My Lords, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to debate current developments in Zimbabwe. I thank all noble Lords for agreeing to speak in the debate. I had hoped that there would be a few more speakers, but at least we have the benefit of not being short on time.
The last full debate in your Lordships' House on Zimbabwe was in March 2005. Since then there have been several Questions for Short Debate. The other place recently debated the all-party group's report, Land in Zimbabwe:Past Mistakes and Future Prospects, on the vexed issue. At the outset, I pay respect to the contributions of the late Lady Park of Monmouth and Lord Blaker, both of whom were ardent campaigners for democratisation and for human rights protection in Zimbabwe. They are sorely missed and their contributions were greatly appreciated by all.
It is perhaps opportune that this debate is taking place on the eve of the opening of the World Cup, whereby global attention is focused on not just South Africa and the great sporting spectacle, but the opportunities and challenges facing the region. Some commentators may argue that the past 10 years in Zimbabwe have been a lost decade. So I thought that in addressing the current developments in Zimbabwe, I should speak briefly on the background to the political and economic demise of the country.
Essentially, all was well in Zimbabwe until 1997, as the IMF reform programme was being effectively implemented. However, the free market reforms resulted in a growth of the middle class in Zimbabwe, and wealth creation at the time effectively made ZANU-PF less relevant under its current system of patronage. Furthermore, the so-called war vets were not benefiting from the reforms and growth, and they threatened to remove their support for President Robert Mugabe unless he helped them. The ensuing massive pay-outs of bonuses and allowances had a devastating effect on the fiscal deficit and effectively resulted in the freefall of the Zimbabwe dollar in 1997. The war vets then carried on with their threats, which led to the calls for radical land reform. When Robert Mugabe lost the referendum in 2000, he blamed the white farmers for their support for the MDC. This led to rampant farm invasions, and that totally destroyed the fabric of the agricultural sector, which had for many years been the bread-basket of Africa.
As we all know, over the past decade the country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages. By March 2008, when Zimbabwe was hyperinflating and a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note was worth barely £10, shops were empty, farms were totally unproductive, the population was starving with more than 90 per cent unemployment, and the president's popularity was at rock bottom. When he lost the election and was on the verge of conceding and standing down, unfortunately the generals and strong political allies who controlled the army, the air force, the police and the justice system refused to allow him to do so and, we understand, they persuaded him that he could win the presidential run-off.
That led to a spate of rampant human-rights violations and beatings of opposition supporters, particularly in the rural areas, which forced Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, to drop out of the election, making the rerun for the presidency a total farce. It was at this point that the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, negotiated the deal that resulted in the global peace agreement-the GPA-on
The appointment of Tendai Biti, the Finance Minister from the MDC, in 2009, the legalisation of the multi-currency system and the scrapping of the Zimbabwe dollar ended the patronage system that ZANU-PF had built through the reserve bank and effectively side-lined the Zimbabwe reserve bank. Today, nearly 18 months into the multi-currency system, exchange controls are effectively non-existent. For the first time since the 1960s, shops are full, restaurants are buzzing and businesses have taken off. Thanks to the support from NGOs and Governments around the world, humanitarian aid has been extended to schools and hospitals, as government revenues could not possibly sustain such an expense. The result is that schools and hospitals are now all open and there is clean running water in most of the hospitals.
In the agricultural sector, while land invasions unfortunately continue, they are no longer driven by the ZANU-PF but more by factions within ZANU. Many farmers are now returning to the land having done deals with the so-called new owners. Seed/maize production has trebled in the past year. The goldmines have reopened and investment is now starting to come back into improving the infrastructure. Of course, one of the major problems facing the goldmines is the lack of power. However, slowly but surely investment is trickling back into the mining sector.
The mining sector has been dogged by one major political gamut-the indigenisation regulations to which I shall refer later. In previous debates in your Lordships' House many have rightly argued that South Africa has not exerted enough pressure to bring about meaningful change in Zimbabwe. Following his state visit in March, President Zuma assured our Government that he would exert a lot more pressure on the three parties in the coalition Government in Zimbabwe to complete the GPA. Significantly, following his visit he went to Harare and met all the major party leaders. ZANU agreed to the appointment of independent commissions for human rights, media and electoral reform, all of whose members have now been agreed and appointed. This week the first daily independent newspaper opened its doors as a result. The fact that one or two of the journalists have subsequently been arrested is perhaps another point that needs to be addressed by the Minister.
There has been a knock-on effect in South Africa from all the problems in Zimbabwe. There are more than 3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa who are unregistered, and part of the challenge in South Africa of reducing the scourge of crime has been that many of the crime syndicates have been coming in from Zimbabwe. There is also the problem of xenophobia. Zimbabwe has traditionally had an industrious, entrepreneurial workforce and still has higher levels of education than most countries in Africa. Many Zimbabweans who have moved to South Africa have been prepared to work at cheaper rates than local South Africans which has often led to sporadic conflicts in the townships. Zimbabwe still has a major dependence on power supply from South Africa, but while trying to promote political change in the country, South Africa is now encouraging its companies to be more proactive in Zimbabwe and thereby promoting job creation.
One of the key challenges in Zimbabwe today will be the drafting of the new constitution which will ensure the success of the GPA. That will encompass the protection of human rights and civil liberties and will lay the foundations for free and fair elections. The constitution is due to be revised over the next nine months and that must be in place before the next elections. Community outreach programmes are a key part of this process and clearly Zimbabwean citizens must have a say in the development of their own constitution. Meanwhile the hardliners are doing everything they can to frustrate the process through using the Attorney-General, the police or the Army, but it is only a handful of hardliners who are causing the problems. The most recent obstacle to change was, as I mentioned before, the gazetting of the indigenisation regulations that effectively stopped the economy in its tracks. An attempt was made to force all foreign companies to hand over 50 per cent of their equity to local Zimbabweans.
Although we are all in favour of black empowerment, that clearly was more of a political tool. At the time, it was seen as an election winner, but it has backfired and it has negatively affected Zimbabwe-owned businesses trying to raise capital. The regulations are currently being revised, as the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, declared them null and void as they had not gone through Cabinet.
Many commentators would argue with much justification that, despite the economic achievements in Zimbabwe since February last year, there is unlikely to be any meaningful change until President Robert Mugabe leaves office. At the age of 86, and with his health deteriorating, especially in the past few months, it is conceivable that one of his main reasons for not wanting to step down is the fear that he may be charged by the International Court of Justice for the abuses dating back to the Gukurahundi massacre of the Matabele way back in 1982. There is some justification for that theory after the arrest of Charles Taylor in Liberia a few years ago. I encourage our Government to promote a constructive dialogue to try to agree a smooth exit for Robert Mugabe from power within ZANU-PF, which would pave the way for a peaceful transition to allow for free and fair elections to be held in that country.
