Thursday, June 25, 2009

Viewpoint: Tsvangirai's ambiguous trip!

Angela Merkel and Morgan Tsvangirai inspect a guard of honour (15.06.2009)
Morgan Tsvangirai was saluted and greeted on his extensive tour of the West

In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, columnist and filmmaker Farai Sevenzo considers Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's week.

In the end he arrived in the West's capitals like a collection of many personalities:

The messenger, the fledgling diplomat, the suffering leader-turned-prime minister, the widower, the money-raiser, the prophet of hope sailing on rough seas of scepticism.

No time to dwell on the gruesome details of the past... all the world needed to know was that Zimbabwe was now stable

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.

After all here is a man who has known beatings and jail standing next to President Obama, next to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and putting his country's case to the world. Surely something is going to give?

Morgan Tsvangirai shaking hands with Hillary Clinton (12.06.2009)
The Zimbabwe PM spent five days in the US meeting top officials

But as usual, views about Mr Tsvangirai remained polarised:

Is he raising money for his Movement of Democratic Change party or the people of Zimbabwe? Is he in charge or is the old man, President Robert Mugabe, above him the new puppeteer?

Why is he being treated like a long lost relative by these people who have banned President Mugabe's cabinet from travelling?

Why is he being saluted by the German defence forces as if he is the head of state? How much is all of this costing?

The questions were all over the place.

And depending on the answers you were looking for it was agreed that the man who entered into a pact with the people who once beat him, refused to salute him and killed hundreds of his supporters had gone through a kind of practical conversion in order for his broken country to be mended.

There was no time to dwell on the gruesome details of the past.

All the world needed to know was that Zimbabwe was now stable - there is food in the shops, the 500bn% inflation has vanished like a witch in the night to leave 3% as the shining new number.

And the 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note can be found in wallets from Harare to Helsinki only as souvenirs of the kind of figures which give calculators a heart attack.

Exiled Zimbabweans at Southwark Cathedral
Somewhere in a presidential residence in Harare, a man may have seen the prime minister's week on the news, and smiled

But as soon the wandering prophet paints this version of peace, unity and development, Amnesty International lands in Zimbabwe and says the picture on his canvas is pure fiction:

Human rights are still precarious; citizens are still living in fear; the poor have no real hope of laying their hands on scarce foreign currency, which is the only currency in circulation.

That freedom of expression and the right to protest is tied to police beatings and that human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, continue to be intimidated, harassed, threatened and charged.

And, tellingly, that the sweet words which laid the foundation for the unity government had not been followed by action.

"The government must give as much attention to securing human rights reforms as they are to seeking economic reforms," Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International said.

And behold the miracle of miracles - she was saying this in a Harare press conference. Surely change is in the air?

Then the wandering prophet arrived in London.

Someone taking a picture of Morgan Tsvangirai
Exiles were not persuaded by Mr Tsvangirai's speech in London

The thousands of exiled Zimbabweans who gathered to hear from the man they have only seen on news footage fighting enormous demons in a political life that required courage and tenacity focussed their mobile phone cameras on him.

They were like music lovers at a pop concert committing a star to memory.

But when he uttered those words, "It is time to go home", the crowd turned against Prime Minister Tsvangirai and shouted their disapproval.

"Not yet," they said. "Mugabe must go!"

They wondered how they could return to a country with no jobs, how they could uproot their children from this exiled life to a life of uncertainty and fear.

Now, I've never understood this need for asylum, and perhaps I'm lucky, but I go in and out of my home country as often as the pennies permit.

But there are thousands who say they fled to the United Kingdom in search of asylum from rape, torture and persecution.

So the prime minister's words were in one stroke killing the legitimacy of their status.

"I am not saying you have to leave today," said the prime minister. "But you should start thinking about it." They did not seem convinced.

They said he was speaking just like Mugabe and heckled and booed him so much that his Moses speech to the exiled children of the broken country had to be cut short.

Somewhere in a presidential residence in Harare, a man may have seen the prime minister's week on the news, and smiled.


If you would like to comment on this column, send us your views using the post form below.

