DAVOS, Switzerland-- The following is a conversation with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
Tsvangirai, as the leader of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, was tortured at the hands of Mugabe’s regime and survived several assassination attempts. In 2009 Tsvangirai’s MCD party formed a unity government with President Robert Mugabe –who has held power in Zimbabwe for 30 years.
He talked to FoxNews.com about anti-government riots in the Middle East, China’s growing economic influence in Zimbabwe and his country’s struggle for economic and social stability.
Amy Kellogg: What do you think of events in Egypt and Tunisia, and how do they relate to Zimbabwe?
Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai: There are two issues. One is the general resentment of autocratic regimes, the manner in which these governments have stayed in power forever and ever. I think people resent that, naturally. But there is also another aspect which I have pointed out in the last interview. The aspect of incumbents leaving power to their children, dynasties, as we may call it. That is very resented by the people.
So it’s like a spring. The more pressure you put on a spring, the more it will bounce.
I think what we are witnessing here is a general suppression of the people. People are demanding more freedoms and there is nothing wrong with that.
AK: Could that happen in Zimbabwe and is President Mugabe nervous?
MT: To me, when people take their rights, and start demanding more rights, there is nothing wrong with that, including in Zimbabwe. That was the whole purpose of our struggle for the last 10 years
AK: What do you think of China’s involvement in Africa? Do you think it’s been positive? Or do you think in some cases they have been propping up people like your President Mugabe?
MT: Whatever you can say about the Chinese, they are not missionaries. They have business interests, they have their own national interests especially when it comes to resources.
AK: Do you think China has been exploitative at times?
MT: They have not been exploitative. There are certain practices that I would not subscribe to. They are not philanthropists. They are coming there for business interests. In that regard, it’s mutually beneficial.
AK: So you think you should be tougher with them?
MT: We should be tougher. We should not be preferential to them. Of course, we should recognize our historical linkage through the liberation struggle, but certainly we should get the maximum advantages in whatever deals are made.
AK: Do you see a day when the U.S. will have investment opportunities in Zimbabwe?
MT: Definitely. I don’t see anyone excluded from the potential of the country including business opportunities and investment opportunities. There is energy potential, there is mining potential. There is industrial development potential. The people are the most educated in Africa.
AK: You have been tortured and survived assassination attempts by this government? Why did you decide to join them?
MT: It’s a difficult question but the relevant question is: was it strategic? I think given the state of the nation and the state of the people, it was very strategic that we join with our erstwhile opponents in making sure we can respond to the plight of the people. The country was facing a precipice, and we do it for the sake of that. I don’t regret that.
AK: Do you see Mr. Mugabe loosening his grip at all, becoming more democratic?
MT: Of course, I don’t subscribe to some of his activities and some of his actions. I don’t think he’s got a grip that he’s not willing to let go. I think because he has accepted to go through this transition, he is in acceptance that he cannot continue to hold on.
AK: Mugabe is nearly 87. What do you think will happen when he dies?
MT: Hopefully he will die after we have managed the transition and that it won’t be chaotic. We have always worried about the succession issue, especially this part that he has left it too late.
AK: Have you been able to make a difference in this government?
MT: Firstly, the fact that we were able to stabilize hyper-inflation condition from billions of dollars percent inflation to three percent.
The second thing is we have been able to revive and revitalize the social sectors: Education has been re-opened, schools are now in form, hospitals, they have now been reopened, water, sanitation. We had cholera, we have eliminated that. Generally there is peace and stability.
AK: Some people say the opposition has been silenced now that you have joined the unity government. What do you say to that?
MT: You know, the media always want to see blood on the floor, and when there’s no blood, no chaos, they think people have been silenced. We have been a positive influence on the inclusive government for the sake of the people. We are not the opposition in government. We are in government to make a contribution for the transition and I hope that people would appreciate that we added value in making sure we are able to deal with the plight of our people and that we have been appreciated by our people despite what people can say
AK: Zimbabwe’s economy still has a long way to go, in terms of improving the standard of living for people. How do you plan to do that?
MT: We’ve got priorities. Our program is based on five key priorities. One is to insure that we rehabilitate our infrastructure. Secondly, let’s not forget education, health—also very important yardsticks for people’s development. We do regard the isolation of the country as very important. We need to remove the country from being isolated.
AK: How will you do that?
MT: Well, we are engaging the Europeans. We are engaging the Americans. We are engaging everyone. Zimbabwe’s on the path, the irreversible path to progress. That must be recognized.