I now touch briefly on the rights of women in Zimbabwe. In a country where women constitute 52 per cent of the population, it is alarming that only a few hold influential positions in Zimbabwe society. Of the 69 Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, Deputy Ministers and Provincial Deputy Ministers, only 12 are women. I was interested to read the feedback of Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, who, following her visit to Zimbabwe a few months ago, noted that the representation of women in the Zimbabwe Parliament has increased from just 10 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2008. That is far short of the SADC goal of 50 per cent representation of women in political decision-making in southern Africa by 2015. Sadly, the human rights of women in Zimbabwe are all too often violated. I sincerely hope that there will be greater participation of women in the consultation leading to the new draft constitution.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with his vast experience in the field of human rights, will address the problem of human rights abuses and the need for more proactive pressure to be put on the Government there to address that problem. I refer only to one report, which is the Human Rights Watch report published in June last year on the human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe. The Marange diamond fields continue to be one of-perhaps the major remaining-sources of financial support for propping up Mugabe's ZANU-PF. I am sceptical of the recent report recommending that the Kimberley process's minimum requirements have been met.
My time is up. In conclusion, hyperinflation spelt the end for ZANU as well as Robert Mugabe. In the past decade, Africa has been the second fastest growing region in the world, with GDP growth of 4.7 per cent. Between 1997 and 2008, GDP grew from $327 billion to $1.6 trillion. Sadly, however, GDP in Zimbabwe has declined from $9.5 billion in 1997 to $3.5 billion in the same period.
I have been accused in your Lordships' House of being too optimistic about Zimbabwe. I believe that the time has now come for change. I believe that there should be African solutions to African problems. A successful Zimbabwe further undermines the hardliners. I look forward to the Government's response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for securing this debate. Africa is a continent close to my heart. I was born in Kenya and spent my childhood in Uganda. His Excellency the Ambassador of Zimbabwe is in the Chamber, and I welcome him to your Lordships' House.
About three weeks ago, I was asked by my Chief Whip to attend the sixth Consultative Assembly of Parliamentarians for the International Criminal Court and the Rule of Law, which was held in Uganda. I chaired and spoke in the session where the main speaker was the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. We discussed the situation in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda.
I am a businessman who cares greatly about humanitarian issues. As a nation, Zimbabwe has fallen short of expectations since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. Zimbabwe was once a prosperous state. However, civil unrest, which still hinders the nation's progress, has largely contributed to its unfortunate descent. Democracy and the rule of law have been overlooked in favour of tyranny. The penal system does not always function fairly and there have been many incidences where justice has been lacking. Farms belonging to white citizens have been seized and are being seized as I speak. This brings back memories of the situation when General Amin seized the assets of us, the Asians, in the early 1970s, and there was mayhem in the country until he was removed.
In Zimbabwe, prisons are overcrowded, prisoners are severely undernourished and the lack of adequate sanitation contributes to the spread of disease among inmates. The recent arrest and alleged torture of gay rights activists is wholly unacceptable. The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has described same-gender couples as "lower than dogs and pigs". Last December, I raised this issue in your Lordships' House when I referred to a Private Member's Bill in Uganda that seeks to criminalise same-gender couples. There has also been a well documented case of a couple in Malawi who were sanctioned for that reason. The rampant homophobia in certain African nations is a huge concern for us. Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to address this issue in African countries that are members of the Commonwealth?
Although there are many areas where Zimbabwe needs to make swift improvements, it is important to recognise the recent progress made by that nation. The acquittal of Roy Bennett, the treasurer-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, is a testament to developments in the Zimbabwean judicial system. The decision to remove the ban on independent newspapers is a momentous step forward for Zimbabwe: the media have a right to exist without fear of intimidation. This development is all the more significant, as it was made by the new media licensing authority formed by the coalition Government. Following a High Court ruling, the South African Government has been asked to release a report on the disputed 2002 Zimbabwe elections. I welcome this decision, as there were widespread allegations of intimidation and irregularities. It is in the best interests of both nations to address the discrepancies in the statement made by the international observers and the then South African Government.
Zimbabwe's mineral wealth has the potential to make a significant contribution to the nation's economic recovery. However, there have been many deaths and human rights abuses at Marange diamond field in particular and at others in the east of the country. What steps will Her Majesty's Government take to investigate the widespread allegations that profits from the diamond trade are fuelling hostilities in Zimbabwe? In Sierra Leone, the international community witnessed the use of precious minerals in the pursuit of power to devastating effect.
We have a moral duty to ensure that Zimbabwe does not follow this path and be certified by the Kimberley Process to sell diamonds. It has seen a marked recovery in manufacturing, mining, agriculture and tourism. Its economic growth suggests that it is meeting the requirement of the Southern African Development Community to work towards achieving economic liberation, as stated in the Lusaka declaration. It achieved a gross domestic product of 5.9 per cent in 2009, which strongly suggests that the economy is started to show signs of long-term recovery. I welcome the African Union's efforts to enforce good governance with proposals to sanction heads of state who engage in unconstitutional behaviour. Greater interaction among African nations could contribute to stability and economic growth on the continent.
The result of studies published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union reveals that trade among African nations accounts for just a maximum of 12 per cent. The African Union has a greater role to play in fostering better regional integration. South Africa, as the largest investor on the continent, can play a leading role in ensuring that this becomes a reality.
The Commonwealth, too, can play a prominent role to encourage trade among the member states. I would like plans to be put in place to ensure that this becomes a reality and that active trade is generated between the various countries. It is estimated that every day close to 300 Zimbabwean migrants cross the Limpopo River into South Africa seeking asylum, and there are close to 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa as a result of the dire social and political situation in Zimbabwe. The high number of Zimbabwean migrants has exerted great pressure on South Africa, which in turn has created social problems that have resulted in violence and death. Constructive dialogue is needed between the Governments of South Africa and Zimbabwe to address this mass migration.
The terms of the global political agreement include requirements that Zimbabwe must produce a new constitution and has a duty to hold democratic elections by next year. It can be argued that this latter requirement can be met only if international observers are allowed to carry out their duties in the absence of bribery or coercion. Although I would like Zimbabwe to gain readmission to the Commonwealth, this should be granted only on the proviso that the ruling coalition can meet the terms of the global political agreement.
Commonwealth countries can be more actively involved in conflict resolution in member states. We all appreciate that the Commonwealth is a unique organisation that values equality, and that the spirit of commandership can be utilised to settle disputes. At present, the Zimbabwean healthcare system is underresourced and underequipped. HIV and AIDS are endemic. Zimbabwe has become one of the most affected countries in the world. Commentators have attributed this to a number of reasons, including a lack of resources and community awareness. The Zimbabwean Government have not shown adequate leadership in addressing prevention and care in tackling the HIV epidemic. What plans do Her Majesty's Government have to assist Zimbabwe to combat this deadly affliction? The Zimbabwean people have suffered violence and degradation for far too long. It is the duty of regional partners and the international community to ensure that these abuses and impunity for the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to an end.
The battle against apartheid in South Africa and the support of neighbouring states given to those involved in the internal struggle for justice was paramount to achieving freedom against oppression. The people of Zimbabwe deserve the same consideration in their quest to lead their lives free from intimidation and oppression. The social and political changes which face this country can be resolved with combined efforts from a democratic Zimbabwean Government and other countries, most notably with help from South Africa. We have historic ties with Zimbabwe and we can play a vital role in achieving the objectives.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, on raising this important topic. I especially echo his tribute to our late colleagues, Lady Park of Monmouth and Lord Blaker. We did not always see eye to eye on our approach to Zimbabwe, but I never doubted for one second their commitment to a free and democratic Zimbabwe. We certainly shall miss them.
