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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary 4:13 pm, 30th March 2009

I was about to come to the fact that there has been increasing disregard of constitutional rule, most recently evident in Madagascar, in the coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry and in the murder of the President of Guinea-Bissau. All those issues speak to a disregard for democratic norms that is very worrying. Two things are important. First, it is significant that the African Union should have been so alarmed by those changes; the way in which it has spoken up has been important. Secondly, we need to make our position clear in each such case, and that is what we seek to do—not least in respect of the case that for many in the House is the greatest affront to democratic norms: the situation in Zimbabwe.

Nowhere is the challenge of promoting democracy more evident than in Zimbabwe. The whole House is desperate to see an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans achieved through governance that restores economic and civil rights to its people; more importantly, so are the people of Zimbabwe. For years, the country has been led on a path of economic ruin and human suffering. Turning that around is a formidable challenge. It needs the Movement for Democratic Change to be allowed genuine power within the new Government. We all hope that Morgan Tsvangirai's appointment as Prime Minister offers the change that Zimbabwe needs. We commit to working with him to support stabilisation and recovery. That is why we have increased our humanitarian assistance and will spend £50 million this year to help to feed Zimbabwe's people, combat cholera, and improve access to clean water and sanitation. But the international community could do so much more if we knew that our assistance would be well used. We need to see that the new Government will be allowed by ZANU-PF to take the measures necessary to end the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. There are some important signs of progress. For instance, public sector workers have recently been paid; and Deputy Minister Bennett has been released. However, there is an enormous task ahead: to stabilise the economy, to restore the rule of law, and to restate and re-enact commitments to human rights and democratic processes.

Today I spoke to our high commissioner in Harare in advance of this debate. The political situation in Zimbabwe remains very delicate. Yet the meeting of donors in Washington last Friday brought the international community together to focus on humanitarian issues. The next step, after the humanitarian assistance and the improvements in governance that we hope to see, is to develop a thorough-going reconstruction partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe when we are confident that all money will be used for the right purposes—above all, for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.

We are also concerned about British nationals in Zimbabwe—a concern that I know will be shared across the House. The UK Government recently launched a package offering assistance to elderly and vulnerable British people to resettle in the UK. These are Britons who are no longer able to support themselves in Zimbabwe because of the severe economic, social and health care problems that affect all who live there—something that the new Government have barely begun to address.

The second area that I want to focus on is conflict, which still scars the continent, causing huge human suffering. The long-term challenge is to build Africa's capacity to address its conflicts through the African Union. That is why the UK has trained 12,000 African peacekeepers since 2004-05, and we continue to support the development of the African peace and security architecture, in particular the African standby force, whose eastern brigade the UK supports through a dedicated British peace support training team in Nairobi. The UK is also helping to build AU diplomatic and early warning capacity through support for a new network of AU political offices.

We are also, of course, actively engaged in trying to make our contribution to the resolution of the worst conflicts. Following my visit to the great lakes with French Foreign Minister Kouchner last November, we urged regional leaders, led by President Kikwete, to launch a process whereby African mediators helped to restore peace and stability. Thankfully, under UN auspices former President Obasanjo has helped to promote significant change—remarkable change in many ways. Co-ordination between the DRC and Rwanda has led to significant improvements in the situation in the Kivus. However, although joint military action against the FDLRDemocratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—militias is to be welcomed, the risk of reprisals remains. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in fear of disease and violence.

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