JIM LEHRER: And next tonight, the man trying to lead the African nation of Zimbabwe out of economic and political chaos.
Margaret Warner has that story.
MARGARET WARNER: Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s prime minister four months ago by the man widely believed to have cheated him out of the presidency, President Robert Mugabe.
The 2008 election had brought intimidation, attacks and killings upon Tsvangirai’s supporters. Winning the first round, he pulled out of the runoff to stem the violence, then reluctantly entered into negotiations to share power.
The two men are now joined in a coalition government that’s trying to deal with the consequences of Mugabe’s decades-long misrule, raging inflation, empty shelves, disease, and political violence.
A month after taking office, Tsvangirai suffered a personal tragedy. His wife was killed when the car in which they were riding was sideswiped.
He’s in Washington this week as part of a weeks-long tour to persuade U.S. and European governments to reengage with Zimbabwe and provide his government aid. He meets with President Obama Friday.
We spoke with Prime Minister Tsvangirai yesterday.
Prime Minister Tsvangirai, thank you for being with us.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, prime minister, Zimbabwe: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: What case are you going to make to President Obama and members of Congress about why the U.S. government should engage with your government, and even extend aid, when President Mugabe is still in power?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Zimbabwe’s a different place, because, for a very long time, we have been characterized as a country in crisis, as a country of political polarization between the two main political parties, a country with a collapsed economy, and a country with no hope.
And I think that the new political dispensation represents a new Zimbabwe, which is looking forward to reconstruction, to reconciliation, and economic recovery.
MARGARET WARNER: So, the economy is in better shape?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: We have only been in government for four months. It is not in great — we have not come out of the woods yet.
But I think we have laid down the foundation for a better economic prospect, in terms of various reforms, the first one being the reserve bank reforms. We have also arrested the hyperinflation conditions from 500 billion percent to about 3 percent within three months.
Human rights concerns
MARGARET WARNER: But, now, the seizures of white-owned farms are still continuing. Civil society, opposition activists are still being jailed. The press is still muzzled.
Now, Secretary of State Clinton said in May that she didn't think it was time yet to reengage and -- and send aid. And the assistant secretary for African affairs said just yesterday that, in the absence of democratic reforms, aid would not be forthcoming.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: I -- I -- I can understand the fact that these issues are being raised. And they are being raised genuinely.
It is up to us to earn the confidence of the international community. It is up to us to ensure that the democratic values we have set ourselves, in terms of the global political agreement, are achieved.
We haven't achieved 100 percent yet, but I think that we are dealing with those issues that are of concern to our friends, and that, when friends raise these issues, one must listen.
MARGARET WARNER: You sound pretty -- pretty relaxed about it. I mean, what will be the consequences if you go home empty-handed?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: First of all, Margaret, I don't think that my visit has anything to do with a begging ball. I...
MARGARET WARNER: A begging ball?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: I'm not going around with a begging ball.
I'm saying here that it is time Zimbabwe was engaged; it's time Zimbabwe was helped, because the help is to the Zimbabwean people. And it's not necessarily to government. It's to the Zimbabwean people.
And I'm sure the United States and Americans in general would understand that whatever support they give to Zimbabwe is not to help the government. It is to help the people of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe's hold of power
MARGARET WARNER: How confident are you that Mugabe isn't just using you as a front man to come out here to the West to get aid, and then, at home, to do nothing, really, that would loosen his hold on power or loosen the repression that's been going on there?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Yes, I -- I do believe that the concern around Mugabe's hold of power is a concern that is shared internationally because of our history.
But let me say this. We -- we engaged in these protracted negotiations in order to form this government. It is not a monopoly government. Mugabe cannot decide on things unilaterally.
There are three pillars of executive authority: the president, the prime minister, and cabinet. So, whatever we do within this transition -- and remember that we have not abandoned our struggle to achieve full democracy. We're just in a transition. We have just shifted the arena of struggle in government.
But, certainly, we have not abandoned our overall objective of ensuring that there's a free -- freely elected government in Zimbabwe.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the level, if any, of trust between you and President Mugabe?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: The level of trust between me and Mugabe is like in any coalition.
We have set objectives, which is the democratic agenda and the stabilization agenda with this government. We all agree that there has to be a new constitution, there has to be reforms across the board, economic and social reforms.
And, as far as -- as far as the personal relation is concerned, well, it's like in any coalition. You are -- you are mostly related to the agenda, rather than your personal relationship.
MARGARET WARNER: The minister for reconciliation, who is a member of your party, was quoted this week as saying that many of you -- many members of your party, are receiving death threats over the phone, that you feel really quite unsafe.
Is that the case?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: I'm afraid that's a -- a bit -- a bit exaggerated, in terms of those kind of threats.
I can tell you that, if you were to come to Zimbabwe, Margaret -- and which I hope you will -- you would notice that there is a sense of freedom that is pervading that whole society. There is a sense that we have moved away from a sense of siege and fear, to a sense of being hopeful about the future.
And, so, when incidents of those nature come, it's probably one or two incidents. But, generally, the thrust of our -- of our focus is to ensure that we open up the freedoms for the people.
Coping with personal loss
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, on a -- on a more personal note, you lost your wife in March in an accident, in which you -- the car in which you both were riding was sideswiped by a truck.
I want to extend our condolences, and also ask you why, when your supporters were very suspicious that this was foul play, you were quite quick to call it an accident.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Margaret, the loss is a personal loss. And it's an irrepressible loss.
But, to be truthful, I was part of that accident. I saw what happened. It would have been dishonest for me to inform the nation, which was suspicious, and inflame the nation over a matter which I know, factually, that it was an accident.
So, I had to tell the truth. And the truth was that we were involved in an accident. The subsequent investigations, they have also confirmed that. So, much as I would have taken advantage, through that grief, to blame my opponents, I think it would have been very irresponsible not to tell the truth.
MARGARET WARNER: And how hard is it to carry on?
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Well, Margaret, losing somebody you have been with for the last 31 years, who has gone through all trials and tribulations, and sometimes triumphs, it's an irreplaceable -- irreplaceable gap.
She was the pillar of -- of my life. We had gone through very bad moments, and she has stood by me, right up to the end.
MARGARET WARNER: Prime Minister Tsvangirai, thank you.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Thank you very much.