The document The Coalition: Our Programme for Government mentions Africa only twice. Page 22 states that the Government,
"will support pro-development trade deals, including the proposed Pan-African Free Trade Area", and page 20 states:
"We support reform of the UN Security Council, including permanent seats for Japan, India, Germany, Brazil and African representation".
I can see that those are important objectives, but the document is entirely silent on the programme for Africa, which I find extremely disappointing.
Zimbabwe remains a pressing problem. In the debate on the Commonwealth introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in December 2009, I urged for greater urgency and stimulus to move forward the process of securing the democratic future of Zimbabwe. I regret to say that there are no signs of any push within the Commonwealth, which is where we should try to achieve that.
There will be elections in August next year. Is that optimistic? It is hoped that a new constitution will be in being by then, which will have to be approved by a referendum. I do not think that it will be ready in time. There is even talk that the elections might go ahead under the current constitutional arrangements. I believe that that would be a disaster. We know what happened the last time there were elections. There was widespread intimidation and fraud. It was only because of a great deal of internal and external pressure, some of which was from South Africa, that we got a result capable of sustaining itself.
The situation is changing, which we should welcome. There are useful signs for the future. I am authorised to say that Voluntary Service Overseas is intending to introduce volunteers to Zimbabwe before the end of this year, pending completion of registration in the country as a non-profit organisation. It has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Zimbabwean Government and, following completion of the process, will be able formally to announce placements with partners in Zimbabwe. This is very good news. We should commend VSO for that and wish it well.
There are also good signs, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, mentioned, for press freedom. Some papers have been newly published and some republished. Although street vendors have been arrested for disturbing the peace when selling newspapers, some of the show trials have been abandoned. That again is good news and we ought to be happy about it.
On the other side of the coin is the fact that intimidation still goes on. The trade union movement is under persistent attack for its outspoken criticism of what is happening. Trade union leaders, such as Gertrude Hambira of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union, have been forced to flee the country for their own safety. Also, a great many human rights violations carry on.
In all the discussions about the future position of Zimbabwe, the Southern African Development Community and the position of President Zuma in particular are absolutely critical. SADC has appointed South Africa to mediate on its behalf, but I regret that there is no evidence that South Africa is approaching the matter with any great urgency. We have to see signs of progress. The former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, was roundly condemned, castigated and derided for his so-called silent diplomacy. Of course we know that megaphone diplomacy does not necessarily work, but I am concerned that there does not seem to be any real sense of urgency about the situation. SADC is due to meet in August this year and, although Zimbabwe will be on the agenda, it will not be the only topic. I fear that that may mean that the whole matter is sidelined. Some commentators are calling for SADC to be convened for a special meeting to decide how to deal with Zimbabwe. Again, I have to confess that I do not know whether that is necessarily the right approach, but it shows that there is a definite push to get something happening.
How are we going to deal with this? What are the Government going to do? Are they going to adopt what might be called the "in phrase" of the coalition and "consider matters afresh"? I do not quite know what that means, but it sounds good. However, there has to be a lot more than that. We need to discuss the situation urgently with President Zuma and the Government of South Africa. Has the Foreign Office made fresh approaches to President Zuma? Are there to be official discussions or is the matter simply to be left to drift?
The Conservative part of the Con-Lib Dem coalition has a special responsibility towards Zimbabwe. Perhaps I could gently remind the Minister that it was a Conservative Government who convened the Lancaster House negotiations and concluded the agreement that eventually led to the independence of Zimbabwe. That was fine, except that they also bequeathed to Zimbabwe the repressive Smith laws, which President Mugabe, when he came to office, seized on with glee to oppress his own people. I hope that the Minister recognises the historical duty that the Conservative part of the coalition has towards the people of Zimbabwe.
A lot has happened since our debate in December last year. At the time, I spoke about the publication of the report Land in Zimbabwe by the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, which has already been referred to. The introduction is headed, "Past Mistakes and Future Prospects". The report makes four serious recommendations. The Government of the day, under the then Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, gave their response on
It has been said in some parts of Africa that we in Britain do not understand the land question. I had occasion to tell a high commissioner from southern Africa that the Scots certainly understand the land question, because we have long memories and we remember the 18th and 19th-century Highland clearances, when people were thrown off their land in order to provide for sheep. It was certainly as brutal as, if not more brutal than, the farmers being thrown off their land in Zimbabwe, although I do not seek to excuse what has happened in Zimbabwe by saying that. Our problem with the land has always been that the land is there to produce, and the greatest sin of the Mugabe Government in regard to the land seizures is that they took fertile land and turned it into wasteland. Land is not of value in itself; it is of value in a productive capacity to feed people. It is important and we recognise it as such.
I conclude by repeating what I said in our earlier debate:
"If we are to keep the stimulus-which is absolutely necessary-going, then unilateral action", by the British Government, will not be enough. I continued:
"I understand perfectly well that ... the UK ... has no prescriptive right to dictate to Zimbabwe what its future should be ... I believe that multilateralism, within the Commonwealth especially, can move things forward ... If the Commonwealth is to be true to its goals"- if the present Government are to be true to their goals-
"it must put a huge effort into moving things forward".-[Hansard, 10/12/09; col. 1181.]
I commend this debate to the House.
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St John, for giving us an opportunity of hearing what the policies of the Government are on Zimbabwe. One point which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may have missed in the coalition programme is that:
"We want to strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for promoting democratic values and development", and that the aid budget will be used,
"to support ... local democratic institutions, civil society groups, the media and enterprise; and ... efforts to tackle corruption".
That sentence could have been written with Zimbabwe in mind and I hope that it gives some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who wants the Commonwealth to be more involved in solving these problems.
It remains to be shown what value could be added by the Commonwealth per se to the work of the Friends, which is an organisation that includes richer Commonwealth states and SADC, the body of neighbours led by South Africa. Surely they must continue to exert the main political influence needed to accelerate progress towards full implementation of the global political agreement. With all its flaws, if the GPA was honoured by ZANU-PF, it would be an enormous improvement on its present arbitrary exercise of power, with the active collaboration of the military.
"violence and intimidation, bad government and destruction of the economy have forced millions of people to leave Zimbabwe".
We have heard about the 3 million who are refugees in South Africa. He continued:
"Many others have been displaced from their homes and are now refugees in their own country".
The Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded an increase to nearly 1,000 incidents of politically motivated violence in April, many of them related to the constitution-making process, which had been stalled but should now move ahead as the EU has provided $6 million towards the funding of local consultations throughout the country on the details. What guarantee do we have that the people will be able to express their views freely and that ZANU-PF will not attempt to manipulate the outcome by threats and intimidation? Is there a timetable for the process, and will the referendum be monitored by the United Nations? If there are clear divisions of opinion on contentious issues, will people be offered choices in the referendum? The noble Lord, Lord St John, said that hardliners were already doing their best to frustrate the process. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about the safeguards against that.
