Zimbabwe says China is giving it loans

Posted in China , Africa | 01-Jul-09 | Author: Celia W. Dugger and Michael Wi| Source: International Herald Tribune

Zimbabwe’s prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, said an appointee negotiated a deal with China.

JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, said Tuesday that an official he had appointed had secured lines of credit worth $950 million from China, President Robert Mugabe's longtime ally.

Mr. Mugabe's party has mocked Mr. Tsvangirai for failing to bring home much aid from his three-week tour of the United States and Europe. Zimbabwe's government - a virtually bankrupt contraption led by Mr. Mugabe and his rival, Mr. Tsvangirai - needs an estimated $8 billion to rebuild the country's ruined economy.

The West has been leery of giving the government a large infusion of money until Mr. Mugabe stops the human rights abuses that have been a fixture of his 29 years in power. China, however, has maintained its close relationship with Zimbabwe as it has extended its financial ties to other nations in Africa.

Mr. Tsvangirai said Tuesday that the finance minister he had appointed, Tendai Biti, had negotiated the loan package with China. Details of the deal were scant, and Chinese officials could not be reached to confirm the deal or to comment on it.

Officials close to Mr. Tsvangirai said they believed that at least some of the financing would be provided on the condition that the money was spent on Chinese goods, like fertilizer.

"It is available for the procurement of goods from China - that is my understanding," said Ian Makone, an aide to Mr. Tsvangirai.

Eddie Cross, a senior official in Mr. Tsvangirai's party, said he dined with the Chinese ambassador last week and was told the lines of credit would include favorable terms for infrastructure projects and commercial ones to buy Chinese goods.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who won more votes than Mr. Mugabe in last year's presidential election but was forced out of a runoff by brutal, state-sponsored attacks on his supporters, reluctantly agreed to share power with Mr. Mugabe five months ago. The two men and their parties are now jockeying for political advantage ahead of an election still to be scheduled.

Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who ran Mr. Mugabe's violent re-election campaign last year, was himself leading a delegation of officials from the governing party, ZANU-PF, in Beijing on Tuesday. An official in China's Politburo assured the delegation that China's longstanding policy of investing in Zimbabwe was unchanged.

"We will encourage and facilitate more Chinese companies to seek development in Zimbabwe," said Zhou Yongkang, the Politburo member.

China and Zimbabwe have been close since Beijing supported Mr. Mugabe's military campaign against white rule in the 1970s. In recent years, China has helped prop up the country's economy as other foreign investors fled. Chinese firms have contributed, sold or bartered arms, airplanes, buses, hydroelectric generators and other goods to Zimbabwe, including equipment to eavesdrop on telephone conversations. China also supplied an elaborate blue tile ceiling for Mr. Mugabe's mansion in Harare, the capital.

The warm greetings Mr. Tsvangirai received from leaders in the United States and Europe, including President Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, rankled Mr. Mugabe, who is blocked from traveling to the West by sanctions, along with most of his ruling clique.

The Herald, the state-run newspaper that is Mr. Mugabe's mouthpiece, reported in June that the government had considered recalling Mr. Tsvangirai, but that Mr. Mugabe had decided that doing so would be too drastic. The ZANU-PF Politburo condemned Western countries for refusing to lift the sanctions and said national unity was "worth more than the conditional financial pittances from the West."

Mr. Tsvangirai said Tuesday that his trip had netted pledges of almost $500 million in assistance from Western nations. The details "will be released in due course," he said.

Some analysts were skeptical of the amount he said he had raised in new aid. Zimbabwe, racked by hunger and disease in recent years, has received hundreds of millions of dollars annually in humanitarian assistance from the West, almost all of it dispensed through international organizations and charities, not the government.

Mr. Tsvangirai's trip seems to have aggravated tensions between the two political parties - and even within Mr. Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Mr. Tsvangirai himself was relatively mild in his criticism of Mr. Mugabe while he was abroad, insisting that the 85-year-old president was an essential part of the solution to Zimbabwe's political crisis, as well as part of the problem.

Celia W. Dugger reported from Johannesburg, and Michael Wines from Beijing.