Leading article: Mr Tsvangirai deserves our support

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The Independent Online

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change, was denouncing his country's presidential elections, which had delivered victory to Robert Mugabe, as a "violent sham" and his supporters were being attacked by Mr Mugabe's thugs.

But this weekend Mr Tsvangirai, having been sworn in as the prime minister of a coalition government with Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF in February, was in London calling for Zimbabwean exiles to return home. And yesterday he requested an increase in aid for Zimbabwe from Britain. Given that reversal, we should not be surprised that Zimbabwean refugees gave Mr Tsvangirai such a hostile reception when he addressed them at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday. In African politics, such abrupt switches can be an indication of financial corruption.

Mr Tsvangirai denies being "co-opted" by Mr Mugabe and tells an encouraging story of free elections in Zimbabwe within two years. What the Zimbabwean government needs from the outside world now, he argues, is no longer isolation, but support.

It is true there has been an improvement in the condition of Zimbabwe in recent months. Inflation has come down from the astronomical levels of last year and many schools have re-opened. Yet there is also plenty of evidence that Mugabe's grip on the country has not substantially loosened. Amnesty International says the human rights situation remains "precarious". The security forces are still largely controlled by Zanu-PF.

It would be naïve to imagine that Mr Mugabe will meekly accept Mr Tsvangirai's plans for his incremental marginalisation. And the reluctance of our own Government – and others – to channel any aid directly through Harare while Mr Mugabe remains president is understandable. But Mr Tsvangirai, who needs no lessons in the brutality and tenacity of his coalition partner, has come to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of the Zimbabwean people for him to work for change within the confines of the unity government. His judgement merits respect. And, risky as it might seem, his strategy deserves our support.