A selection of comments received so far:

Give the poor guy a chance. He must be facing a mountain of difficulties, aside from losing his partner. He visited many states, which demonstrates his vigour. No harm in asking his fellow countrymen to come and shoulder the burden. They can do more good there.
Govind BHADRESA, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

How do people in exile expect Mugabe to be removed if they do not go home and vote? Their support of the opposition MDC in the UK does not make any sense if they will not cast the ballot. Can they give us a clue on how Mugabe should be removed in power? It's high time people went home and contributed to its development!!
pinky, Reading UK

The problem with Zimbabweans is that they choose not to forgive at a wrong time and it works to their disadvantage. They did the same to the people who were sustaining their economy, the farmers, and it cost them their economy. Now the PM is trying to save the country and they choose to crucify him. At least Mr Tsvangirai is working for the good of the country. Keep on moving Mr PM, people will see the fruit of your labour later.
kajani banda, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Morgan Tsvangirai must think the world out there and his exiles are stupid. Surely he cannot be that naive to think people will be wooed back into Zimbabwe and that world leaders will open up whilst Mugabe is in power.
JOHN PERKS, Johannesburg, South Africa

I think the people who live comfortable life in London should be the last to criticise the PM. Had they been patriotic as they would want us to believe, they should have been on the ground trying to help as the PM is doing. It is high time people stopped pretending and be proactive. I would be more convinced by those living through the problems than those who watch it on TV.
Patrick, Nairobi

Let us be honest. Probably 99% of the people who have left Zimbabwe did so for economic reasons and not because they are running away from political persecution. That they need asylum is a convenient excuse to remain and work in the host countries. Even known Zanu-PF supporters have been claiming that they need asylum. When Tsvangirai told them 'It's time to go home.' perhaps they feared that his statement would invigorate the host country to evict the thousands illegally staying in the UK. Why should the UK continue granting asylum to Zimbabweans after Tsvangirai has said everything is fine back home. Tsvangirai was booed to for politics of principle but for politics of the stomach.
Jupiter Punungwe, Johannesburg, Zimbabwe

Give the PM a chance. He did not flee the country like most of you did. Running away from our problems is not a solution. Many have sought and received asylum in the UK and are living "the good life". The thought of going back home has become foreign to them. If you do not want to go home and join the new effort to change the country,just remain silent.Dr Eric Tangumonkem, Littleton, USA

I was at Southwark Cathedral. The small minority of the gathering who were booing and ululating to drown the PM's speech were composed of people on asylum, asylum seekers, over-stayers, border jumpers and other illegal immigrants. Most have no skills to offer here in the UK or back home. The professionals like doctors, engineers and nurses were prepared to listen. These are the people who are wanted here in the UK and in Zim. Economic refugees should come out in the open and not hide behind a finger!!Most of them are here on false grounds and are afraid that the chickens may be coming home to roost.
Tatenda , London, UK

We are watching and the truth should be told. Something that will never be acceptable is that, unless Europe has a hand in reform it will not be acceptable. Unless there is war and bodies lying in the streets, like Somalia, Goma and Darfur, peace should and can't come through round table and discussions. We need to understand why the out cry, go Mr Tsvangirai, Mugabe and Mutambara as Zimbabweans know what they want.
Thuthukani, Jo'burg

I am a Zimbabwean who lived in Zimbabwe during the toughest time. I am currently living outside of the country but I do visit Zimbabwe regularly. I know for a fact that most of the people that went to the UK did not go because they were running away from rape, torture etc. The honest truth is that the majority of these people left to seek "greener pastures" what they should be saying is that they are not yet ready to go back home as there is no economic stability yet - and not this rubbish of Mugabe must go etc. What we Zimbabweans should be doing - is putting our heads together to come up with plans to rebuild our economy and return our country to normalcy. If you really look at it these people are not in a position to rebuild our economy - they lack the right attitude and aptitude (which is really sad) and they know that they cannot do anything to rebuild the economy so rather than admitting that they would rather waste time crying Mugabe must go etc. I really and truly commend the Prime Minister on his efforts - some may criticise him saying that he is now Mugabe's puppet but I believe that the strategy he has taken is the best for now.Zimbabwean in Africa

It is obvious that the exiles most of whom left the country to claim for asylum in the UK dont want to listen and hear the truth. Instead they want to get the papers and continue to exploit Zimbabwe's situation for their benefit. Its high time the African wake up and know how power is wielded behind the scenes, lets stop moving on emotions but facts.
Themba , Harare

