Donors should focus on reforms in Zimbabwe: watchdog

JOHANNESBURG – Western donors should not resume development aid to Zimbabwe until President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in the unity government ends human rights abuses and backs serious reforms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Western donors are crucial for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery but they have made it clear that money will not flow to the southern African country unless a democratic government is formed and economic reforms are launched.

HRW said police intimidation, arrests of activists and violent invasions of commercial farms by ZANU-PF supporters were continuing.

The African Development Bank said on Sunday that Zimbabwe needed to do more before engaging fully again with the global community, but it carefully avoided saying whether it would begin providing funds to help rehabilitate the economy.

"Humanitarian aid that focuses on the needs of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable should continue," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at HRW, in a statement.

"But donor governments such as the UK should not release development aid until there are irreversible changes on human rights, the rule of law, and accountability," she said.

Zimbabwe’s commercial agriculture sector has plummeted since Mugabe’s supporters occupied white-owned farms in 2000, and the country has had to rely on aid to feed its people.

Zimbabwe’s new unity government has asked for international funding to revive its economy, once described by the World Bank as the fastest shrinking outside a war zone.

Over 90 percent of the country’s working population is unemployed and the government is broke. 

Despite the formation of a new government early this year by political rivals Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, donors remain reluctant to lend money. More worrying, land invasions, at the root of the collapse of the once vibrant economy, have continued, farmers say.

Mugabe, the country’s only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, has vowed not to reverse his controversial land policy and accuses the former colonial power of organising Western sanctions to punish his government for the seizures.