Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's embattled prime minister, will leave Harare soon for a three-week visit to the United States and Europe, where he hopes to convince Western governments to lift current sanctions against Zimbabwe, as well as to appeal for a new round of foreign investment. Though Western leaders should be polite and listen, they should never forget who the real boss is back home in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai's visit comes on the heels of a meeting between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, chairman of the congressional committee on Africa and Global Health. Payne met with Mugabe in a search for a "new way forward" in U.S.-Zimbabwean relations, specifically the future of ZIDERA -- the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which effectively bars multilateral donors such as the World Bank, the IMF or the African Development Bank from offering loans or credits to Mugabe's government until it institutes major economic and human rights reforms.
Despite Tsvangirai's announcement that the "acrimony is over" between him and Mugabe, he will still have a tough job convincing world leaders that Zimbabwe has made any progress at all in improving fiscal management, instituting a fair legal system or reforming the land redistribution scheme. The latter has not only been an essentially criminal undertaking, but has effectively wiped out commercial agriculture in a country that was once considered the "breadbasket" of Africa.
For Mugabe, there is obviously no one better to make the case for Zimbabwe than Tsvangirai. As the main leader of the opposition and a stalwart champion of the types of reforms the West has been clamoring for, Tsvangirai certainly has the credibility to speak for change. But the question that Western leaders should be asking themselves is whether he has the power?
As for Mugabe, welcoming an indicted war criminal, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, for a visit certainly is certainly consistent with his image as a loose cannon. But will it help Tsvangirai's chances for success?
The question is whether Mugabe wants Tsvangirai to succeed in the first place. Many seriously doubt it.
(First published June 8, 2009)