Zimbabwe

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 6th March 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 7:15 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for initiating this important debate. I, too, declare an interest: I have family in Zimbabwe. I also have many friends, black and white—the black ones date back to the days of resistance.

Time is running out. We are about to be faced, in Zimbabwe, with one of two equally critical and dangerous situations. In one, Mugabe, having disqualified voters, rigged the ballot and terrorised the population, will win or will claim to have done so. There are no EU observers and, for reasons of face, the African members of the Commonwealth will probably recognise his victory. No one will wait for the Commonwealth observers—still pitifully few—to report whatever they find. The ZANU-PF strategy has all along been to rig the election and then negotiate with the international community for recognition. But it will also feel free to destroy what remains of the opposition, who will be left to its mercy, and the people of Zimbabwe know that. They remember the 11,000 people—his political rivals—who Mugabe slaughtered in Matabeleland after he came to power, using the notorious North Korean trained Fifth Brigade. The world did nothing then. The people may feel, with justice, that unless they challenge Mugabe at once they are lost. They can expect nothing but a tightening of the chains. There may therefore be a serious deterioration in the security situation, if not outright civil war.

The other possibility—miracles do happen—is that the MDC wins. In that case, however, Mugabe, having bought the army, may declare martial law. The military leaders have already said that they will not accept anything but a verdict for Mugabe. Either way, I fear that we must expect some degree of serious disorder, civil disturbances and—certainly—social and economic collapse. The country is only just holding on. There will be refugees and there will be famine, and that will immediately affect the stability of at least five other African countries. There is now a widespread famine in Malawi, attributed largely to the fact that no maize is coming from Zimbabwe, which was hitherto the breadbasket of the area, and which itself will soon be starving because the regime's brave young veterans have been for the past year burning the maize crops and forbidding farmers to plant. The press is at last reporting on the true situation and is leaving us in no doubt of the monstrous nature of Mugabe's regime. That is killing for good, I hope, the comforting notion, so long held by many in this country, that this is all about a handful of white farmers sitting on land, and therefore something which, for fear of seeming colonialist, we can ignore and treat—in the famous phrase of a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, speaking of paramilitary violence against their own community—as "a little domestic housekeeping". What is happening in Zimbabwe is far more like Hitler's unchecked proceedings in Europe—unchecked because everyone so badly wanted to believe him when he said that each awful act was to be the last. Abuja was Mugabe's Munich—and ours.

The British Government have, at long last—thanks to the courage and the clear-sighted approach of the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth conference, which I welcome most warmly—recognised publicly that there is a terrible and immediate threat to the whole of southern Africa and that there must be action. He will have realised through his recent travels in Africa that the continent is a seamless robe. The fate of the DRC, with its boundless riches, its chaotic violence and its power to destabilise, is linked to Angola and Zimbabwe as well as to the Great Lakes and Uganda. Many of the international crooks, diamond smugglers and money launderers who work for Kabila and Mugabe also work for Al'Qaeda. The same arms dealers work for Zimbabwe and the Taliban. Mugabe's pillage of his country's assets has been on a far greater scale than that of Milosevic.

One of the most powerful figures in Africa today is President Gaddafi of Libya. Only too many African heads of state have been subsidised by him. He has a considerable voice in the OAU and calls himself the head of the so-called African Union. It is he who has made Mugabe significant loans to buy fuel, has sent him Libyan advisers and has been given land, control of various Zimbabwean enterprises and, not least, substantial numbers of Zimbabwean passports. Gaddafi's influence on South African policy also cannot be discounted. The ANC has a debt of honour to Libya for support and training in the days of its exile. Libya was the first country that President Mandela visited. Perhaps it is not too late for Gaddafi to be discreetly enlisted as the one man who could influence Mugabe to settle for a peaceful withdrawal; after all, we have given him plenty of time to move his money and evade the so-called "smart sanctions".

The world must act now. I am not asking for sanctions. I say that it is useless to wait for a supine Commonwealth, whose only test for membership appears to be free and fair elections, to declare that perhaps all was not quite right but go on to say that, as there is now a new elected government in Zimbabwe, we should all do business with it. If we end up with Mugabe and his cronies back in power, it will be relatively pointless to curtail their shopping trips and close a few doors to a few individuals.

Under Mugabe, this is, and will be, a terrorist regime, which brings in the North Koreans and the Libyans to help them to murder and to plunder their own citizens. But it is not only that. By its destruction of one of the few viable and flourishing economies in the area, by its extensive illegal international fiscal and economic operations, by its destabilisation of the whole of southern Africa, with repercussions northwards as far as Malawi, the DRC and Angola, it can bring down most of the continent. The country that will suffer most and which holds out, with Zimbabwe until recently, the best hope of prosperity and stability for so many, is South Africa. We must work with the Americans now, with the EU and with the World Bank to bring the African countries, especially South Africa, to understand the danger and see Mugabe not simply as a fellow African leader but as a serious threat to their own survival. They have not yet understood this, and they are sticking their heads in the sand. I fear that we should not consider them only as representatives of their peoples; they are also representatives of their own personal interests.

I urge the Government to think not only of the impending humanitarian crisis, for which I am sure they are well prepared, but of the need to prevent the economic collapse of much of the continent. We cannot wait for the Commonwealth and the EU and there has been a loud silence from the UN, apart from Kofi Annan, despite the UNDP's active part in the donors' conference of 1998. It is vital that we give heart now to the MDC to show it that Zimbabwe is not going to be abandoned the day after the election, whichever way it goes. This is a country which, apart from Mugabe, has long forgotten race. They are all Zimbabweans, as the Prime Minister has recognised. They have the common aim of restoring their country to peace and prosperity. That will include some land reform, but with the aim of enabling more black Zimbabweans to operate commercially viable farms rather than subsistence farming. This has long been the policy of the farmers themselves. Mugabe has preferred looting and destruction.

I repeat that we must act now before the election, not after it, to build a coalition of the willing with the African states so that Zimbabwe can regain its freedom. We must persuade them that it is in their best interests to recognise that the economic collapse of a neighbour will also destroy them in the end. Moreover, state terrorism has a habit of spilling over frontiers. Not least, we must be seen to offer sanctuary, especially in the first dangerous days. We must not send Zimbabwe citizens back. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance on that.