Message to Zimbabwean prime minister: aid is linked to improved human rights

On visits to the US, Europe, and Scandinavia, Morgan Tsvangirai asks for more aid – and says progress is being made.

If Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's current world tour was intended as a mission to beg, then it has clearly been a failure. But if it is meant to show that Zimbabwe is ready to engage with the world, then it has been a remarkable success.

To be sure, Mr. Tsvangirai is not going to return home emptyhanded. The United States, Germany, and several Scandinavian nations have promised millions of dollars of financial assistance – albeit through aid agencies and not directly to the Zimbabwe government.

But Tsvangirai's biggest take-home message will be to tell his coalition partners – President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party – that Zimbabwe must improve its human rights record and its adherence to the rule of law if it wants more aid money.

In his Monday visit to Berlin, the Zimbabwean prime minister assured reporters that his country had made "real progress in stabilizing runaway inflation and in trying to create the conditions for democracy."

But more aid would be required, he added, to ensure that "Zimbabweans don't go back to an atmosphere of fear."

Billions needed to get country working

Getting Zimbabwe itself to work again is clearly a long-term project. Conservative estimates put Zimbabwe's overall financial needs – in terms of repairing neglected hospitals, electric power grids, roads, schools, and drinking-water supplies – in the range of $8.5 billion, much higher than the $500 million goal that Tsvangirai had set for himself on this trip.

Yet any government that includes President Robert Mugabe is unlikely to receive anything close to that amount, given the Mugabe regime's abysmal human rights records and its misuse of public funds for the personal gain of Mugabe cronies.

In that environment, this trip can be seen as the first step in a long testing period of just how real is Zimbabwe's current transition to democracy.

"There is still a lot of skepticism about the powersharing agreement, particularly on the part of the European and American donors," says Ozias Tungwarara, a Zimbabwe analyst at the Open Society Institute in Johannesburg. "I wouldn't put too much into the actual numbers of what Morgan [Tsvangirai] brings home. He has been able to create a lot of confidence, and to show commitment to make this thing work."

The trip has not been fruitless. President Barack Obama has promised $73 million, to be channelled through aid agencies working in Zimbabwe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised $41 million. Denmark and Norway have pledged $18 million and $9 million respectively, and Britain is likely to promise tens of millions when Tsvangirai visits that country on Saturday.

Donor skepticism

But donor skepticism is understandable. The ongoing trials of human rights activists for supposed "acts of treason" during last year's elections – they were arrested documenting acts of torture by the Zimbabwe police – and the recent arrests of Zimbabwean journalists show that the Mugabe repressive state machinery is still well-oiled. Few foreign donors would want to see money intended for combating cholera funding Zimbabwe's secret police instead.

If Tsvangirai returns home with less than the expected $500 million, Mugabe's state-owned media, including the Herald newspaper, are likely to call the trip a failure.

Yet Tsvangirai's strongest defense will be to repeat the message that has been hammered home by every Western leader he has met: that more aid money is possible, if Zimbabwe proves that its democratic transition is more than just window-dressing.

"There has to be more progress here, in human rights and the rule of law," says Raymond Louw, editor of the Southern Africa Report in Johannesburg. "That is the message that Tsvangirai has to make" when he comes home.

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