Tsvangirai calls for urgent assistance

HARARE, (IRIN) – Morgan Tsvangirai, invested as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe as part of a power-sharing deal with his bitter rival, President Robert Mugabe, called for international support to help the raise the country off its economic haunches at the signing of the agreement in the capital, Harare.

The deal, mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, will see Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, share executive powers with Mugabe in the first dilution of Mugabe’s powers since he assumed the presidency in 1980, when the country won its independence from Britain.

Mugabe will remain executive president and chair cabinet, as well as the National Security Council – also known as the Joint Operations Command (JOC), the country’s overarching security body that includes the chiefs of the army, police, and Central Intelligence Organisation, the feared secret police. Mugabe, or his party, ZANU-PF, will also appoint two vice-presidents.

Tsvangirai, as executive prime minister, will chair a Council of Ministers and hold the post of deputy chairperson of the cabinet, as well as being a participating member of the National Security Council. Tsvangirai will appoint a deputy prime minister, while the MDC faction, led by Arthur Mutambara, will appoint a second deputy prime minister, most likely himself.

Mbeki said there were still outstanding details to be finalised. "Some discussions have already started about the constitution of this inclusive government, [but] they have not yet concluded. I am confident that they will do so as soon as possible."

Zimbabwe, once prosperous, faces an economic meltdown in which inflation is officially estimated at more than 11 million percent, unemployment is above 80 percent, there are shortages of food, electricity, fuel and foreign currency, and the UN forecasts that more than five million of the country’s 12 million people will need food assistance in the first quarter of 2009.

Appeals for help

Tsvangirai, who introduced himself in his speech as "I, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe," said, "A new beginning will be built more quickly with support from the international community.

"We are grateful for the support you have shown us over the past nine years, and we appeal to our regional neighbours, our African brothers and sisters and the international community to assist us in rebuilding our nation, to assist us to address problems facing our society, our education and health care systems, and our economy.

"The first priority of the government is to unlock the food already in our country and distribute it to our people. We need doctors and medicines back in our hospitals, teachers back in our schools.

"We need businesses that can grow and provide jobs to the people; we need electricity again to power our businesses and homes; we need water that is safe and accessible; we need affordable food in our shops, crops in our fields, and petrol back in our vehicles; we need to be able to access our own cash from our banks. We need to stabilise our economy and restore value to our currency.

"The international aid organisations came to help our country and found our doors locked," Tsvangirai said. "We need to unlock our doors to aid."

Despite the humanitarian crisis engulfing the country, aid organisations were banned from operating for nearly three months during a violent election campaign that led to the presidential ballot, which Mugabe won as the sole candidate, and was widely condemned as flawed.

Tsvangirai’s call for unity at the signing ceremony went unheeded outside the Harare hotel venue, where rival groups of supporters engaged in running battles that were eventually brought under control by baton-wielding riot police.

Tsvangirai said, "I have signed this agreement because I believe it represents the best opportunity for us to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Zimbabwe. I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its peoples runs deeper than the scars I bear from the struggle. I have signed this agreement because my hope for the future is stronger than the grief I feel for the needless suffering of the past years."

While Tsvangirai read from a prepared speech and offered words of conciliation to his rival – "the hand with which I sign this agreement is the hand I extend to President Robert Mugabe," – Mugabe spoke off the cuff, did not acknowledge Tsvangirai, and repeated the theme that Zimbabwe should be wary of the imperialist designs of the former colonial power, Britain, and the US.

"We must resist those who want to impose their own will on us," Mugabe said. "Zimbabwe is a sovereign country. Only the people of Zimbabwe have the fundamental right to govern it; they alone will set up government, they alone will change it."

"Why, why, why the hand of the British? Why, why, why the hand of the Americans here? Let us ask that. Let us not ignore the truth as we move forward, we must accept reality," he said to jeers from opposition members and supporters in the audience.

Mugabe has consistently claimed that the MDC was a front for Western powers, and although he did not specifically mention the MDC in his speech, this claim is a well-known theme.

Oxfam, the international aid agency, said in a statement that it was "not an option" to delay aid. "The international community must provide support and assistance to the new coalition government," said Charles Abani, Regional Director of Oxfam in Southern Africa.

"Assistance must be carefully coordinated and managed, so that very weak state institutions are not overstretched. Zimbabwean civil society must also be included in a transparent process."

Investment in agriculture was key, the statement said, as farmers required fertilisers and seeds to prepare for the November planting season. "The international community must not just throw money at this problem, then walk away and say, ‘job done’. Zimbabwe needs a long-term plan, built on partnership and shared responsibilities, and supported by long-term, predictable aid from international governments," Abani said.

Sanctions not lifted

However, the council of European Union members states, which has imposed a raft of "smart sanctions" against the country’s ruling elite for alleged human rights abuses and undemocratic practices, was reportedly adopting a wait-and-see approach before lifting any of the punitive measures instituted against Mugabe’s government.

In a statement, the council welcomed the power-sharing deal and said it would "pay close attention to its implementation, which will imply the immediate end to all forms of intimidation and violence", and that it would "examine the development of the situation at its next meeting" on 13 October.

"All discussion on [EU] sanctions, more or less, is on hold until we see the details of the deal, and until we see the deal translated into action on the ground," British foreign minister David Miliband said.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, was reported as saying on Monday that the Fund was ready to hold talks with the country’s leaders.