I am quite disgusted at the people who live in London and have the sheer audacity to boo and jeer at a man who has done more for the country in the past couple of years thatn anyone else. As many have said previously if you are really that patriotic and believe that Mugabe should go - maybe you should support the opposition in whatever way possible. I would hate to think after all the beatings and torture that Morgan has gone through the disapora would not provide any support possible - allowing the man to speak his mind is the least people could do. In my opinion, if this transition government does not work for one reason or another at least there has been a change and some hope!!
Michael , London, England

Morgan has impressed me a lot. I think Zimbabwe will be rescued by his gestures. He sounds very confident about now and what his country can become. That is a spirit i want in a leader. The past may have beem grim, but we have now and tomorrow to shape. Lets go...semms to be his message and I love him for that. Its not easy to loose your wife, grandchild, friends,all in a short span of time and still put yourself out there like he is doing for his country. He should be encouraged and not the unwarranted criticisms I hear from others.
Ike, Toronto Canada

Mr Tsvangirai please support people in the diaspora. Some of us are struggling students who can' t find school fees here and there at home so please can you urge the West to grant us the necessary papers to stay in their countries.
Anonymous, Australia

Tsvangirai's speech in London showed a classic weakness of his, which is 'failure to gauge the people's mood'. This is the same thing that led the Archbishop Tutu to say Zimbabwe opposition lacks a 'Nelson Mandela figure'. Such words were always going to be slated by all who heard them, given the reality on the ground in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai is only damaging himself & a leadership challenge from within will at some point materialize.
Thando Siziba, Birmingham, UK

As a Zimbabwean professional living in the United Kingdom, I was astounded by the reaction of my fellow Zimbabweans to our Prime Minister's come back home message. This response was clearly inappropriate and retrogressive. As pointed out by the Prime Minister himself, the statement did not imply that Zimbabweans should pack their bags tomorrow and leave the UK. His statement was based on the premise that there is significant progress, given that the Government of National Unit (GNU) has only been in place for four months, and therefore if people start making the consideration to return to Zimbabwe, it would take at least one year before anyone is ready by which time more progress would have been made in most areas in need of rectification. The changes in Zimbabwe are a real part of the process and therefore we need to give the GNU time and the aid required to implement the changes. We have to believe in Morgan Tsvangirai as the torch -bearer for freedom and democracy in our beloved country. He is the only leader who has managed to coerce the Zimbabwean government into a compromise without resorting to a full-blown war. Let us therefore not pre-empt the possibilities of returning to Zimbabwean in the not too distant future. Wilson Mubaiwa, London, UK

Exiles in the UK know what freedom of expression is, they know what freedom of speech is, they know what human rights are. They have tested and now know what it means to have human rights, questions still remain unanswered in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately some of my countrymen still think it is right for the police to harass residents or the CIO to kidnap and kill at will all in the name of patriotism. Exiles in the UK have the right to demand safety assurances and they know that as long as Mugabe is still in control their safety can not be guaranteed. The elections will come and mark my words violence will return to the streets and villages once more and l predict that Zanu and her thugs will deal with opposition ruthlessly. tim, liverpool

Everyone seem to miss the point everyone wants to go home but where is home? The reason why these people left Zimbabwe is because of Mugabe and Zanu so as long as they are still in office I doubt if anyone will buy Morgan's words of (wisdom)not even Jesus can convince most people that Mugabe is now a pastor, Chihuri is now saint, the CIO are no longer fanatics of Mugabe and Zanu. Whoever wants to let them its an individual choice. To this day there are still Jews in America why they didn't go to Israel?
otto, london

The Prime minister is very desperate and manipulates facts selectively to come up with something that looks like the truth. The people of Zimbabwe in exile understand the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe from their loved ones there. It's sad that the Prime minister of Zimbabwe does not understand what's happening in Zimbabwe. The actions of the Prime minister show us a transformed person who does not listen to people but imposes as I quoted him saying "Zimbabweans Must!","You have to listen to me" this is supposed to be the other way round, he should listen to the people.. Who in his right mind would believe that he is in control of the Zimbabweans security when the security chiefs do not even salute him? There is no evidence of any law and punishment on people responsible for violence. He boasts about lowering inflation yet the truth is very simple that Zimbabwe is not using its currency, so it's no longer printing money and again what's the point of opening schools and putting food on the shelves of shops when the people cannot afford it.
Farai, leicester

I have considerable respect for our Zim PM. But I beg to disagree with his sentiments regarding the status quo in Zim. We are in constant touch with our folks, we go home now and again. Its not yet time to go back home and scrounge for resources. If anything, he should have encouraged exiles to invest at home. if it were not for all those who left Zim, the country could have long ground to a halt. Everyone is playing their part, home and away. When the time comes, we will fold our tents & head back home to a certain future. Now is not the time.
Mcash Mcash, Luton, Uk

Give this guy a break. Morgan Tsvangari has been to hell and back trying to help Zimbabwe reform and all this with "his hands tied and a gun to his head" by the government who are so scared of losing control and the trappings of power that they treat their countrymen with distain, with cruelty and with such violence.

