Obama Pledges $73 Million to Zimbabwe
By Michael A. Fletcher
President Obama announced today that the United States will provide $73 million in aid to Zimbabwe, saying the economically-wracked nation has made progress since Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai entered a power-sharing arrangement with longtime President Robert Mugabe four months ago.
"We've seen progress from the prime minister," Obama said, after meeting with Tsvangirai in the Oval Office.
The $73 million in assistance will not be going to the government but directly to services for citizens, Obama said, because "we continue to be concerned about consolidating democracy, human rights and rule of law."
Obama renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe in March, in an effort to press Mugabe into making changes to improve human rights.
Tsvangirai's visit to the White House came as part of his weeks-long tour of capitals in Europe and the United States to raise money to help rebuild his tattered country.
Tsvangirai became prime minister in February as part of a power-sharing deal with Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe for 29 years. The arrangement was a bitter compromise struck after Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe in presidential elections last year, but the president was unwilling to cede power.
Mugabe was once hailed as a freedom fighter responsible for ushering the formerly white-run nation into black rule. But through his years as president, Mugabe has been accused of crushing his political opposition and implementing land redistribution and other policies that have triggered hyperinflation and shattered the once potent Zimbabwean economy. In recent years, the country's health and education systems have all but crumbled.
"There was a time when Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa. And it continues to have enormous potential," Obama said. "It has gone through a very dark and difficult period politically. The president, President Mugabe, I think I've made my views clear, has not acted, oftentimes, in the best interests of the Zimbabwean people and has been resistant to the kinds of democratic changes that need to take place."
Still, Obama said, Zimbabwe's people are in dire need of basic humanitarian assistance. "The people of Zimbabwe need very concrete things: schools that are reopened, a health-care-delivery system that can deal with issues like cholera or HIV/AIDS, an agricultural system that is able to feed its people," Obama said.
For his part, Tsvangirai said his country is making real, if unsteady, progress. "Zimbabwe is coming out of a political conflict and economic collapse or decay, and that the new political dispensation we have crafted is an attempt to arrest this decay, but also mindful of the fact that it is a journey," he said. "This is a transitional arrangement. We want to institute those reforms that will ensure that in 18 months time, people of Zimbabwe are given an opportunity to elect their own government."
Posted at 6:06 PM ET on Jun 12, 2009
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