Zimbabwean prime minister Tsvangirai on his archrival Mugabe
After a superficial search of my bag, I am in. Mr. Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition against the rule and regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, welcomes me. Sitting against the light from his bright window, as if to hide his features from me.
Tsvangirai’s delegation travelled across Europe and the US in June. Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, claimed that his arch-rival was on a mission to lift the sanctions against Mugabe and his allies. To Tsvangirai, the purpose of his mission was rather to obtain financial means in order to save Zimbabwe from going to bankruptcy. Or else, a charm campaign.
Wherever he arrived, he was given a warm welcome, including in the White House by Barack Obama. As for the finances, his tour generated less cash than envisaged. As long as the repression is ongoing and Mugabe is pulling the strings, money is not going to roll in, was the main message.
In a way, isn’t it a relief that you didn’t obtain more funds? So you can return to Zimbabwe with stronger arguments in favour of the reforms; “If we want international support, things need to change around here”?
Tsvangirai: What do you mean with ‘more funds’?
Your Minister of Finance, Mr. Tendai Biti, said Zimbabwe would need 9 to 10 billion USD.
Tsvangirai: No, he was referring to the whole recovery phase. That is not the amount we are in need of right now, but in the three to five years to come. How much money would be needed in the short run, has not even been calculated.
What we need right now is transitional support, which would amount to around one billion dollar, spread over a period of twelve months. As for this amount, we have been given the necessary commitments. Our main concern, however, should not be the money, but the issue: ‘How we build a long-lasting relationship?’
Some people reproach you to have represented the Movement for Democratic Change during this mission to the West, rather than the government.
Tsvangirai: We are establishing these relationships as a government, as Zimbabwe. We are not doing it for personal benefits or party interests. We are saying: ‘Zimbabwe is changing, Zimbabwe is undergoing an irreversible change process and cannot continue to be isolated if this process has to be consolidated.’
The picture you are painting of Zimbabwe is a very optimistic one. Bt to which extent visible progress has been actually made already?
Tsvangirai: Please keep in mind what the objectives of the current transition government are. The first objective is to democratize the society. Secondly, we want to stabilize our economy. And indeed, it is obvious that more progress has been made in the latter objective.
However, one mustn’t forget that we are emerging from a political crisis which broke out only three months ago. Unlike cutting down the inflation, changing people’s mindsets is a long process. So both objectives need to be balanced, for they are self-reinforcing.
What are the most urgent needs of the average people in your country today?
Tsvangirai: To the people, economic recovery is crucial: land and gaining a living. The average Zimbabwean immediately felt that we have cut down the inflation. Goods are now available in the shops again, although not produced in Zimbabwe. But at least the people don’t have to cross the river to Botswana in order to do their groceries.
We still have no jobs, but we hope for a revival of the economy once the credit lines will re-open. Because our industry’s biggest problem is now liquidity. After all, there is again peace and stability in Zimbabwe.
During the forms of government last February, security was a very important aspect for your party. The security powers stayed with your opponent, but you managed to discharge the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a shadowy security politburo made up of military and police. However, it would seem that there is already a new JOC?
Tsvangirai: No, there is not. You may have read in The Economist about the ‘Revolutionary Council’, but the truth is that there is no Revolutionary Council. There is only the National Security Council (which was agreed to replace the JOC in the peace agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, sa).
But this National Security Council didn’t gather yet.
Tsvangirai: Indeed, there were no activities so far, as I am abroad and as I am an important pillar of that Council. We were supposed to have convened once, the first inaugural meeting, on 15 May 2009, but we didn’t manage to bring everyone together. One of the vice-presidents was sick, the other generals were excused. Once I will be back, we should launch the inaugural meeting.
It’s surprising to me that due to something as trivial as ‘incompatible agendas’, the police and army issues, which you found so important, have not been dealt with so far.
Tsvangirai: I’m trying to explain how difficult these past last months have been. There were so many challenges of different kinds. Besides, this security council was never a matter of the highest priority. Its creation was agreed upon because we wanted to divide the responsibilities overseeing the security issues equally between our parties.
