Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai faced a tricky task in persuading US President Barack Obama to lift restrictions on aid to his beleaguered country when they were to meet yesterday.
He had to vouch for the democratic credentials of his coalition partner, President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of stealing an election from him and orchestrating widespread violence.
Yesterday, he planned to make his case that his government is on a new path directly with Obama at the White House. After years of dogged opposition that involved suffering death threats, arrests and beatings, he is now trying to change Zimbabwe’s government from the inside after Mugabe invited him into a coalition in February.
Tsvangirai arrived in Washington this week as part of a three-week tour of Western countries, trying to persuade governments to offer some aid despite worries about Mugabe.
The administration says it is listening but still has reservations.
After a meeting between Tsvangirai and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the administration was looking for “ways to ease the suffering of the Zimbabwean people without bolstering those forces that are clinging to corruption and repression.”
He said the US would consider development aid if certain reform benchmarks are met. Tsvangirai says that Zimbabwe, where the standard of living has plunged under drastic financial mismanagement, needs aid now. He warned in a speech on Wednesday that an overhauling of the system could falter without aid.
In the speech, he also argued that Zimbabwe has made progress since his Movement for Democratic Change joined the coalition government. He acknowledged the challenge of working with a man responsible for much of his suffering and that of his country.
“Well, I was almost killed. I know that,” he said.
But he asserted that Mugabe was allowing reform.
“We are moving into a new phase, and that’s what needs to be rewarded rather than punished,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mugabe has been portraying Tsvangirai as his personal emissary to the US.
Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper, a mouthpiece of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, greeted Monday’s announcement of the White House meeting by saying Tsvangirai was “assigned” by Mugabe and ministers in the power-sharing government to press for the removal of sanctions and the restoration of Western funding and lines of credit.
On Thursday, its daily cartoon depicted Tsvangirai leaving the White House empty-handed, asking Obama what had happened to his slogan “Yes, we can.”
Obama replies, “No, we can’t!”
John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said Tsvangirai’s Oval Office meeting with Obama was “a slap in the face” for Mugabe.
Mugabe, frozen out by the White House for more than a decade, has not commented on the visit.
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