The Select Committee says that two models are being considered: the Kariba draft, which gives the President substantial executive powers and a more "people-driven" approach called for by civil society. The committee wants DfID to provide more information about the support that it is giving, jointly with other donors, to the constitution-drafting process. I presume that that would be via the multi-donor trust fund administered by the African Development Bank with support from the World Bank. The Friends' meeting last week pledged to increase this fund, but reiterated its concern over the,
"lack of respect for the rule of law, protection of fundamental freedoms and the slow pace of progress in improving governance".
What amount of additional funding is being made available? Do specific benchmarks have to be satisfied before the disbursements are approved? The referendum on the new constitution would be a possible trigger for releasing some of the purse-strings, particularly if the associated Bill of Rights addresses crimes committed by Mugabe such as the forcible eviction and internal displacement of 700,000 poor people in Operation Murambatsvina-"clean out the trash"-five years ago and the displacement of an additional 36,000 people at the time of the election in 2008. The African Union called on member states at a meeting in Addis Ababa last week to ratify the AU convention on internally displaced people. It would be useful to know whether there has been any response from Harare.
As has been said, we miss Lord Blaker from these debates, remembering that, as his obituary in the Times said,
"it was his clear conviction that the causes of peace and democracy required a muscular approach".
That certainly applies to my late friend Lady Park as well. We miss both of them in these debates. If we soft-pedal on human rights-and if the donors fail to make aid to the Government, as opposed to aid to the Prime Minister's office and to NGOs, conditional on rectifying the gross abuses of the Mugabe years-we would jeopardise even the few advances already achieved. They include, as has been mentioned, the licensing of free newspapers and the establishment of the Human Rights Commission, sworn in at the end of March. Let us remember also that Mugabe has failed to honour benchmarks in the past, such as those in the Cotonou agreement between the ACP Group of States and the European Union. So there needs to be a period of compliance, not just a signature, to test the good faith of ZANU-PF. We certainly should not trust an Administration who are as susceptible to influence of the military as are the current regime, and the talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF should be expanded to cover this problem.
The Friends urged Zimbabwe to,
Does this mean full budgetary transparency and therefore an end to shady ventures such as the exploitation of the lucrative diamond fields at Marange, which were operated originally by a UK-registered company, African Consolidated Resources, until its lease was arbitrarily cancelled in 2006? They are now controlled by the military and high-ups in ZANU-PF, at enormous cost to human rights in the region, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, said. ACR won a court case to recover possession, but it has been unable to enforce the judgment. The Supreme Court ordered that mining activities cease and that diamonds in the possession of the state entity that annexed the mine in 2006 be handed over to the Reserve Bank pending its judgment on the claim. Has that happened and, if not, what measures can be taken to enforce the Supreme Court's judgment? Meanwhile, the Kimberley process monitor, Abbey Chikane, paid a further visit to Zimbabwe at the end of May, and has reported his findings in quick time. He sees only what ZANU-PF and the army want him to see, and one would never guess from his report that uncertified diamonds are flooding across into Mozambique. However, he confirms that enormous diamond resources are at stake.
As an aside, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whether the Government have taken note of the allegations by the arrested Zimbabwe diamond researcher, Farai Maguwu, who alleged on SW Radio Africa that he was set up by the Kimberley process monitor. He has now abandoned his post as director of the Centre for Research and Development, which had been investigating human rights abuses at the Chiadzwa diamond field. What steps can we take to investigate these allegations and, if possible, to get Mr Farai Maguwu restored to his important post so he can continue his investigations of the abuses in the diamond fields?
The Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, acknowledged in a Reuters interview on
When the Secretary of State visited Zimbabwe last September he said that,
"once Zimbabwe is on a clear path to democracy and the rule of law, then a Conservative government will lead the Commonwealth and the international community in a development programme to galvanise Zimbabwe's private sector to rebuild and rehabilitate that beleaguered country".
He went on to promise that the UK would help refurbish and redevelop Zimbabwe's 7,000 schools, employing local plumbers, builders and electricians. We are not quite there yet, but the people of Zimbabwe can see that in the UK they have a staunch and generous friend. It was so under the previous Government and the coalition is equally determined that, whatever our own economic difficulties may be here at home, we shall never let them down.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord St John of Bletso for initiating and leading this debate. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Phoenix Fund for Zimbabwe, set up in 2007 by the late Lady Park of Monmouth, to whom reference has already been made. The fund is now chaired by Shane Lunga, with David Banks as our secretary. Lady Park was a formidable champion for the well-being of Zimbabweans, and I know that she would not forgive me if I failed to contribute to this important debate.
The Phoenix Fund for Zimbabwe exists to assist Zimbabwean refugees and asylum seekers in the UK to pursue courses of professional development, placements and vocational training that will equip them to participate in reviving the economy and institutions of Zimbabwe when circumstances allow them to return home. The trustees of the fund believe that the Zimbabwe of the future will depend on the skills of people like these to rebuild that country in the years ahead. For those talented people who come here as asylum seekers and are not allowed to work, it must be better for them and for Zimbabwe for their skills to be enhanced and their morale sustained than for them to sit on their hands in compulsory idleness.
This debate offers the opportunity to explore the value of equipping Zimbabweans here with the capacity to make a difference in their home country when the time is right. The background to this question is of course the past decade of disastrous economic policies, political violence and social upheavals that have led to some 3 million Zimbabweans fleeing abroad, out of a population of 12 million. Mostly this has affected neighbouring countries in the region, and as a consequence relations between Zimbabwe and its southern neighbours, South Africa and Botswana, have deteriorated, as noted by the International Development Committee in another place. The International Crisis Group reported to that committee that,
"instability in Zimbabwe is profoundly destabilizing to its neighbors. Zimbabweans fleeing economic hardship and political abuses have flooded across borders, overwhelming the social services and the good will of South Africa, Botswana, and other neighbors".
The flight of Zimbabweans into exile has also of course made a considerable impact here in the UK. Last year more Zimbabweans sought political asylum in the UK than any other nationality. There were 7,420 applications-more than double the number that applied for the next country on the list, Afghanistan. Naturally, the Home Office and its UK Borders Agency are keen to see more Zimbabweans returning home. There are some small projects assisting voluntary return under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration, but they deal with relatively insignificant numbers.
The approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development is more cautious in pointing to the ongoing problems and suggesting that it may still not be safe to go to Zimbabwe at this time. While it is often desirable for many Zimbabwean migrants, whether in the Southern African Development Community region or here in the UK, that they return and contribute their skills and expertise in their own country, the sad reality is that safety is a major concern for many, and with unemployment still at perhaps 90 per cent, opportunities may not be readily available.
In terms of encouragement for voluntary returns to Zimbabwe, those who have received grants from the Phoenix Fund and signed an agreement to return when conditions are right may be well placed to make fact-finding trips without undermining their refugee status if they feel it necessary to return to the UK to see if it would be safe for others to return permanently to Zimbabwe. They could visit different parts of the country where conditions differ and report back to the Zimbabwean community here.