This man should be treated with respect, dignity and honour. There are not many men in this world who have taken such beatings, time and time again and still have the courage to stand beside his tormentor to help his country and the people in it.
flowerybun, Devon, England

I sincerely hope that change for Zimbabwe has arrived.But until there is restoration of basic services, health care, sanitation, clean drinking water, electricity, education etc - how can people like myself be expected to return with young children who were born Zimbabwean but had to leave because we were told to go back to Britain because Africa is for Africans. I for one would love to go back and indeed dream of going back, but back to what?.
Christopher Paulo, Bury St Edmunds United Kingdom.

People ran away coz they were suffering. Most left nothing back there. For them to go back there must be security(job wise) a sustainable situation.
Thembelani Sibanda, Joburg,South Africa

Let's face it, Zimbabweans are scattered through out the world. I think if the constitution is changed and this will need a referendum, there must be sufficient people to vote for this change. Come election time, there must be a huge turnout to vote and remove politicians you don't want. Now, to those hounded out of Zimbabwe, how do you intended to effect this change whilst you are nestled away in foreign capitals? My view is that plan now. Make a contribution to the constitution to ensure that you can make a vote in the diaspora or if you can't ,you come and vote in Zimbabwe. Are you registered as a voter? Democracy is about voting and voting. You must be part of the change you want. Those you support at home cannot depended on your financial support for ever.I will make my move appropriately. Mr Tsvangirai does not owe me anything if I dont mandate him through recognised means. Don't maintain the status core in Zimbabwe
Waiting a little longer, Johannesburg, South Africa

Why do you think my name and address is withheld? Because I will be beaten and tortured if I reveal it! I have to hand it to Mugabe, he's done it again. He has transformed his arch enemy into his puppet, just as he did with Nkomo. Mugabe the puppeteer!
withheld , Harare Zimbabwe

When I read the comments above it reminds me why Zimbabwe doesn't work. Distracted and fragmented views will not help the situation. Blaming each other only gives negative forces "reason" to counter anything " good " that could come from Zimbabwe. Tribalism, racism and division are what the press utilises to instil "moral panic". These words are no good to anyone who is patriotic and loves their country and the people without judgement. Everyone has their part to play. Business is what makes the world go round and especially business that benefits the many. There are millions of Zimbabweans, some in very powerful positions all over the world, who unknowingly, are just waiting for a sense of moral pride, honour and dedicated commitment by all Zimbabweans to unite as one voice , for them to begin acting. This in itself is a very powerful positive thing. Let's all concentrate on this initiative , and one of the greatest secrets in the world will be revealed.
Phil Day, London UK

Zimbabweans should be patriotic enough and return home. The fruits of comfort they're enjoying outside their country was fought for by someone they don't, perhaps who has not even lived to enjoy it. If you stay home don't criticise the little that courageous people back home are doing to improve the country. Surely, two heads are better than one. Return home or your country remains in quagmire.
Bright Mukwasa, Lusaka

I went home to Zimbabwe this April. I got arrested (handcuffed and roughed up) for not wanting to pay a spot fine for a made-up traffic violation. My two kids were watching, the younger one actually crying. And now I am fighting an uphill battle to convince my kids that home is best. We will come home. But we have to figure out how.
Stephen Mhere, Topeka, Kansas, USA

The more I get to know Tsvangirai the deeper my admiration for him. He's been through so much just to see a better Zimbabwe. And I agree with the others who say most Zimbabweans left Zimbabwe for economic reasons. All this stuff about persecution, human rights abuses etc.. well I never saw it to be honest. I just wanted to be able to buy a house and a car without having to pay cash because mortgages and car payments are out of the reach of the ordinary person. Yes we need to go back. In fact I wish Tsvangirai had spoken to the Zimbos in America. I would have cheered him on. My husband & I are moving back in the next year. We'll take the plunge - we can't wait!!!
Tinashe, Brooklyn, New York

I'm glad people see through that shameful outburst by our fellow diasporans. What an embarrassment to Zimbabweans as a whole and our cause. We DO need to go home and many of us are on our way back. No one else will fix our country for us.

