Friday, March 27, 2009

Zimbabwe leaders cry for help, warn country faces collapse

By Lebo Nkatazo
Posted to the web: 26/03/2009 09:07:28

KEY figures of Zimbabwe’s nascent power sharing government sent a united cry for help to the international community on Wednesday, warning: “If you don’t help us now, our country will collapse.”
Finance Minister Tendai Biti said “the consequences of failure would be drastic” and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara warned that “if we do not get balance of payments support, this government will collapse and the people will be the victims”.
President Robert Mugabe, speaking after a meeting with Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim said he felt “in rhythm” with his opposition rivals, emphasising the need for foreign help to revive the country’s ruined economy and “establish peace among the people, for them to work together and avoid violence”.
A Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state meeting set for the weekend will discuss a US$2 billion emergency rescue package for Zimbabwe. That rescue package and other long term investment couldn’t come soon enough, Biti warned.
"For the good of Africa and Zimbabwe, the inclusive government must work because the consequences of failure are drastic," Biti said.
Western countries, notably Britain and the United States, have imposed “benchmarks” which they say they want met before lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe. The sanctions were imposed before Mugabe was joined by new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mutambara in the inclusive government.
Mutambara said: “Here is our message to the international community. Hear us on this one — Americans, British or whoever you are — we are determined to make this agreement work. It is irreversible. Please do not give us conditions like we are waiting for signs . . . if we do not get balance of payments support this government will collapse and the people will be the victims.
"… we are saying remove any type of sanctions you have imposed. When you impose sanctions, you impose them on Cde Tsvangirai. You undermine the efforts of the Prime Minister. It is not for the Americans or British to judge us."
The United States said this week it needed a “very, very clear indication that the country's new unity government is moving in the right direction" before lifting a decade-long sanctions regime which was recently renewed by new US President Barack Obama.
Mutambara said Obama’s move was borne out of “ignorance and arrogance”. Biti expressed fears the government would crumble even before it meets the Western conditions for the resumption of direct financial aid.
"We need some breathing space so that we deal with mandate issues so the international community should not put walls through these benchmarks," said Biti, Tsvangirai’s top aide in the government.
Mugabe said his government wanted the economic sector “to become viable, our factories to get moving and the mines to start producing the various minerals found in the country”.
"At the moment, we feel in partnership with those who have joined the government. It is smoothly running, it is now in our rhythm. It’s like tradition. I am working with Prime Minister Tsvangirai as my brother.”
But he warned any aid should not carry too many conditions.
“We would want to say if it comes, it must come in friendly terms, we must be equal in status and we do not have to go on our knees for them. We only do that for one person and that person is up there (God).
"If they do not accept that we are a sovereign country, they can still go hang.”
Mugabe rejected reports of new farm invasions, saying the government was facing resistance from white farmers who were refusing to vacate properties legally acquired by the government.
Hopeful signs for Zimbabwe this week came by way of new figures showing consumer prices fell in January and February after the government let shops use hard currency and abandon the worthless local money.
Data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) showed inflation at -3.1 percent on a monthly basis in February and -2.3 percent in January. They were the first figures using U.S. dollars so there was no annual comparison.
The previous official figures showed inflation at 231 million percent in July, but economists said it rose far higher. The last time official figures showed a month on month fall in inflation was in mid-2005.
Shops, which had been hit by a June 2007 price freeze, are now fully stocked and prices of basic goods like bread, meat, flour and maize meal have fallen as much as 50 percent from December levels.
But without international aid to stabilise an economy grappling with unemployment of more than 90 percent and shortages of foreign exchange to pay salaries and critical imports, the recent gains could be reversed with dire consequences for a country struggling to find stability for the first time in a decade.


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