Zimbabwe

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 19th July 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 3:18 pm, 19th July 2007

I absolutely agree. Even though the Zimbabwe first team is not coming here again soon, we could send an important signal by saying that we will not go. I would also like to add my voice to those who have called for sporting sanctions against Zimbabwe. If it was good enough to impose sporting sanctions against South Africa, it is certainly good enough to impose them against Zimbabwe.

During his recent state visit to this country, President Kufuor of Ghana, the chairman of the African Union, was harassed by some young Zimbabweans at a meeting at Chatham House, but he described what is happening in Zimbabwe as "embarrassing" to the AU. He then asked what more African nations could do. The answer is not necessarily that they should start doing certain things, but that they should stop doing them. For example, he might have started by not inviting Robert Mugabe to Ghana's independence celebrations. We heard earlier about the extraordinary meeting of heads of state of the Southern African Development Community in Dar es Salaam in March to discuss the political, economic and security situation in Zimbabwe. The communiqué talked about how there had been free and fair presidential elections in 2002—an assessment that was not shared by the many international observers or by civil society in Zimbabwe. The communiqué made no mention of the parliamentary elections of 2005.

Mugabe and his African supporters have skilfully manoeuvred international opinion to get so-called engagement to be exactly what they wanted it to be. The international community was persuaded that the problem was an African crisis that needed an African solution, and handed it over to the African Union. The African Union was then relieved to hand over the hot potato to SADC, which then gave President Mbeki a feeble mandate to "facilitate dialogue". We have ended up with a protracted process that merely buys time for Mugabe to continue plundering the economy and using brutality to persecute his opponents. I believe that Zimbabwe is in flagrant breach of the declared norms and standards of SADC. SADC nations should consider perhaps suspending Zimbabwe's membership—but sadly, such a prospect is highly unlikely.

Nearly all the SADC countries are members of the Commonwealth, however. The crisis group report suggests that Commonwealth member countries in southern African should help to mediate a political settlement for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and set benchmarks for the country's return to the Commonwealth. Let us not forget that when Nigeria and South Africa were out of the Commonwealth, this country still treated them as though they were part of it, and tried to continue dialogue behind the scenes. The Commonwealth should be doing more. Why is it not? Will the Minister say whether Zimbabwe will be on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala later this year? Indeed, have we asked it to be put on the agenda?

Too often, international experts are flown into Zimbabwe and hand out prescriptions without engaging with the local population. Zimbabwe is one of the most well educated and highly trained nations in Africa. The people have the necessary skills to rebuild the infrastructure of their own country. Massive international assistance will be needed, but that process must be led and implemented by Zimbabweans. There are encouraging signs that the Commonwealth will help to facilitate a partnership for reconstruction, commissioned by the people of Zimbabwe and accountable to them. I hope that DFID and the FCO will do all that they can to support such initiatives.

The Government should try to re-internationalise the crisis. The time is drawing near when, if there is no sign of progress when Mbeki reports back in August, our Prime Minister should convene a summit with SADC and other Commonwealth and European Union member states, to develop a co-ordinated international strategy of incentives and disincentives that will bring about change in Zimbabwe. They should sometimes include reassigning the aid budgets for other AU nations, especially those that prop up Mugabe, to bring home to them the massive costs arising from their inaction and complicity. We cannot go on footing the bill. My constituents in the inner-city area of Vauxhall are paying for Mugabe's madness. This week, the White House would deliver a massive amount of new aid to feed 1.4 million people until the country's next harvest in 2008. Last night, it was announced in the Lords that the Department for International Development was committing £50 million more to extend the protracted relief programme.

Ironically, however, it is international aid—the food aid provided bilaterally and by UN agencies without condition or consultation since 2001—that keeps Mugabe going. It has been unquestioningly supported by the donor nations of the developed world. By "unquestioningly", I mean that the accepted wisdom of aid giving is that it is apolitical. Yet in this instance, a cunning regime has co-opted donor aid as a vital plank of its strategy of political control and oppression. I have seen for myself the way in which food was withheld from areas of the country where people had dared to vote for the Opposition.

In the Zimbabwean context everything is political, and the sooner the aid agencies recognise that, the better. We have to end the holier-than-thou attitude of the aid agencies that say that political considerations are beneath them. It is madness to commit ever larger amounts of our aid budget to dealing with symptoms without funding a cure. As we give this money, we should also give support to the trade unions and other elements of civil society that are starved of resources as they struggle to survive in Zimbabwe. How can we expect a vibrant alternative to the regime to flourish and be effective unless we give it the support that it needs? If we applied just a fraction of our humanitarian aid budget to supporting the very capable elements in Zimbabwe that offer a real alternative to the present disastrous regime, we might find that we could start to invest in the recovery of Zimbabwe, rather than simply providing sticking plasters for its bleeding wounds.

