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Tsvangirai faces trouble abroad, trouble at home

World leaders embraced the touring Zimbabwean Prime Minister, but Mugabe's shadow loomed large.

Many share this view. University of Zimbabwe political science professor John Makumbe in his regular newspaper column last week said: “Targeted sanctions against selected perpetrators of dictatorship and violence must remain firmly in place.” Seven supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change were still missing, he noted, while others faced prosecution on trumped up charges.

“It would be premature to lift (the) sanctions,” Makumbe said, “against the Zanu-PF hoodlums whose sole aim is to go and retrieve their ill-gotten wealth hidden in the banks of some of these Western countries.”

Responding to these concerns, Western leaders took steps to ensure aid funds were routed through non-governmental organizations and not the government. Further, Britain refused a visa to one of Tsvangirai’s retinue, a minister in Mugabe’s government, while Obama declined to meet another — to howls of outrage in Zimbabwe's official media.

By the end of his tour, Tsvangirai can have been left in little doubt that Western leaders were not buying his claim that Mugabe was a changed man.

Nor were hundreds of Zimbabweans packed into London’s Southwark Cathedral on Saturday. For the first time in his 10-year political career Tsvangirai was booed by an audience when he suggested it was time for them to go home. The crowd of exiles was vociferously skeptical of Tsvangirai's claims that peace and stability and the rule of law now reign in Zimbabwe.

So long as Zimbabwe remains a police state and its ruler continues to block reform, including media reform, Western leaders will sit on their check books. Only two weeks ago Zimbabwe's media minister ignored a High Court order to allow journalists to operate freely without state accreditation. Paying no heed to the court ruling, the Zimbabwean minister refused journalists permission to cover a regional meeting of heads of state at the Victoria Falls. Tsvangirai had told them to go ahead regardless, in compliance with the law.

Morgan Tsvangirai has returned from his tour of Western capitals with a bit of money and a firm message: no massive aid will be forthcoming until the rule of law is restored, basic freedoms are respected and sound economic policies are implemented. Tsvangirai must convey that to Mugabe and his henchmen who are doing exactly the opposite.

More GlobalPost dispatches from Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe's elderly whites return to Britain 

Zimbabwe's split personality

Mugabe is still the boss

Harare rocks with cultural festival