Merkel offers Zim help

2009-06-15 17:48

Berlin - Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai welcomed Germany's re-engagement with his country on Monday, after Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged further assistance at talks in Berlin.

"I am very heartened by the fact that [Merkel] was able to express support to us," the Zimbabwean Premier said in an interview with German Press Agency dpa.

Merkel described Tsvangirai as the "symbol of democratisation" of Zimbabwe, adding that there were encouraging signs since the formation of a unitary government in February.

"It is pleasing that the situation is such that inflation has regressed, schools and hospitals have re-opened, such that you can say something has got underway in the last months," Merkel said.

"Wherever possible, we will give support," the Chancellor pledged at a joint news conference, adding however that German aid was conditional on further democratic advances in the southern African nation.

Not just money

Merkel stressed that German assistance - dependent also on land reform programmes - would not just take the form of financial aid, but also advice and encouragement for business investment to Zimbabwe to resume.

Germany had withdrawn its development aid to Zimbabwe in light of the political meltdown under President [Robert] Mugabe, and provided just €10.4m of humanitarian aid last year.

Tsvangirai said he was not at all disappointed that the Chancellor made no concrete financial pledges, and said he was encouraged by a meeting with the German development ministry due later in the day.

"There has already been an indication by Chancellor Merkel that, 'yes, we realise there is progress, but you need to do more' - and we accept that," Tsvangirai said after the talks in Merkel's Berlin office.

The Zimbabwean premier is touring Europe and the US in a campaign to win support for the country's new power-sharing government, as well as financial help to rebuild the country after years of political and economic turmoil.

Financial aid to bypass government

US President Barack Obama pledged $73m in humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe on Friday, but said this money would bypass the government to directly benefit the people of Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai conceded that many reforms were still outstanding, adding that potential donors were reluctant to give immediate public support and acclamation because "suppose tomorrow it reverses"?

"They want to be sure that this is an irreversible process of transition to democracy, and there is nothing wrong with that," Tsvangirai added.

The former opposition leader entered a tense power sharing agreement with Mugabe in January following allegations that the 85-year-old president had manipulated his own re-election.

Mugabe is largely isolated from the West and faces travel bans in the US and Europe, prompting suggestions that Tsvangirai was sent on his behalf.

"I was not sent by Robert Mugabe, or anybody," Tsvangirai said.

"It is my own individual initiative, because Cabinet has adopted the fact that we need to re-engage the world, so I'm not under anybody's instruction," the premier added.

During his European tour, Tsvangirai is also due to meet British Premier Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the leaders of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and senior European Union officials.

The Zimbabwean premier said a huge challenge still lay ahead for the country's unitary government.

"It is to consolidate this government, make sure that it is able to deliver on the democratisation front and on the stabilisation front, and to be able to go to an election afterwards - that is the biggest challenge," Tsvangirai said.