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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:50 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 7:50 pm, 30th March 2009

I welcome this debate on Africa and the wide-ranging opinions and views that have been expressed across the House. In particular, the Foreign Secretary's speech and those of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadow Ministers showed how much agreement there is on many issues to do with Africa. I will follow on from my vice-chairman of the all-party Zimbabwe group—Sir Nicholas Winterton, who made an excellent speech, and I just want to add a few things to it.

In speaking about that part of Africa, in which I have taken a close personal interest, I want to pay tribute to the magnificent work that has been done by our British ambassador in Zimbabwe, whose extended posting there will soon come to an end. Diplomats and embassy staff in Zimbabwe have had a very difficult time operating in a country where the regime has been far from welcoming or co-operative. Indeed, it has been quite threatening many times. Last Wednesday, we in the all-party group had the pleasure of having the ambassador, Andrew Pocock, here to speak to us. Although we all remain wary of what is happening in Zimbabwe, we feel very encouraged by the positive news that he brought back from Harare and by the other news that we have had and some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield.

Some economic progress has been made already by Morgan Tsvangirai's Government in stabilising prices, overcoming the shortages of essential goods and getting Zimbabweans back to work. The short-term emergency recovery programme—STERP for short, which is subtitled "Getting Zimbabwe Moving Again"—sets out very clearly the programme of reform that is needed. The good news is that that is already starting to get under way. Tendai Biti, the new Minister of Finance, is making rapid and robust progress. A vital move was made to cut off the funding of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to curtail its activities and neutralise its influence. That is important because the bank, under Gideon Gono, operated as a never-ending cash dispenser for the ZANU-PF elite and mostly those who are now the hard-liners in ZANU-PF who are horrified at the rate that they are losing power and influence and who want the inclusive Government to collapse, so that they can sweep away Morgan Tsvangirai and his Ministers.

The other positive news is that the cholera epidemic is receding. Of course, we must remember that it was very much a man-made disaster. In many parts of Zimbabwe, the control of water supplies and sewerage in local authorities that had been run by the Movement for Democratic Change was taken away by Mugabe, which meant that no one was looking after those services. That is why the cholera outbreak was dreadful in some parts of Zimbabwe. That did not happen in Bulawayo, where the MDC remained in power and where the outbreaks have been many fewer.

In relation to how Gideon Gono has operated and the way in which a small number of people are trying to work together, I was very pleased to read the very stern warning that was given by the German ambassador last Friday to the hard-liners in ZANU-PF. He addressed a seminar in Harare as a representative both of the EU presidency and of the group of 17 donor nations, called the Fishmonger group, which is particularly committed to assisting the people of Zimbabwe. He set out the five most important goals specifically identified in the global political agreement: the restoration of the rule of law; economic stabilisation and growth; commitment to the democratic process; respect for human rights; and full access to humanitarian assistance. He went on to set out very clearly the priorities that require immediate attention by the inclusive Government. I am sure that we would all share those priorities: the immediate release of all political prisoners; the end of farm disruptions, to which the hon. Gentleman referred and which were condemned outright by Morgan Tsvangirai at the weekend; the cessation of politically motivated violence; the establishment of a credible and transparent reserve bank team; an end to the harassment and intimidation of the media; and a commitment of all the people of Zimbabwe to holding credible elections in a timely manner. The ambassador said—I think that this is also the British Government's position—that only when they see positive developments in those areas will the donor nations that make up the group be ready to release development assistance to support Zimbabwe's reconstruction.

The donors have made it very clear that, if we are to move forward in partnership with Zimbabweans in rebuilding their country, those who have been the cause of its destruction and who continue to thwart reform will have to go. So Gideon Gono must go, because he continues to use his position to provide power of patronage to the leaders of the cabal fighting that rearguard action. Attorney-General Tomana must go. He continues to use his position to pursue campaigns of harassment against the independent media, and he has used the legal process to pursue campaigns of persecution against political and civil society opponents of the regime.

