month’s inauguration of President Jacob Zuma.

While listing British concerns, Malloch-Brown recognised “areas of progress made by the inclusive government” and emphasised Britain’s willingness to help rebuild the country. London’s more positive tone follows initial scepticism that Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal will endure. Biti is said to have made a good impression in London in April and a senior UK Foreign Office official recently travelled to Harare.

But officials warned that problems remained, notably Mugabe’s unilateral reappointment of Gono, continuing illegal detentions and farm invasions by Mugabe’s allies.

“They [British officials] have plenty of reservations. But they don’t want to be seen as spoilers,” a source said. “They don’t want to be thought to be undermining Tsvangirai.”

Britain is considering moving beyond humanitarian aid to offer direct political support in such areas as constitutional reform and strengthening the rule of law. Such assistance could be channelled through the British embassy in Harare to Tsvangirai’s office, bypassing ministries controlled by Mugabe loyalists.

But the pace of re-engagement is hotly debated in London, with some officials said to be anxious that Mugabe could try to hijack the process and embarrass Downing Street by declaring a British climbdown.

Britain’s shifting stance is partly driven by fear of being outflanked by France and other European countries showing renewed interest in political and business links with Harare.

Some in London recall former president Jacques Chirac’s feting of Mugabe in Paris in 2003. Anne-Marie Idrac, the French state secretary for foreign trade, made a surprise visit to Harare last month.

In meetings with top ministers Idrac reportedly opened talks on French investment in Zimbabwe’s power and private sectors. A delegation from the French development agency was also due in Harare.—Additional reporting: Guardian News & Media 2009

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