With tens of thousands of Zimbabweans now in this country, many of them living unproductive lives, I ask the Minister whether the retraining and reskilling of returning migrants should not be a key element in the UK's support for the economic recovery of Zimbabwe. Could the UK give a lead to Zimbabwe's neighbours in devising, as part of our international aid programme, a training scheme for members of the Zimbabwean diaspora who find themselves here in the UK and who wish to return to Zimbabwe? Such an initiative has the small but significant example of Lady Park's Phoenix Fund for Zimbabwe, with its grants for courses and training to those who have signed a pledge to return when they can safely do so.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord St John has tremendous experience of southern Africa, and we should be grateful to him for taking the initiative in launching this debate on Zimbabwe, taking on the mantle, as he and so many noble Lords have already said, of the late Lord Blaker and Lady Park, who were persistent in raising the problems of Zimbabwe over a long period.
My own interest in Zimbabwe goes back to the 1970s when I was a shadow spokesman in the other place, and later as Minister for Africa when the Lancaster House talks took place and independence was eventually agreed. That of course was exactly 30 years ago, but I want to talk about the future not the past. It is worth stressing that independence was 30 years ago and that the empire is long since over. Attempts to blame colonialism for the problems in Africa are long since past. Equally, we in this country no longer have any right to take a patronising attitude to our former colonies.
Of course, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, as it was-was an anomaly in the sense that it was not part of the conventional colonial arrangements. In 1923, the British Government decided that there should be internal self rule, which eventually led to the predominance of the white population running that country, unlike in Kenya, where in the same year, it was declared that African interests should be paramount. Zimbabwe has paid a heavy price for that. Kissinger said in the 1970s that Rhodesia had power without legitimacy and Britain had legitimacy without power. A heavy price has been paid.
In today's debate it is important to assess the progress that has been made since the global peace agreement of 18 months ago and the formation of the National Unity Government. My noble friend Lord St John and other noble Lords have given their own assessment of the progress that has been made. To summarise: the economy is gradually improving, there is no longer hyperinflation, the shops are fuller of goods and produce, there is less political violence and there is some progress on governance. But at the same time, there is a very long haul indeed. If we look at life expectancy, which is at half the level of this country-it is just over 40 in Zimbabwe and just under 80 in this country-we see the dilemma and the tragedy that that country still faces.
My noble friend Lord St John was right to highlight the remaining problem of the hardliners in ZANU-PF, not just President Mugabe. The way that we-the Commonwealth but above all the National Unity Government-deal with this problem will be critical. If we are to learn from other countries such as the Soviet Union or Iraq we see that if we drive extremists into a corner it makes the situation far more difficult. We must learn that particular lesson.
I will make my remaining remarks on the issue of the Commonwealth. For my part and I am sure that of many others, I must say that I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, with his special responsibility for the Commonwealth, and knowing of his passion and commitment to the Commonwealth. Quite apart from anything we can and should do on the humanitarian side in our bilateral arrangements, we ought to assess very carefully the role of the Commonwealth in terms of its ability to be constructive and to give encouragement to the people of Zimbabwe.
Although Zimbabwe is not at present a member of the Commonwealth, it has every opportunity, if it fulfils certain conditions, to rejoin it. I am glad that in the summit meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in November of last year, the global peace agreement on power-sharing was welcomed and the summit looked forward to conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth. The next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is in autumn next year and that could be a target for the power-sharing Government to try to fulfil a sufficient number of those conditions to enable Zimbabwe to be invited to join.
I am a former chairman of an organisation called the Commonwealth Foundation, which is the non-government side-the people side-of the Commonwealth, dealing with professional organisations, cultural bodies and civil society. I am pleased that the foundation has devised a Commonwealth special programme for Zimbabwe. It goes back to two or three years ago when the late Lord Blaker, the late Lady Park, other noble Lords and I got together with the foundation and others to see what the Commonwealth could do. I am delighted that the director of the foundation, Mark Collins, has taken a lead on this. Last July he convened a round table in Johannesburg between Commonwealth organisations and civil society in Zimbabwe. The civil society people agreed that the Commonwealth should play a positive role, particularly on constitutional reform, the rule of law, democratic governance and the role of the media.
Now we have a special programme that is part of a dialogue between the Commonwealth associations and civil society. It is a good demonstration of what the Commonwealth can do in helping countries to reconstruct. We have already heard mention of the media commission that has now been set up in Zimbabwe, which has licensed a number of new publications and is designed to strengthen independence and the freedom of the media. We have heard of the Human Rights Commission and, now, the Electoral Commission, which has been established to ensure that future elections are well managed and to minimise intimidation. Civil society is involved in that work as well.
I am delighted that the Commonwealth itself has set up a network of national election management bodies, co-ordinating the supervision and monitoring of elections in the Commonwealth. Then there is a move in hand to involve Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, another way of helping that country to move forward.
I am delighted that the Commonwealth Foundation highlighted something raised by my noble friend Lord Best: the position of the diaspora. I do not think that we should underestimate its importance. Since the Second World War, 20 million Africans have left Africa to live mainly in the western world and Commonwealth countries, and have now acquired skills in all sorts of fields. The Commonwealth Foundation would like to help the diaspora to focus their attention on education, health and agriculture. There is an important role to be played here, and I am delighted that there is now a Council for Zimbabwe of the diaspora, based in New York but covering mainly Commonwealth countries. Its job is to try to work with the 4 million Zimbabwean diaspora to see what contribution they can make to their country of origin.
From 1998 to 2000, 18,000 nurses, 100 doctors and hundreds and hundreds of academics left Zimbabwe, so there is much to be done. I am glad to say that the Council of Zimbabwe is working vigorously with Zimbabwe to help meet humanitarian, development and reconstruction needs. Zimbabwe now has a national migration management and diaspora policy. The evidence shows that the diaspora want to help shape the policy and conditions in their country of origin. Everything should be done to encourage their work. It is a real challenge for the Commonwealth, let alone for the National Unity Government in Zimbabwe, to provide the people in Zimbabwe with encouragement and hope for the future and to encourage the Zimbabwean Government to work for conditions that will enable them to return to the Commonwealth.
In addition to anything that we can do bilaterally, Britain's most helpful role today is to be an active and equal partner with the Commonwealth and SADC in helping the people of Zimbabwe. My noble friend Lord St John referred to Mbeki's great cry that there must be African solutions to African problems. We must give the people of Zimbabwe a chance to live a more prosperous and free life again. The potential is enormous, particularly in agriculture. They have suffered enough and deserve a better and more stable future.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, on securing the debate, which keeps Zimbabwe at the centre of our attention. I, too, miss Baroness Park and Lord Blaker. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on his ministerial appointment.
On leaving the FCO in 2007, I thought it right to avoid debates on the geographical areas with which I had been most directly concerned. Ministerial life is hard enough without having your predecessors wandering over your turf. However, it left me with several unanswered questions and thoughts which, had I expressed them at the time, would have led me to stray still further from government lines than I was already prone to do. Perhaps I can explore some of them today, precisely because I believe that Zimbabwe was the country where our impact was far less than it should have been. I do not say this because I think Zimbabwe is a convenient metaphor for a wider African malaise. On the contrary, Africa is a continent, not a country; it is culturally, linguistically and economically diverse. Indeed, it is diverse in every way. It has great successes, often in spite of the hand dealt to it by colonialism.
