WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sought to bolster Zimbabwe’s prime minister last Friday while withholding support for his coalition government.
Following a White House meeting, Morgan Tsvangirai said he had a productive visit. Still, he left with a promise of $73 million in conditional aid, a small figure compared to the scope of Zimbabwe’s problems.
In a joint appearance, Obama made clear he is not persuaded that Tsvangirai can turn the country around in partnership with President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of human rights abuse, corruption and mismanagement that has left his country impoverished.
Obama said the aid would not go to the government directly.
“We continue to be concerned about consolidating democracy, human rights and rule of law, but it will be going directly to the people in Zimbabwe and I think can be of assistance to the prime minister in his efforts,” he said.
Obama praised Tsvangirai for bravery and for limited success in reforming the country.
“Overall, in a very difficult circumstance, we’ve seen progress from the prime minister. We are grateful to him,” he said.
But the United States and other Western countries have been skeptical of the coalition government Tsvangirai joined in February.
During his three-week tour of the West, Tsvangirai has argued that Zimbabwe has made progress and has defended Mugabe, who Tsvangirai acknowledges had him beaten and nearly killed while in opposition. In a press appearance after his meeting with Obama, Tsvangirai said that he now enjoys a functional, working relationship with Mugabe.
Tsvangirai said that Mugabe had been forced to pragmatism by political necessity.
“It was not by design, it was not by his own choice, it was the circumstances that prevailed — the political situation that led the country to such dire straits,” Tsvangirai said. “He appreciates that the inclusive government has done a lot in three months that he has not done in a long time.”
Tsvangirai said he hopes he has begun to make the case that his government deserved more aid.
Obama said the U.S. is trying to encourage human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe along with other basics of society: working schools, health care and an agricultural system that can help the country feed its people.
Tsvangirai praised the West for its monetary support and told Obama that the country is committed to meeting benchmarks of progress.
Hours before the White House meeting, Zimbabwe’s leaders made an impassioned appeal for an end to restrictions on aid and for more international investment.
“Sanctions at this junction in our history are meaningless,” Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara told an economic conference in South Africa. “Help us help ourselves by removing all those sanctions so Zimbabwe can have a fresh start.”
Associated Press writers Ben Feller in Washington, Donna Bryson in Johannesburg and Clare Nullis in Cape Town, South Africa, contributed to this report.