x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tsvangirai returns with empty pockets

The Zimbabwean premier's trip to the US and Europe helps strengthen ties but leaders in the West refuse to give extra funds.

Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's premier, speaks to Zimbabwean exiles at Southwark Cathedral in London.
Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's premier, speaks to Zimbabwean exiles at Southwark Cathedral in London.

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe // Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister, is expected home this week from a tour of Europe and the United States, during which he revived old ties but failed to extract immediate financial support to reconstruct his economy. "I don't judge his trip on the basis of dollars he brought," said Obert Sibanda, the president of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce. "His mission was more to build bridges for long-term gain than the amount of aid he secured for the country. The fact that he got the audience of world leaders is positive. This is a good starting point for stronger relations in the future." This was Mr Tsvangirai's first visit to the West since he joined the unity government with Robert Mugabe, the president, in February. During the three-week, nine-nation tour, which ended on Thursday, the reformist premier sought to resuscitate relations between his country and the West after a decade of isolation triggered by international concern over Mr Mugabe's leadership style. His appeals for aid to rebuild the shattered economy and the lifting of sanctions were met with scepticism from the rich countries which are pressing for more reforms before they will commit extra aid to the country, whose government is still largely controlled by Mr Mugabe. His first stop was The Netherlands where Bert Koenders, the development aid minister, said his country would like to see positive change in the respect of human rights, the governance of the central bank and the reining in of the military. Barack Obama, the US president, like leaders of Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Norway, agreed to provide humanitarian aid directly to the people through charity organisations, not through government coffers. The countries pledged about US$150 million (Dh550m), a small amount considering that the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), of which Zimbabwe is a member, estimates the economy needs $8.3 billion to kick-start a sustainable recovery. Denmark, the only country to close its embassy in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe's diplomatic spat with the West in 2002, provided funds directly through the treasury, giving $18m for health, education, food security and humanitarian assistance. France did not offer any money, but expressed willingness to start dialogue that could lead to the writing off of Zimbabwe's $557m debt to the Paris Club. During his trip Mr Tsvangirai had a message that the economic and security situation in his country were improving, but his hosts and the Zimbabwean diaspora felt more needed to be done. In London, for instance, he was heckled when he appealed to exiles to return home. Amnesty International also said human rights remained under threat despite the unity government being in place. "The government must give as much attention to securing human rights reforms as they are to seeking economic reforms," Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said in Harare recently. Mr Tsvangirai said the response of the West to his appeals had been low, but committed himself to ensuring that the benchmarks they set as conditions for increased support were met. "The response has been mixed in some areas, but I think generally people want to support the progress towards progress," he told BBC Radio. "They say that certain benchmarks have not been fulfilled, but to a large extent I think they do see the progress." His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party accuses Mr Mugabe of reneging on certain terms of the unity deal and has raised the issues with the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. The outstanding issues include Mr Mugabe's unilateral appointment of the Reserve Bank governor and continued arrests of MDC supporters and legislators. Witness Chinyama, the group economist of Kingdom Financial Holdings, said the limited financial aid pledged is commensurate with the slow progress the unity government is making in addressing key outstanding matters in the agreement. "Europe and America have questions over the implementation of the deal, so there was no way they would suddenly say the situation is OK," said Mr Chinyama. He said most donors, including African countries, were wary of Zimbabwe's sovereign risk, hence their reluctance to give quick support to restore normal production across the entire spectrum of the economy. Another major highlight of Mr Tsvangirai's tour was his official launch of the Zimbabwe-European Union dialogue in Brussels, seen as the first step towards the normalisation of ties between the two parties. Abel Mthombeni, 27, an electrician from Bulawayo, said: "It was clear that without support from the key areas, moving forward was almost impossible for us as a country. So this trip signals our return to the fold and once we are back in, other things will fall in place." But while Zimbabwe failed to secure much in terms of direct economic aid, the trip also cemented Mr Tsvangirai's personal ties with the West and bolstered his growing stature as a statesman. Mr Obama, whose government pledged $73m to "consolidate democracy, human rights and rule of law", said he had "extraordinary admiration for the courage and the tenacity" that Mr Tsvangirai has. In Germany, the premier had the opportunity of inspecting the guard of honour, a privilege normally reserved for visiting heads of state. Farai Sevenzo, a Zimbabwean filmmaker wrote in an opinion piece on BBC News: "In a packed week, Morgan Tsvangirai was greeted in Washington, Oslo, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels like the acceptable face of a country one remembers for the wrong reasons. US President Barack Obama greeted him in the Oval Office and for the first time in a long, long time the sight of the Zimbabwean flag placed by a podium in close proximity to the host's stars and stripes seemed to say - yes, the broken country is on its way to being mended." tmpofu@thenational.ae