However, Zimbabwe has not been one of Africa's beacons. Its modern history was scarred by the appalling and racist leadership of Ian Smith in Rhodesia, who-with apartheid South Africa-destabilised the entire region to ensure that there were no bases for anti-colonial forces. All in all, the UK role was not what it could or should have been. We turned a blind eye to sanctions-busting, particularly oil bound for Rhodesia. We played a less than proper role in the 1971 talks, where our proposals would have prevented democratic development in Zimbabwe for many decades and were rightly rejected by all black and progressive Africans. This has made it harder to get a sympathetic hearing in Africa.
None the less, Zimbabwe emerged as a productive land with a wealth of resources. The leader who emerged, Robert Mugabe, gradually set about the imposition of a one-party state-always his goal-after nominal observance of the Lancaster House agreement for seven years. Then, freed from any obligation, he suppressed the opposition, killed many of them, and instituted terror in Matabeleland. And so he has continued, election after election; win them or lose them, he remains essentially the sole power in every meaningful sense. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord St John, is too generous in thinking that the crisis only started in 1997, and perhaps too optimistic in general. I mean no discourtesy in expressing the point. ZANU-PF's leaders remain to this day a watchword for corruption and violence among many Africans. I will not go through the soaring inflation and plunging life expectancy; we are all familiar with the facts. More than 3 million refugees were forced to cross the Limpopo in search of food. Whatever South Africa's non-intervention was intended to achieve, one consequence was a tsunami of desperation, now costing South Africa $3 billion a year.
Where is the Zimbabwean economy now? Without the excellent resources of the FCO, I can only estimate from 2009 data. I recognise that things have changed since the exchange mechanism changed. I can see that there is promise; I understand the point. However, there are significant doubts about what has fundamentally changed. Today, the power sector is in a parlous and deteriorating state. Demand exceeds supply by two and a half times. Nothing has been done to infrastructure in more than 20 years. Power lines are ancient and 5,000 kilometres of power cable have been stolen. If you cannot generate power, you cannot make things, run hospitals or light homes. Water and sanitation are still in a persistently dangerous state. Cholera killed 4,000 people in 2008 and early 2009. The regime puts health, agriculture and production at risk every day, just from the crisis in managing water properly, even if there have been some developments in the supply of fresh water.
The 88,000 kilometres of road have been neglected. There are no materials, modern machines or basic skills aside from those brought in by incoming Chinese investors where those are directly connected to their investment, and which are frequently removed when the building work has been done. That building work is infrequently carried out by African labour. Seventy per cent of the road network has decayed. Railways, in what was the strategic hub of south central Africa, are in much the same state as the roads. Goods and people cannot be moved to markets with any ease, so few markets operate and economic conditions for regeneration are poor.
The information and communications system has declined and now ranks marginally above those of Chad and East Timor. Mining has declined with the flight of skills. Gold mining stopped in 2009 for lack of recapitalisation although I acknowledge that it has now restarted and there is some progress. Diamonds and platinum offer hope if properly managed and not used for improper outcomes, but those who wish to invest in that mining are concerned that they should make their investment against a background of greater political stability.
I doubt whether anything more needs to be said in this House about the decay of commercial and communal agriculture, which still remains in so poor a state. Manufacturing has declined by 10 per cent a year since 2000. Today, it barely exists; nor do financial services or a credible central bank. Tourism had potential yet the World Economic Forum recently ranked Zimbabwe 121 of 133 travel destinations. Few tourists will venture to a country in which there has been so much brutality and which simply leaves people enfeebled by HIV and AIDS on Harare's municipal rubbish dump.
We in this House have all expressed our outrage and have urged, and achieved, limited EU sanctions on some individuals. We have opposed relaxation of IMF rules on debt and have rightly supplied extensive food aid to the innocent victims of the Mugabe regime. We have placed cautious hope in Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, who have had every conceivable difficulty placed in their way in trying to form some sort of government who can move forward, despite the fact that they won the previous general election. However, our response was far too limited. Our expectation of political intervention by the African Union and SADC was unrealistic. The AU, with few staff and limited finance, has been expected to shoulder massive tasks right across Africa from Darfur to Mogadishu to the DRC. Neither the AU nor SADC had the political will on all occasions, and most certainly did not have the capacity, to fulfil such a remit, even had it wanted to. Both would have had to ignore the most powerful regional leaders. It is obviously right-I subscribe completely to this view-to want to build the political authority of multinational institutions in Africa, but it was wrong to pretend that such authority was already there.
I was told time and again by exceptional African administrators that while it was vital for Africans to take ownership of African problems, they could not make bricks without straw. I ask with suitable circumspection, as I am self-critical in this regard, whether the Government have a view of what can be achieved by greater engagement with the AU and SADC, and especially with South Africa? It would surely be negligent if we did not take on that task. Hardliners are certainly seeking to frustrate the process and they may very well succeed as they have succeeded more often than they have failed. Optimism is okay, but if things go badly what should we do next? I am often told that we should be cautious because we do not want to take steps which gratuitously endanger excellent FCO and local staff in Harare. That is a genuine concern and I share it. However, is the Minister satisfied that they are safe and can provide help for the domiciled retired British population in Zimbabwe who are themselves at risk? The consequence of our caution was that we sought sanctions, and sanctioned ZANU's leaders, only if we were confident of EU backing, which we did not always have. I could not agree with that approach because I thought that we should push far deeper through the ranks of criminality in the regime. Would the Government be prepared to act unilaterally if necessary, because that may be the consequence of what I am saying?
Perhaps I may share the view that it would be helpful to make sure that we are as fully engaged with South Africa and its new leader as we can be. I wonder if this is not the moment to try again to achieve a more formal plan for long-standing political and economic change in Zimbabwe, building on what might be the seeds of its beginnings. The new President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, as my noble friend Lord Hughes said, has considerable authority. He has committed himself to poverty reduction and he may be unwilling to bear the unnecessary costs of a difficult northern neighbour. I know from his state visit that he is a tough pragmatist and that he is the key leader in southern Africa. He may be willing to reopen the kind of holistic approach that Kofi Annan so often and so eloquently advocated. He has surely reflected on the decades of so-called quiet diplomacy from South Africa which were wholly ineffective. The need now is for a comprehensive approach to rehabilitation on the basis of the sort of plan that Kofi Annan outlined. A new opportunity would require careful preparation, but does the Minister, on behalf of the Government, see any advantage in assessing this new window of opportunity? I hope that as he does, he will not feel it necessary to give people a "get out of jail free" pass, whatever kinds of crimes they have committed.
