Zimbabwe needs the west to engage Mugabe

Published on 21 August 2009

It is time for western governments to swallow their pride, re-engage in Zimbabwe and do business with Robert Mugabe. The country’s battered people urgently need help: compassion and self-interest demands that the west provide it; the future of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change could well depend on it; and the recent announcement that China has offered Zimbabwe a US$950m (€671m, £576m) loan should concentrate policymakers’ minds on it. Six months after the introduction of a coalition administration, Zimbabwe remains in cruel limbo. Its children are still being orphaned by Aids and dying of preventable diseases. Its students remain without books or computers. Nearly half the population are kept alive by UN food shipments, but denied by western donors the resources that could allow the country to fend for itself. Doing business with a dictator is anathema, maintain western diplomats. President Mugabe must go, they say, before regular aid can resume. Meanwhile, their governments keep their distance. They channel hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food aid through the UN’s World Food Programme, and enlist non-government organisations to deliver the modest humanitarian help the west is prepared to allow.

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