Monday, June 29, 2009

Scant return from Tsvangirai tour!

By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Johannesburg

Morgan Tsvangirai with Barack Obama in Washington, 12 June 2009
Mr Tsvangirai's Western friends were more generous with kudos than cash

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai embarked on a three-week tour hoping to convince world leaders that the time had come to re-engage with Zimbabwe.

On the surface things went well.

A photo inside the White House of a friendly handshake with Barack Obama and meetings with European leaders all helped convey the message that this is a man the West feels it can work with.

Ultimately, though, this was not about goodwill but the cold hard cash that Zimbabwe's government needs to get the country back on its feet.

And of that, Mr Tsvangirai secured very little.

Just over $200m (£121m) is a scant return when the country's finance minister says they need $7bn.

Tellingly, very little of that money will go into the hands of government ministers.

TSVANGIRAI'S WORLD TOUR
From 7 to 25 June 2009
Visited US, UK, Belgium, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Norway and France
$200m in aid secured

"To us that is neither here nor there," Prime Minister Tsvangirai said on the French leg of the trip.

"The funds that are being given are going to Zimbabweans."

But the channelling of funds through international aid agencies is a very public rejection of the government Mr Tsvangirai is supposed to be leading, and of his claims that Zimbabwe has embarked on "an irreversible transition to democracy".

On a basic level there is no doubt that things have improved in Zimbabwe since the signing of the power-sharing agreement in February.

The scrapping of the Zimbabwe dollar has put an end to hyperinflation and there are now goods in the shops - available of course if you have the hard currency to pay for them.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Britain
Mr Tsvangirai appealed for exiles to return to Zimbabwe

Schools and hospitals are also starting to function again, thanks to salaries being paid.

The maize harvest for this year, thanks to good rains and the liberalising of the grain market, has doubled.

But crucially, there is still little to show that on key political issues Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is being treated as an equal partner, or even heard, by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

Differences over appointments are unresolved, activists are still being detained and media laws restrictive.

Amnesty International recently released a report saying "persistent and serious" human rights violations were still taking place.

Despite that, there are many in Harare willing to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt.

"Any kind of re-engagement is good," a 24-year-old from the University of Zimbabwe said. "Zimbabwe has finally returned to the family of nations."

And here in Johannesburg there are signs that some Zimbabweans believe things are changing for the better and are heading back.

This month voluntary repatriations organised by the United Nation's International Organization for Migration got underway.

Sixty people were packed onboard the bus as it left early in the morning with more than 100 left disappointed on the side of the road.

"I'm concerned about my security but the degree of concern has actually decreased because of the coalition government," a man called Hardlife told the BBC from his seat on the bus.

Others are returning out of a sense of civic duty.

"More than 10% of Zimbabweans are in exile, so I'm calling for them to go back and rebuild their country," a teacher called Tafudzwa said.

"I'm going back to school I will be teaching on Monday."

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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