Finally, I do not accept the point that has often been made that if we say anything about President Mugabe it will make it easier for him to denounce us among other African leaders. Many people in this House will have reasons for their criticism. I know mine. My political generation grew up as anti-colonialist, not as covert colonialists. My politics were formed in the 1960s, much by the close friends who were then exiled in London with the ANC. My understanding of Mugabe's probable trajectory came from Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki, not from any apologist for Ian Smith. I do not accept that those serving the previous Government or indeed today's new generation in government should allow themselves to be characterised by the politics of 40 years ago.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St John, on securing this debate so early in this new Parliament and so soon after the formation of the new coalition Administration. As always in this Chamber, we have benefited from a broad range of knowledge and opinions on the subject. I listened intently to the somewhat hard-edged contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, which was very solid, and compared it with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and his optimism regarding the role of the Commonwealth. I particularly enjoyed his contribution, given that I am the chair of the international board of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit. I endorse his views in that regard.
This is a valuable opportunity for Members of this House to raise some very pressing concerns about developments that have taken place recently in Zimbabwe-and, unfortunately, concerns in some areas about the apparent lack of developments. This is also a very useful opportunity for us to hear from our new coalition Administration about the approach that they will adopt alongside our partners in the region and among donor nations on finding ways to assist the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle for democracy justice, human rights and economic progress.
Before I became a Member of this House, when I was in the other place, I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and we spent a considerable amount of time on a series of detailed inquiries on Zimbabwe. More recently, as vice-chair of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, I was engaged in the inquiry mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, into land in Zimbabwe. It concluded among other matters that the UK had a particular obligation to Zimbabwe and that once there was political stability, Britain should seek to re-engage with the Zimbabwean Government on the issue of land reform, but with an appropriate degree of caution.
Our then Government conceded, as the report noted, that one of the major challenges facing Zimbabwe in the coming years will be how to devise a land reform process that takes account of the lessons from the past, but avoids polarisation on historical rights and wrongs. I appreciate that there have been steps towards real progress and that the political landscape has changed. However, I am struck by how many of the concerns that we grappled with six or seven years ago, underlined in our more recent inquiry, remain the same today.
When President Zuma of South Africa came into office, he appointed an impressive and very able team to facilitate the continuing negotiations around full implementation of the global political agreement. The GPA, which was signed in November 2008, led to the formation of a Government of national unity, or GNU, in February 2009. Earlier this year when President Zuma paid his state visit to this country, it was clear that he and the Ministers and officials accompanying him had the crisis in Zimbabwe and the impasse over the GPA high up on their agenda. It was encouraging to hear President Zuma speak in detail about the negotiations and also that the Minister for International Relations and Co-operation found time to come for an extensive dialogue on the issue with members of the Zimbabwe All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Very shortly after his return to South Africa, President Zuma travelled to Harare and spent two and a half days on an intense round of meetings with political leaders and other figures in Zimbabwe. Together with his negotiating team, he was appointed to facilitate negotiations between the three political formations represented in the Zimbabwe Parliament-that is, the MDC faction led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, and the ZANU-PF, led by President Robert Mugabe. What is frustrating is that, despite clear timetables and deadlines being set, weeks, and now months, have slipped by with little progress. I hope that the Minister will tell us what soundings have been taken within the region about how the process of implementation might be expedited.
It is important to bear in mind that economic restructuring, investment in industry and many other initiatives vital to the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe are to a large degree in suspense while there is uncertainty around political progress. It seems to me that there needs to be a far greater sense of urgency over these matters within the region. Although there will be protestations to the contrary, this is a legitimate matter of concern to this House and to the people of this country. The bill for humanitarian aid and, in due course, the huge amount of aid needed to rebuild the infrastructure and economy of Zimbabwe will be drawn very substantially from DfID-that is, from UK taxpayers. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what assistance we are able to offer directly, and through the EU and the Commonwealth, to strengthen the Parliament in Zimbabwe.
Both Houses of the Zimbabwe Parliament adjourned in March for three months to allow MPs and Senators to participate in the outreach consultation on a new constitution. However, the outreach exercise failed to start on time and, when it does eventually start, it is expected to take more than three months rather than the two months that had originally been planned. This means that valuable parliamentary time is being lost when it could be used to introduce important legislation and a repeal of repressive measures. These delays undermine confidence in the whole process of reform, they affect the confidence of donors and investors, and they deter Zimbabweans in the diaspora from returning home. Meetings between President Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara have been delayed time and again. This in turn means that the vital progress report on the implementation of the global political agreement that President Zuma is due to make to SADC has also been very seriously delayed.
In a reflection of the frustration felt among grassroots Zimbabweans, the National Council of the MDC met on
Among the urgent concerns that the churches say need to be addressed are deepening and widening poverty, the inaccessibility of food to the majority of Zimbabweans due to lack of income, the high unemployment rate of more than 90 per cent, which has been referred to in previous contributions, the failure to create new jobs and the seven-month delay in the constitution-making process.
In a communiqué the ZCC and the ZCA calls upon SADC heads of state summit to be held in Namibia in August 2010 to prioritise addressing
"these concerns from the people of Zimbabwe".
The communiqué also called on the Government to respect people's natural rights, the security and integrity of persons and to dismantle all structures that perpetuate political violence. The church leaders urged the Government to reform the country's security sector as a,
"critical component of creating a peaceful transition", and to create the mechanisms necessary to enable independent commissions to function effectively and ensure that free and fair elections are conducted by the end of 2011.
The news this week is not encouraging. On Tuesday the MDC issued an alert accusing ZANU-PF of unleashing a targeted crackdown on MDC officials and supporters across the country. This comes just as the national outreach consultation on a new constitution is about to begin on Tuesday of next week. In the past week scores of MDC officials and supporters have been arrested on spurious charges such as undermining the President. The alert says that there is an upsurge in persecution, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, especially in the volatile provinces of Mashonaland East, West and Central.
The MDC sees this as an attempt by ZANU-PF to cow the population and recreate the violent environment that caused Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the presidential run-off in June 2008. In this context it is important to reflect on concerns expressed a week ago at the Oslo meeting of major donors and international financial institutions known as the Friends of Zimbabwe. This is only the latest in a series of meetings that this donor group has convened and I know that the UK has played a key role throughout. The communiqué issued after the Oslo meeting underlines the fact that several long-standing concerns remain, including a continuing lack of respect for the rule of law or protection of fundamental freedoms and the slow pace of progress in improving governance.
It urges the parties to accelerate the implementation of their outstanding commitments under the GPA and stresses that the lack of progress hampers full re-engagement with Zimbabwe by the international community. Donors also stressed the concern shared with the private sector, both international and domestic, about the negative consequences of the recently published regulations on indigenisation for the already fragile investment climate. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. The communiqué reaffirms support for genuine empowerment and says that the return of millions of skilled Zimbabweans to their homeland is best achieved by respect for the rule of law and the creation of an enterprise-friendly environment. That includes respect for bilateral investment protection and promotion agreements. It urges Zimbabwe to pursue the extraction of its natural resource in a manner that benefits its citizens. I hope that in this context the Minister will tell us what options are open to the UK and other donor nations to hold the Government of Zimbabwe to their obligations under the Kimberley process certification scheme for rough diamonds, including their obligation to implement the joint work plan agreed to in November 2009.
