Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Justifying Zimbabwe’s Aid

When Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai returns home from his Western tour to drum up aid for the recovery of his southern African nation, there are reforms that are expected to be achieved in short order. Promises of action will no longer be acceptable.

On the early parts of his trip, Tsvangirai was told, first by the Dutch, that there would be no aid without reform. The U.S. government made the same point, although US$73 million is being provided, most of it is HIV-AIDS and other health care funds and the rest goes to social services and programs, with all of it to be administered by contractors or civil society organizations. The consistent message to Tsvangirai is that there is little trust in even the coalition government.

The reason is that the part of the government run by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party still controls the security forces and continues to deny guarantees of basic rights to assembly, association and speech. Opposition political officials are still being jailed – their human rights completely disregarded. While the African Union and the Southern African Development Community have called for an end to Western “smart sanctions” targeting ZANU-PF leaders and their families, the Western governments continue to demand progress on a long list of concerns, including full and equitable access to humanitarian assistance, a resumption of rule of law, an end to political violence and the release of political prisoners.

While in the States, Tsvangirai was asked by one prominent member of Congress how he could join a government headed by a tyrant, and the Prime Minister said: “We don’t have to fall in love with Mugabe, but there is a necessary relationship during this interim period.” Tsvangirai explained that he was interested in saving his country. He has trumpeted his party’s majority in Parliament and has assured the U.S. government officials and others with whom he met that there is a spirit of cooperation among his Movement for Democratic Change party members in Parliament and many of their ZANU-PF colleagues.

This is heartening news and seems to justify the optimism by some on Zimbabwe’s prospects going forward. At the same time, however, it puts pressure on Tsvangirai’s party to use their majority and collaborative relationship with ZANU-PF members to repeal the legislation limiting the freedom of political parties, the media and civil society organizations. Only then will Western governments like the United States consider working directly with the Zimbabwe government to begin the road back to economic health. All eyes are now on the Zimbabwe Parliament, which got back to work this week.

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