"Be the change you want to see."
Ruvi, Calgary, Alberta

Can the real patriots stand up, go home now and stop crying.
Munya, London

Many may say that those in England did the PM a dis service on Sat, but the reality is, he tried to sell a vision that lacked a base in the everyday reality of Zimbabweans at home and abroad. Few schools are open, meds r still scarce, personal safety is still an issue. The only way to pay for food and water is in foreign currency. Those who really need it don't have it. People I spoke to on Sat want to go home but they also want to be secure in their minds that they are not jumping out of the pot into a fire. They made a different type of sacrifice. Giving up parents, sisters, brothers in order to have a life with food, work and a roof over head. The foreign currency on the street in zim is as a result of the "economic" migrants. Without them many in zim would not have survived as long as they did. Zimbabweans love there country too much to send it into civil war and that would have been the likely scenario if so many hadn't left. We want to rebuild, we want to contribute, but we also want our sacrifices to mean and stand for something. At the moment the PM hasn't set out a convincing plan that outlines that the infrastructure in Zimbabwe can support thousands of working age people. We await his master plan, if he needs help developing it there are many groups springing up ready to contribute to rebuilding a better Zimbabwe.
Mintah, London

Instead of asking us to come home , the PM should of asked us to invest in Zimbabwe, what's the point of going home to a broken country that expects the whole world to believe that the country is on the mend when it is far from the truth, it is just like telling lies to relatives to seek meat for the pot. We can rebuild Zimbabwe from where we are, there are millions of Zimbabweans all over the world living in exile and contribute a great deal to the foreign currency floating on the streets today, all we need to do is invest in our beautiful Zimbabwe in forms of property, small businesses and education for the kids, raise aid for those in desperate situations and return home when the time is right. Many of us have been well educated and know what freedom of speech and human rights is, there is no way we can live in country that dictates how we should live.


Stephanie, UK

The audacity of some people to say that Zimbabweans are cowards and unpatriotic to flee their country !!!!! If you have children whose fees need to be paid and other family members to support, you surely would not sit, twiddling your thumbs in the hopes that things are going to get better. Thanks to money that has been sent by people in the diaspora, life went on, houses were built, food was bought (yes, even when it cost 3 times as much as really should have), school fees were paid etc. It's not even a case of people fled Zimbabwe to go and sit pretty overseas - it's not all luxury. Highly qualified professionals who were well respected in Zimbabwe are out there doing the most menial jobs - all to survive and send some money back home. Please don't put down the people in the diaspora like they are some cowards. Far from being cowards, they were the ones willing to leave their luxurious homes, office jobs, cars, families and memories to go live in foreign countries. Mind you in these foreign countries they also suffer from xenophobic attacks, inability to secure good jobs because of their foreign passports, tiny housing and even worse weather (UK).
Analyst, South Africa

Reading the comments from my fellow compatriots, I am reminded of Peter Tosh's song whose lyrics goes along the lines, "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die". Virtually all of them, myself included, are urging others to go home and help rebuild Zimbabwe, but they are all shouting from the comforts of their "homes" outside Zimbabwe. The messages would carry more weight were we to hear from Zimbabweans who have left the outside world to help build their country!
Taurai, Pretoria, South Africa

It's different for everyone. When the hecklers first started it sounded to me like some people were almost cheering, that they were not all feeling the same thing. Then it changed to "Mugabe must go" in unison. The reality underlying that is not that simple. Some are in forced exile, others not. Some just want the security Europe promises.
Zimbabwean, Tucson, Arizona

Most Zimbabweans, my family and I amongst them, would go back in a heartbeat of things returned to normal. There is no reliable public transport system, electricity/ water can be switched off without warning, no Community Care system and the public sector is on it's knees. In addition, there is no employment security. It will take a lot of effort for that to resume to the way it was years ago. What guarantee have we got that the financial assistance will not be mismanaged? Only time will tell. Until then I can not foresee that anyone would be heading on the first flight home.
Amanda Kane, Bury St Edmunds, United Kingdom

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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