Benjamin Paradza was a commander in ZANLA during the liberation war, and he went on to become a High Court judge in Zimbabwe before he had to leave. In an e-mail earlier this week, he said:

"A humanitarian crisis is brewing in Zimbabwe of a scale never seen before. What Zimbabweans need to know is not that the British government is giving humanitarian aid. Most of it does not reach the intended beneficiaries anyway. They do not want to hear that when things change in Zimbabwe, there is a rescue plan to kick-start the economy. Yes, all that is most welcome. Zimbabwe will undoubtedly need a lot of international assistance to rebuild the economy and other institutions. What they need most at the moment, as a matter of urgency, is some positive move by the international community, possibly through the UN, to rescue the people from this crisis. Never mind the noises Mugabe makes and will always make about recolonisation, or the old artificial notions of sovereignty and imperialism. Mugabe's noises are just noises, well manufactured to draw world attention. This should not be allowed to scare the international community from the responsibility to protect (or to rescue) people under siege by tyrants like him."

That is something that the Minister should be listening to.

I shall conclude—because a lot of Members want to speak, although not from my side of the House—by saying that external commentators and donors have been very prescriptive. They are keen to tell Zimbabwean Opposition politicians what to do. They are always saying that the Movement for Democratic Change must find ways of taking back into the mainstream those who have chosen to leave. This overlooks the fact that that might not be what Zimbabweans want. Democracy is about diversity, and it seems odd that in a struggle against a one-party dictatorship, we should try to engineer a one-party Opposition. In recent weeks, the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe met a delegation from the Save Zimbabwe Campaign that included leaders of three political parties, including Morgan Tsvangirai, who showed that it was possible to work together and to live with diversity. That should be welcomed as a much-needed development for African politics.

Finally, I would find it unbelievable if our Prime Minister, with all his commitment to Africa, were to allow any Minister of Her Majesty's Government to attend any conference that Mugabe was going to attend. We should be putting pressure on the Portuguese presidency so that they do not even think of asking him, let alone have discussions—about which I discovered in response to my question yesterday—to seek "a diplomatic solution". I am not interested in a diplomatic solution. I am interested in a solution that tells Mugabe right now that he will not be coming to any summit, and a solution that says to other African leaders that they will not be coming to any summit as it will not be happening if Mugabe is there. We need to get some of these African leaders to stop thinking that they can have it both ways: that they can talk to us about democracy, take our aid, expect us to stick up for them when there are problems in their country, and then turn a totally blind eye to what is going on, partly in their name, in Zimbabwe.

I want Ministers to respond to these issues. Not being a cynical person, I could not possibly be cynical enough to suspect that the reason why the Foreign Secretary did not open the debate today was that he did not actually want to face up to making a commitment on the AU-EU summit. It is much easier to leave it to a junior Minister. I am not criticising the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was put in a difficult position. The truth is that most hon. Members who are here today know a huge amount about Zimbabwe, which is why we are all here. Nevertheless, it is very sad that with the House about to go on leave for so many weeks, we cannot get a straight answer. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will give a straight answer and tell us whether the Prime Minister said what he is supposed to have said, according to The Sunday Timesand if he did not say it, I hope that we will be told why not. An answer to that question by 6 o'clock would, I am sure, be greatly appreciated.

My first ever visit to Africa was more than 30 years ago, and it was in the presence of the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He was then president of the National Union of Students and I was the vice-president, and we went to the African Commonwealth students conference in Ghana. I pay tribute to the Lord Chancellor, who, when he was Leader of the House, made sure that we secured this debate. It is rather ironic, however, that one of the reasons why he kept putting the debate off was that he wanted to have it at a time when the appropriate Minister would be here. We secured the debate today, and we all thought that that was fantastic. However, we do not even have a Minister for Africa in the House of Commons. We have some new Minister in the House of Lords whose name I have not yet learned to pronounce. I have yet to see him, and would not recognise him if he were sitting up there in the Gallery. I am amazed that as well as not having a Minister for Africa, we do not possess a Foreign Secretary who is prepared to debate Zimbabwe—even just to make the opening statement today. I must say that I am very sad about what has happened. Nevertheless, we are putting what needs to be said about Zimbabwe on the record.

I mentioned first being in Africa with the NUS, and I would like to finish by quoting one of the leaders of the Zimbabwean students union ZINASU—Washington Katema, who visited us recently. He is so brave. It is just amazing how brave some of these people are to go back to Zimbabwe after being here, not even knowing whether they will be allowed through when they arrive. They always dread having their passports taken away from them. While he was at Westminster, he said:

"How can a government that came from the premise of liberating its people treat its own children worse than the racist...regime of Ian Smith? It is sad to note the failure of our liberation movements in transforming the standards of people's lives. While clothed in empty Pan African rhetoric, it has not brought any meaningful improvement to people's lives. Mbeki should not dupe the pro-democratic movements of Zimbabwe into abandoning the most viable route to their emancipation, that is through mass actions and street struggles."

I pay tribute to all such people in Zimbabwe, and I say to our Government that we should be leading the world on this issue. Forget the colonial tag. Get out there and make the EU and the UN take what is happening in Zimbabwe seriously.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website