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Give more aid: Feed more crocodiles

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Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti is struggling to get the kind of big dollar support he is hoping for to resuscitate the country’s ailing economy.

He’s gotten a few nibbles – this week Zimbabwe secured USD 200 million in credit from SADC, and another USD 200 million in credit from COMESA. The UK has promised USD 21 million in humanitarian aid. Nothing to sniff at – but nowhere near the USD 10 billion plus injection Biti has been shopping around for.

Part of the problem, of course, is the global financial crisis – countries are worried about bailing out their own economies, and aren’t as open to helping out others as they might have been a year or two ago.

Part of the problem is scepticism. The IMF turned down Biti’s request, reportedly citing arrears and financial restrictions.

But most importantly, perhaps, Western governments at least are still under pressure to not give aid to Zimbabwe – until the government stops its human rights abuses, and commits to reform.

Human Rights Watch Africa Director Georgette Gagnon said in a statement today:

Humanitarian aid that focuses on the needs of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable should continue. But donor governments such as the UK should not release development aid until there are irreversible changes on human rights, the rule of law, and accountability.

Continued farm invasions are getting a lot of media coverage, and are cited as one type of abuse that has to stop. As Tom Porteous pointed out in the Guardian (UK) yesterday, while perhaps less in the public eye, the attacks at the diamond mines in Marange are also a brutal form of human rights abuse. Porteous warns that donors can’t guarantee that aid to Zimbabwe will go to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure to promote basic human rights. Rather, it might still end up financing the forces which actively assault them.

There is much talk of reform in Zimbabwe but, as yet, no concrete action. The process of political change may have started but it is not irreversible. As long as Mugabe’s nexus of repression and corruption remains in place, no amount of development assistance will help solve Zimbabwe’s huge economic problems. And any economic aid to Harare from the UK or other donors will help to feed the crocodiles, just as surely as the blood-soaked profits of the Marange diamond mines.

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