Britain expressed skepticism on Tuesday about Zimbabwe’s new coalition government but pledged support because of the suffering of the population, indicating a shift in the West’s stance on the crisis.
The comments from British Minister of State for Africa, Asia and the UN Mark Malloch Brown followed a similar marked shift of tone from Washington since Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to enter a power sharing government with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe last week.
The new administration of US President Barack Obama has dropped its public demand for Mugabe to step down and the EU also welcomed the deal, although Western powers say they are not ready to lift sanctions on the president and his entourage until they see concrete evidence of reform.
Malloch Brown said he had been convinced by African leaders at a summit in the Ethiopian capital that the new government must be given a chance.
“I think the one message I’ve got loud and clear from this summit, and I’m very sympathetic to it, is we’ve got to give this a go, we’ve got to all do our best to support it, because the needs of Zimbabweans are so overwhelming,” he told BBC radio in an interview from Addis Ababa.
“We’re skeptical but we’ve got to try and help this work,” he said, saying Britain and others would be generous donors if the agreement succeeded.
Mugabe used a session of the summit on the global economic crisis on Tuesday to rail against Western powers, which he accused of blocking support to Zimbabwe from the IMF and World Bank, whose programs have been suspended because of arrears.
“Due to some illegal, unilateral, extraterritorial legislation by some powerful members of the same institutions, the enjoyment of our rights of membership have been strangulated,” Mugabe told his fellow African leaders.
“We believe that these illegal actions are not only unjustified and cruel, but they have also led to the needless suffering and foreign-induced polarization of the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
The new government, with Tsvangirai as prime minister, is due to be sworn in by Feb. 13, although the opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Mugabe’s ZANU-PF on Tuesday of backtracking on the agreement by delaying discussions on contentious issues.
Former colonial power Britain has been one of the fiercest critics of Mugabe, accusing him of destroying the economy of the formerly prosperous country and using militias to violently suppress opposition. The veteran Zimbabwean leader blames the crisis on Western sanctions.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said on Tuesday the US would only consider new aid for Zimbabwe and a potential easing of sanctions when it has seen evidence of “true power sharing.”
“The US will only consider new development assistance and easing of targeted sanctions when we have seen evidence of true power sharing as well as inclusive and effective governance,” spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.
“We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people in their time of suffering,” Wood said.
Wood also called on the international community to “remain engaged and continue to scrutinize actions by Mr Mugabe to ensure adherence to the letter and spirit of this agreement, including respect for human rights and the rule of law.”