Imagine yourself working side by side each day with a man who -- for the last decade -- has repeatedly arrested you, charged you with treason, detained and beaten your friends, and may have plotted your assassination just a year earlier. You are prime minister and he is president, even though your party won elections to oust him from power last year. The fates of an entire country and 11 million people depend on your having a good working relationship. And now imagine that the country has multi-million-percent inflation, hundreds dying from cholera, and a pattern of political violence that has chased thousands out of the country in recent years.
Welcome to the life of Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister of Zimbabwe and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Since September, Tsvangirai has endured grueling negotiations to set up a power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF. Three months into its operation, the pace of progress is slow, Tsvangirai told Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson. Remaining disagreements over the appointment of ministers, the ongoing arrest of activists and journalists, and basic day to day operations have plagued the arrangement. Donors in the West have refused to send aid to the broke Zimbabwean government so long as Mugabe is still at the reins. Still, Tsvangirai is thinking big about how to get the country back on track. An economic plan will aim to get the country functioning again over the next 100 days -- tackling even the contentious issue of land redistribution. In short, Tsvangirai says, Ours is the transformative challenge: to transform old habits and introduce a new governance culture, and you know it's difficult in a coalition government.
Foreign Policy: How did it feel on day one, walking into the position of prime minister knowing all the challenges before you? What did it feel like?
Morgan Tsvangirai: It is obvious the level of economic degeneration that just hit us in the face when we went into government. There was a sense of euphoria, which was very short-lived because the decision to go in was influenced by a number of factors, one of which was that we could not be authors of chaos, and that if there was chaos in the country the outcome would be unpredictable; it would engulf us all. So, yes, there was a sense that we have made the right decision, but we didn't know what we were going into.
FP: You said yesterday that elements of ZANU-PF are holding up the progress of the unity government. Can you update us on the status of talks to resolve these remaining issues -- for example, the position of the Central Bank governor?
MT: The discussions amongst the principles are going very well; we certainly hope that tomorrow we'll be making an announcement on the outstanding issues. You must be conscious that this is a coalition government. There are sensitivities and emotions that need to be navigated and negotiated. One would be a bit overambitious to expect everything we're grappling with to be resolved within three months.
It's frustratingly slow, in our assessment, that we have gone this far without at least indicating how the outstanding issues will be resolved. But I'm glad to say that we have made progress. The issues that we have agreed upon -- and those we are still in disagreement about -- will be announced to the nation so that the nation is able to make an assessment as to if there has been progress or not.
FP: You have shown an incredible spirit of reconciliation -- saying on Friday, Robert Mugabe was part of the problem but he is also part of the solution, whether you like it or not. But are Zimbabweans ready for that kind of reconciliation?
MT: There is a sense of cautious optimism that this inclusive government will be a successful experiment because no one wants to go back to the November, December, January, situation. So therefore, when you present national union as one of the democratic challenges, people accept that there is need for national healing for progress. But of course, there has to be a process of that national healing, otherwise people will continue to [have] that frustration.
FP: President Robert Mugabe has a sinister reputation in the United States and elsewhere. But are there things that the West is failing to understand about Mugabe?
MT: I'm sure this perception is what has been built up over the years -- some of which is a reality. But one of the underlying things is that I am prepared to work with President Robert Mugabe -- not because he's right but because of the national interest: We would work with anybody who wants to push the national agenda forward. But instead of [the international community] taking a cue from us as to how to proceed, it would appear that people have made this judgment [not to help], and they have thrown out the baby with the bath water.