Tsvangirai heads for Europe and US in bid to raise cash

HARARE – The United States, Britain and Europe will welcome a Zimbabwean leader on an official visit to their shores for the first time in nearly a decade next week as Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister in the new power-sharing Government, embarks on an international tour to try to win support to rebuild his shattered country.

After nearly ten years of policies designed to isolate Robert Mugabe’s autocratic regime in Zimbabwe, Mr Tsvangirai is expected to be embraced by President Obama in the White House early next week. He is expected to receive a similarly warm welcome from heads of states across eight European capitals, including London.

It is the first top-level effort from the new Zimbabwean Government — which still has Mr Mugabe as its President — to resume close relations with the West.

The speed and ease with which Mr Tsvangirai has been accommodated into the schedules of world leaders is being seen as a carrot to Mr Mugabe, who has been forced to cool his heels in Harare by sanctions against him and about 230 of his cronies. Only one Cabinet minister from Mr Mugabe’s side of government will be able to accompany Mr Tsvangirai to America, because he is the only one not banned from entering the US. Several, however, are being granted visas for the European leg of the trip — Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, the Foreign Minister, among them — because a clause in the European Commission’s sanctions allows them to be waived for “political dialogue”.

Zimbabwe needs billions of pounds in international aid for the reconstruction of an economy wrecked by corruption and abuse of power in the past decade of Mugabe rule. A £5.3 billion, three-year reconstruction project is planned — but although Mr Tsvangirai will personally be well received, Western diplomats say his chances of securing the funding package he wants are remote.

Concerns remain that Mr Mugabe has failed to demonstrate sufficient commitment to reform and genuine power-sharing, and continues to use the security forces, judiciary and media to stiffle change. Potential donors are worried that funds could be diverted to him and to his cronies.

“Until the finance ministry can ensure that nothing will be channelled to corrupt use, as it has been before, forget it,” said one.

Instead, London, Washington and Brussels will continue to insist that aid money goes to humanitarian agencies’ projects, although Sweden is tinkering with what is called “the humanitarian-plus option” of paying salaries direct to teachers and nurses.

Many of Mr Tsvangirai’s senior officials — some of whom have still not been put on the government payroll — admit to the frustration of trying to work within a government where Mr Mugabe’s side often makes things as difficult as possible.

Mr Tsvangirai has had to have his Prime Minister’s address to the nation recorded privately because the pro-Mugabe state media have refused to handle it, and he is now struggling to have it broadcast.

“Every day is a struggle to get the tiniest thing done,” said one of Mr Tsvangirai’s officials, who asked not to be named. “It is utterly exhausting.”

Mr Tsvangirai is due to visit the US, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Belgium, the latter as headquarters of the EU. The Times (UK)