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Tsvangirai Visit Poses Dilemma for US Officials


Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai arrives early next week in Washington, hoping to influence the US government’s guarded attitude about restoring economic aid to his fledgling unity government. Mr. Tsvangirai is expected to encounter a sympathetic, but hesitant reception in Washington, trying to convince congressional leaders and US aid officials that providing budgetary support will strengthen proponents of change in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe-born history professor Ken Mufuka of Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina says that Washington may not yet be ready to shift policy and play a decisive role in Zimbabwe’s recovery.

“Our problem is that the countries in the west, particularly Britain and the United States, are afraid to give money to the unity government because the treasury, the governor of the bank, and of course, the president of the country are still ZANU people who have abused their authority in the past. And they have abused the finances of the past and they have brought the country to where it is. So the problem for Mr. Tsvangirai is to convince the western world that he is in charge of the government and that the monies will not be wasted,” he said.

Mufuka says that US policymakers would like to back Mr. Tsvangirai, who has championed electoral and human rights freedoms for Zimbabweans. But they remain fearful that President Robert Mugabe and hard-line segments of his ZANU-PF following are still possibly in position to renew their hold on power.

“That is the predicament in which they are. If they respond, then they will strengthen his (Tsvangirai’s) hand in the government. But Mr. Mugabe is a very tricky person. If, suppose help begins to flow to Zimbabwe. The fear is that he could turn around next year, dismiss Mr. Tsvangirai, and perhaps hold elections which are fraudulent, which he has done before at least twice,” suggests Professor Mufuka.

He says the dilemma of the United States government is that if they don’t help Mr. Tsvangirai, then they face the predicament that if he fails, Mr. Mugabe will still have the upper hand.

Washington continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Harare for food, health services, water sanitation, and the fight against HIV/AIDS and cholera. But US leaders continue to wait for evidence of Mugabe supporters’ full cooperation with the MDC before it considers lifting economic sanctions imposed in 2002 and 2003. Professor Mufuka notes that American suspicions about how Zimbabwe disposes of the humanitarian aid have sometimes been justified.

“The US had some problems when the money which was given for AIDS relief was taken over by the Zimbabwe government and the US ambassador had to certify it with the Zimbabwe government for its return – it was about $7 million,” he recalls.

Earlier this week, the United Nations boosted its appeal for urgent humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe to about $720 million. On Tuesday, the European Union (EU) authorized $11 million in humanitarian help for medical supplies and parts to repair water treatment plants while Zimbabwe endures a chronic cholera crisis.

The EU continues to impose financial and travel sanctions against President Mugabe and ZANU-PF associates who it accuses of human rights abuse. But the $11 million aid package will be distributed in Zimbabwe through non-governmental aid groups, the UN, and the International Red Cross. Professor Mufuka suggests that US aid to help the Tsvangirai government could follow the European model in the way it is disbursed.

“Sweden has given us a way of doing it. What the Swedes have done is they have set up a system whereby they can help, let’s say, the teachers directly rather than go through the treasury so that the money is not budgeted by the Zimbabwe government. The money is paid directly to the teachers. So the Swedes have a way of directly controlling their expenditures and making sure that they go to the right people,” he points out.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai leaves Zimbabwe over the weekend for the United States and Europe. In Washington, he will meet with members of Congress, including ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and members of the US Congressional Black Caucus and will hold talks with US diplomatic and foreign aid officials.

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