My aid is bigger than yours

With its coffers desperately dry, one would expect that any aid to Zimbabwe would be a source of much cheer to the country’s struggling unity government. But the latest in a string of rows between the two main partners is over which of them is bringing home the most bacon.

Just as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai arrived from a three-week tour of Western capitals, announcing $500-million in aid pledges, President Robert Mugabe dispatched his own rival top-level team to the Far East, where he traditionally enjoys support, saying Tsvangirai’s tour had been a failure.

But it was Tsvangirai who announced a $950-million loan deal from China, a long-time ally of Mugabe. This is the largest loan from a single country since the unity government was formed.

Zanu-PF wasted little time in laying into Tsvangirai, insisting that it was Zanu-PF, and not the MDC, that had secured the Chinese loan. Zanu-PF said Tsvangirai’s trip had been “a major flop and he is now trying to hijack the Look East policy, which was the brainchild of President Mugabe”.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, a close lieutenant of Mugabe, is heading a Zanu-PF delegation to China. His party is still angry at being largely excluded from Tsvangirai’s tour of Europe and the United States, where officials of Mugabe’s party remain banned.

No details were given on the Chinese loan deal. The Chinese embassy in Harare declined to comment, but an official was quoted in state media as saying China was looking to step up its investment in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai said he had raised $500-million in development and humanitarian aid. But his coalition partners have mocked him, saying he told Cabinet he would raise up to $8-billion from his Western allies.

“I would also like to state that in our drive to rebuild Zimbabwe we are not limited to a ‘Look West’ or ‘Look East’ policy, but rather we are committed to engaging our friends in all parts of the globe,” Tsvangirai said.

Relations between the two sides hit a new low this week after MDC ministers boycotted a Cabinet meeting. Mugabe had brought the weekly meeting forward by a day so he could chair it before heading off to the African Union summit in Libya. Tsvangirai backed his ministers’ boycott, but said his party remained committed to the government. He said the scepticism he met on his tour had demonstrated the damage caused by the slow pace of reforms.

He said: “The concerns of the international community are legitimate and the three political parties must take responsibility for the failure to implement fully the obligations we have signed up to.”

On his trip he often found himself having to explain the actions of the government back home. “Actions speak louder than words and while I was away there were instances of peaceful protesters being beaten by our police, innocent individuals arrested on trumped-up charges and continued vilification of the MDC by the state media.”

While the battles continue in the corridors of power, a new report released this week by a major think-tank said the economic situation of Zimbabwe’s rural poor remains dire, even though political tensions have eased.

In the first major report on the livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans since the formation of the unity government, the Solidarity Peace Trust, in a report called Walking a Thin Line, said that currency reforms that have halted the country’s world-record inflation have hurt the poor.

“Food security is already being undermined by the fact that families in rural Zimbabwe do not have access to foreign exchange, meaning that they are forced to pay school fees, bus fares and grinding-mill fees with their meagre harvests,” the report said.

“The dependence of rural Zimbabweans on their harvests as a substitute for hard currency will dramatically decrease the number of months most families will actually survive before their harvests are gone.”

Political tensions are easing in rural Zimbabwe, it said, but security forces continue to crush dissent in urban areas. The success of the unity government would depend on how much economic aid can be secured to support real economic recovery.

“In the absence of sound alternatives to the current political arrangement, the slow international response to the needs of the new government could strengthen the hand of the more regressive elements of the ruling party in the military and security, while frustrating the democratic forces within the transitional state,” the report warned.

“The risks around limited engagement with the transitional arrangement are much greater than a more substantive engagement by the international community.”

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