Biti meeting with top US officials yields nothing for Robert Mugabe

Washington – Zimbabwe's finance minister met with senior US diplomats, but the State Department said this was no sign the United States is about to open up the flow of aid to the economically ruined country.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti saw Under Secretary of State William Burns and Mary Jo Wills, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, as Washington weighs whether Zimbabwe’s new unity government has implemented enough reforms for significant US aid to kick in.

"This meeting does not signal any kind of change. There are a number of things we have to see yet," State Department spokesperson Robert Wood told Reuters before the meeting.

"We want to see how the government is making progress on democratic reforms, economic reforms and then we will make a decision on whether we want to provide significant development assistance," he added.

Wood said the US government wanted to get a sense of the financial situation in Zimbabwe and steps the government is taking to reverse the free fall of the economy. Biti was in Washington for meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

Unemployment at 90%

Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins with hyperinflation and unemployment at around 90%. Millions are in need of food and the country’s infrastructure and institutions in shambles.

In a message to the Zimbabwean people last weekend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended the government for progress in implementing reforms, but said more must be done.

US officials say there are no immediate plans either to lift targeted US sanctions or give major aid until there is firm evidence that President Robert Mugabe is serious about sharing power with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The two formed a unity government in February following bitter post-election feuding and a clampdown by Mugabe’s forces against the opposition.

Mugabe has blamed his country’s economic collapse on Western sanctions but the United States and others counter that the cause of financial decline was his own mismanagement.

US officials have praised Biti personally for his efforts so far but have strong criticism for the country’s central bank governor, a close ally of Mugabe.

The departure of the central bank governor would be seen as a strong sign that Zimbabwe was serious about taking strong measures to turn around the economy, said one official, who declined to be named as his comments were sensitive.

– Reuters