Senior Correspondent

WASHINGTON ( – Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai presented a new face of the troubled southern African nation in his first official visit to Washington June 10, 11 and 12, insisting that his country has changed for the better, while he appealed for more international aid for his country’s ravaged economy.

In meetings with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with leaders of the congressional foreign relations committees, Mr. Tsvangirai’s message was consistent. Without aid, Zimbabwe could head back to hyperinflation and descend into yet more violence and extreme poverty.

“We are a potentially vibrant economy,” Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters and academics in a briefing and conference call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. “What we need is credit for our businesses and some injection into our recovery budget. It will be important for the U.S. to give transitional support to us, because the alternative is too ghastly if we fail.”


Mr. Tsvangirai first came to this country 20 years ago as a labor organizer, and at that time, President Robert Mugabe–the senior partner in the power sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)–had been in power nearly a decade.

“June 11, marks four months since my swearing in as prime minister. Zimbabwe is changing. Already Zimbabwe is a different place, a significantly better place. As a society, we were near death, and we have come back to life,” he said at the CFR forum.

The new government made changes and brought the most inflated currency in the history of the world–more than 11 million percent in 2008–under control. The U.S. dollar and the South African rand are effectively the new national currencies, and as a result, the record-setting inflation is gone.

The government extended press freedom. It stopped forcing print media outlets to be licensed. And then the government launched constitutional reform, which Mr. Tsvangirai said will lead to a “people driven constitution and free elections.”

And finally, he said: “We took the riot police off the streets. Our capital city, Harare is no longer a city under armed occupation. With those four steps, we have kept hope alive.”

Despite the new government’s power-sharing agreement made last year, the U.S. and other Western powers are still reluctant to send developmental aid directly through the government, organizers of the Council of Foreign Relations event said after Mr. Tsvangirai’s press briefing.

But the new prime minister insisted that Zimbabwean lawmakers had put in place mechanisms to ensure aid delivery and accountability. “We need to allow agriculture and mining to grow. We used to be the bread basket of Africa,” Mr. Tsvangirai said. Zimbabwe produces corn, cotton, and tobacco, as well as coal, gold and platinum, among other commodities. The consequences, if his government is unable to recover, could be serious he said. If the new government fails for lack of funds, the alternative could be “ghastly,” he said.

Mr. Tsvangirai also insisted that his country had not abandoned its commitment to redistribute land that White colonialists took from the Black majority under British rule. “Across the political divide there is a national convergence on the need for land reform,” Mr. Tsvangirai said in response to a question from The Final Call.

“There has never been any dispute for the land reform to be distributed fairly, not based on race or color, but based on equity, transparency, and to allow those who want to use land productively to do so. That still remains. The divergence arose out of the method. The violent nature, destructive nature, the uncoordinated nature, and the biased nature of that land distribution, and the elitism that sometimes resulted from that land distribution.

“It is not the people who were landless that benefited from the land reform. It is the elites who benefited from the land reform. And I think those are matters we are trying to rationalize and rectify,” he continued.

Before her meeting with the prime minister, Secretary of State Clinton praised Mr. Tsvangirai as a “longtime advocate” of human rights and economic opportunity, saying she was “anxious to hear about the plans and the work that your government is undertaking and to look for ways that we appropriately can be supportive.”

Earlier in the week, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said that no major aid could be expecteduntil the Harare government as a whole institutes significant reforms on human rights and the rule of law and ends harassment of political and civic activists–the issues Mr. Tsvangirai insisted in his remarks that his government has begun to address.

The Zimbabwean prime minister also met on Capitol Hill with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee whose Africa subcommittee chairman; Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) has been advocating increased American assistance to Zimbabwe. “We do see some progress being made,” Mr. Payne told the Voice Of America following that session.

“Much more has to be done. We’re not certainly ready to remove any sanctions or anything like that, however we are going to explore ways that we can get assistance to the people of Zimbabwe” targeting the agricultural sector and the educational system.

“But we will be watching closely, we will be having guidelines and road marks to see whether the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) government is cooperating with MDC in a real collaborative spirit,” Mr. Payne said.

Mr. Tsvangirai and President Mugabe were major political rivals until a power-sharing agreement was worked out to ease a political and economic crisis that had gripped the country, which was sanctioned by western governments. Mr. Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in February.

Following his meeting with the Zimbabwean leader June 12, Pres. Obama said the country has made strides under Prime Minister Tsvangirai and that the U.S. will give the African nation $73 million in aid.

“We’ve seen progress,” Pres. Obama said at the White House. The funds will not go directly to the government however, “because we continue to be concerned about consolidating democracy, human rights and rule of law,” Pres. Obama added.