But now that we are sharing the Ministry of Home Affairs, things are moving in the right direction. We will implement the security sector reform and the necessary agreements in this respect have already been concluded.
Mugabe abused the Western indignation at his policy to discredit your opposition party as a puppet of the West.
Tsvangirai: Regrettably, the violations against human rights in Zimbabwe were only on the agenda in the West. Africans too should have condemned these violations, which were not just stories, but bitter reality.
The police, the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation, the secret service, SA), the army: all contributed in the abuse of Zimbabwe. There is evidence that they did. When the West expressed their concerns, Africa should have shared these concerns.
But everybody turned the blind eye?
Tsvangirai: Yes, that is what I am saying. It was unfortunate that it appeared as if the West was criticising these abuses on the basis of the land question, and on the basis of black-white division. The more you turn these criticisms into a racial context, the more you have all the blacks on one side, and all the whites on another side.
Ex-president Thabo Mbeki from South Africa did not really help you with his silent diplomacy. And his successor Zuma seems not very outspoken either.
Tsvangirai: Jacob Zuma came to power when we had already formed our government of national unity. What could he do but supporting our government?
But does he actually support this government?
Tsvangirai: Yes he does. He has provided us with financial initial parts of payment support. He has opened up some lines of credit. So he’s supporting the process.
How is your personal relationship with Jacob Zuma?
Tsvangirai: There is no personal relationship. I have a very good personal rapport with Zuma, but I don’t regard my role as developing personal relationships. I think the future of South-Africa is indissolubly linked with Zimbabwe’s.
What happens in one country, influences the other. If Zimbabwe is destabilized, South-Africa becomes the first shelter for all those people who might be forced to leave the country. Or look at the Matabeleland massacres in the early ’80-s. Look at the violence that forces people to seek political asylum in South-Africa. It’s destabilizing. Our relationship as leaders is secondary to the interest of our both countries’ national interest.
The Western financial support was lower than expected. A number of African countries committed to an additional billion dollar, but when and whether Zimbabwe receives these funds remains to be seen. What are the options if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank refuse further allocation of funds as well? China, Russia and India?
Tsvangirai: Zimbabwe currently needs transition support. Afterwards we will reflect on which are the opportunities. The country is endowed with natural resources. As our people will return to their home country, we will be able to revive our economy. One day, we won’t need development aid.
We only need it, because it’s transitional. It is important to appreciate that Zimbabwe can produce in its agriculture, in its maize, in its industries, sufficient resources. The GDP of Zimbabwe was rich enough to look after itself.
How much time you think this will take? Do you think you will live to see that day?
Tsvangirai: I’m convinced that within the next 6 or 12 months people should be able to see the first indicators of progress. Already the worst period is behind us. The minister of Finance was estimating that our economy could grow by 4%, which is far above the average African growth projections.
Next year, we may even, once the system has been normalised, grow faster than any other country in Africa.
According to the Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove, it will take more than a political transition to heal the wounds. What will it take?
Tsvangirai: We have created what is called the organ of national healing-reconciliation and integration. Because we are conscious that we need to do something about our traumatic past.
We are going to start a programme targeting all Zimbabweans. We have been consulting widely in order to analyze how this system would benefit both the victims and the perpetrators. This healing process is a necessary step to take, because I think our country cannot grow, cannot move forward with the current kind of polarisation.
How will you heal personally? After everything you have been though, your personality became more introvert.
Tsvangirai: Yes, I think in the past the acrimony between me and Mugabe was very sharp. But I’m sure that we have developed a personal relationship, far beyond even my own personal expectation.
But as soon as we concluded the agreement and we had this burden of seeing these problems through, the more, I think, our personal rivalry was reduced.
You are not going to end up best friends with Mugabe now, are you?
Morgan Tsvangirai: No, no, no, no, no. The fact that we’re working together, does not mean that we have to love each other. We are working together for the good of the country. And I would work with anyone for the good of the country.