The continuing abductions and detentions are evidence of the way in which the campaign of terror is being pursued under the control and protection of the parallel structure of the operational command, so ably pointed out by the hon. Gentleman. The two parallel structures are both trying to be responsible for what is happening. We are now seeing, for the first time, condemnation from within the Southern African Development Community, which is beginning to see the lawlessness of the regime that it has implicitly supported over the past few years. However, a SADC tribunal, which was set up under a treaty ratified by Zimbabwe as long ago as 1992, recently delivered a very strong and decisive ruling against the way the ZANU-PF Government implemented their disastrous land reform programme. Mugabe's Government had tried to defend their policy by claiming at the hearing that the impact of the farm seizures

"cannot be attributed to racism but circumstances brought about by colonial history".

The SADC tribunal dismissed that excuse and ruled that the seizure of land had been based

"primarily on considerations of race".

It was really saying that it was a racist policy, which is, of course, what people in the MDC have been saying for many years.

A couple of weeks ago at the appalling celebration of Mugabe's 85th birthday, on which he spent thousands of pounds, he dismissed the tribunal ruling as "nonsense" and said that it was of "no consequence". In his speech, he claimed:

"We have courts here in this country that can determine the rights of people. Our land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal."

It will be very instructive for those of us in countries such as the UK and the USA to see how robust SADC's leaders will be in defying Mugabe's bluster and insisting on the implementation of that ruling.

The problem is that the institutions in many of the countries in Africa still find it very easy to be very forthright and demanding in telling us what we should start to do to help Zimbabwe. Of course, most of that seems to involve signing rather large cheques, with no questions asked. They have to be more forthright in demanding what Mugabe's wreckers should stop doing. If they were to do that, they might really help both Zimbabwe and the entire region to move forward.

What Zimbabwe needs and what Africa needs, as has been said over and over, is a productive agricultural sector that provides food, jobs and export earnings by utilising the abundant resources of its land and its people—a consideration that I hope our Ministers will draw to the attention of the G20 summit this week. That is why the speech made by my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas was true. Everything that we try to do to help in Africa must be bottom up. It must be about giving people there the skills and tools to be able to do things for themselves; projects must not just bring in more and more workers to those countries as well as all those different people who come in and spend time trying to do what they can. It must be about getting the people of Africa to help. That is particularly true of Zimbabwe.

It is absolutely criminal that an agriculturally rich country such as Zimbabwe, with hundreds of thousand of highly skilled agricultural workers, should have virtually shut down production and driven its people to the brink of starvation, now to be rescued by the aid of British and American taxpayers and other countries. That shows that there is hope, in a way. People talk about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full; I feel that in the case of Africa, it should be thought of as half-full, because there is such opportunity there, particularly in countries that have already been developed to a certain extent, but have been brought down again by corruption and dictators.

The United Kingdom stood by the people of Zimbabwe throughout the recent years of terror. We in this country have provided a refuge to many thousands, and we have provided food for millions. I hope that soon, many of the Zimbabweans in this country—those intelligent, educated Zimbabweans who came here in fear of their lives, or to try to get support and help for their families—will feel that they can go back to Zimbabwe. Very soon, the day will come when Morgan Tsvangirai calls for the diaspora to come back, as happened when South Africa defeated apartheid. I hope that those people will come back, because many of them have the skills that are needed.

Over and above the massive work of rebuilding Zimbabwe's economy and renewing its infrastructure, there are other things that have to be done in the next year. There is the new constitution to be written and agreed by the people. New, accurate electoral rolls need to be compiled, so that genuinely free and fair elections can be held. All that needs to be done quickly, because the present arrangement can only be transitional. We all hope that the transition to peace, security and prosperity will take place, and that it will send a clear message to the whole of Africa that the age of corruption and tyranny, which has blighted the continent for too long, and was personified by Mugabe, is drawing to a close.

I should like to end by adding my commiserations and sympathy to Morgan Tsvangirai on the tragic death of his wife, Susan. I had the privilege of having supper with them when I was last in Zimbabwe. No one can overestimate Susan's importance, not just to Morgan but to everyone in the Movement for Democratic Change and in the country. I, too, think that he has been amazingly brave in how he has managed to continue, despite suffering a terrible personal blow. I hope that he is comforted by knowing that all over the world, we are all praying that the little glimmer of hope now there for Zimbabwe will make a difference and take Zimbabwe back to being the great and wonderful country that it once was.

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