The concerns expressed in Oslo echo to a large extent the anxieties expressed in March by the International Development Committee of the House of Commons in its report on DfID assistance to Zimbabwe. Paragraph 61 of the IDC report notes that member states of the Southern African Development Community-SADC-are the guarantors of the global political agreement-GPA. The committee recommends that the Government should urge SADC collectively, and South Africa in particular, to continue to work with the Government of national unity towards full implementation of the GPA. Finally, it seems to me that this is something that the SADC heads of state might be encouraged to address in the forthcoming summit in Namibia. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that in our diplomatic dialogue with SADC member nations, and with South Africa in particular, these concerns will be fully expressed.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and I pay tribute to the work of two experienced parliamentarians who did so much for our understanding-Lady Park and Lord Blaker. Not only do we miss them personally but their absence means that we will have to redouble our efforts to keep this issue high in the public mind. In that context, I welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, whose hard-hitting approach is very much needed on these occasions. All eyes are on South Africa and the World Cup, and it is tragic that, because of an incompetent dictatorship dressed up as a power-sharing arrangement, tourists who should be benefiting Zimbabwe's economy are largely avoiding the country. However, I know that the more determined game parks and resorts are doing their best to attract attention.
The Foreign Office's country profile for Zimbabwe reports,
"a reduction in the level of political violence", following the formation of the cross-party Government in 2009. There is a widespread perception that the return to the US dollar and an upturn in the economy have also helped to create improvement in household incomes. My noble friend mentioned investment, which is increasing. However, that analysis bears close examination, especially in relation to the more vulnerable and low-income groups. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, mentioned the decay in services and communications. The country profile report also contrasts with reports from human rights organisations and the media that white farmers and MDC activists are still being targeted and, in many cases, victimised. One activist in Mashonaland had his house burnt down only a week ago. A local chairman in Harare was abducted while a rally that he was to address was disrupted. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, most of those attacks are coming from ZANU-PF, but sometimes the police or even the army are directly involved.
The court's release of Roy Bennett last month was the latest example of the political cat and mouse game. He is a senior member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC and he was due to become Deputy Minister for Agriculture when he was arrested in February 2009. The Government, knowing that such an appointment would wreck their pretence of power-sharing, will appeal against the decision, but their manipulation of the courts makes a farce of the judicial process.
Meanwhile, white farmers are being constantly harassed. Although some are returning, many are being arrested and detained on spurious charges or are still being evicted in favour of pseudo-farmers and ZANU-PF party squatters. Charles Taffs, the Commercial Farmers' Union vice-president, said last week that eviction of white farmers had intensified over the past 10 days, further threatening Zimbabwe's fragile food security. He said that Zimbabwe was producing less than 10,000 tonnes of wheat, which is one-third of national requirements, because of the lack of security, farm evictions and electricity blackouts on the farms.
Farm workers are the subject of a telling recent survey by the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe. It may not be representative, but it provides a glimpse of the suffering of those workers, showing the true savagery and oppression of the Mugabe regime. Of the sample surveyed, 24 per cent of farm workers had been held hostage and three in 10 had been abducted. Twenty-five per cent had seen their pets maimed or killed. In 29 per cent of cases, children were forced to watch beatings and a similar percentage of adults were required to intimidate their colleagues. Forty-four per cent had been assaulted. More than half had received death threats. Two-thirds were severely ill treated or psychologically tortured and a similar proportion forced to join ZANU-PF. On one farm alone, farm workers reported a fractured skull, broken feet, abductions, one man being thrown into a fire, bad bruising from rifle butts from police, imprisonment and torture. Some had been in hiding. Some had had their houses looted and others had watched their houses burn down. Those facts, which come from reliable sources, speak for themselves. More than l million farm workers, estimated to be more than half the population on commercial farms, have been displaced over the years by this violence.
While we watch football games and applaud the sporting achievements of many African states, people are suffering silently in Zimbabwe out of sight of the media. Many are destitute, many live in poor housing in Harare and many more have fled to South Africa. In Harare, hundreds of thousands are still displaced following the senseless mass evictions five years ago. Amnesty recently appealed on their behalf for improved conditions and the UN is helping a limited number with legal advice and emergency aid.
The UK is a key donor to the World Food Programme, besides directly assisting British humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam and Save the Children, but could we be doing more? There are more than 3 million refugees and migrants in South Africa, which has benefited from Zimbabwean labourers working on construction sites during the run-up to the World Cup, but the temporary camps are phasing out and there are fears that many people will be forcibly returned. There is always a risk of xenophobic violence. We have already seen examples of it.
The UN has drawn up a programme to resettle up to 60,000 returnees this year and has opened a new office in Bulawayo. Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office share these anxieties and have they been expressed in Pretoria? I support what my noble friend Lord Best said about the situation of refugees in the United Kingdom, about which I hope we will have time for a debate.
Having worked for non-governmental organisations, I have a particular concern that NGOs in Zimbabwe, including church groups and even student bodies, are being targeted as though they were militant opposition groups. Funds belonging to NGOs that were frozen by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in 2008 have still not been released and several NGOs report problems in obtaining employment permits. Is our embassy speaking up for local NGOs as well as for international NGOs? The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, warned recently that in countries such as Zimbabwe funding shortfalls are,
"jeopardizing the ability of humanitarian organizations", to operate.
Human rights NGOs are also being squeezed if they dare to expose corruption. I have a current example, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and other noble Lords in the context of Marange diamonds. Last week, Zimbabwean police arrested the head of the Marange-based Centre for Research and Development, Farai Maguwu. The centre has regularly provided information about ongoing human rights abuse to the Kimberley process, which monitors companies in order to prevent trade in blood diamonds. Mr Maguwu is, in effect, being accused of exposing the close relationship with the Government of Mr Abbey Chikane, the Kimberley process monitor. South African firms such as Mbada and Canadile, which have little mining experience, are being used as fronts by the Mugabe Government, but they cannot officially sell the diamonds until Zimbabwe meets the terms of the Kimberley process. Mr Chikane is widely expected to give the green light before the end of this month. Diamonds are reaching Antwerp via Mozambique even now, so the certification scheme, which is highly regarded in Africa, is in danger of being discredited. This story is well documented and is being widely publicised this week. The MDC has called for Mr Maguwu's immediate release. Will the Government endorse that call and repeat their assurance that they will not support the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe until they are satisfied that there is no evidence of human rights abuse in the mines?
Finally, knowing that the Department for International Development has taken a close interest in constitutional issues and has considerable expertise in this field, and given the possibility of imminent, and even snap, elections immediately after the World Cup, how will the UK Government step up their support, alongside the European Union, for the democratic process that is already under way under the GPA and how will they help to bring confidence to a potentially healthy and constructive civil society?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for introducing this debate and for doing it so very well. It was a real tour de force. Like him and so many noble Lords who have spoken today, I regret the sad loss of Lady Park and Lord Blaker, who made such well informed contributions to our debates on Zimbabwe in the past.
Zimbabwe has been of particular concern, especially in your Lordships' House, for many years. The opportunity to discuss the current situation there and how it may develop is therefore very welcome, because, as we have heard from so many who have contributed to the debate, there are some signs that change is under way. That creates an opportunity for a better future for the people of Zimbabwe, and indeed for the British relationship with Zimbabwe. There are obvious political changes in Zimbabwe with the formation of the Government of National Unity, as well as changes in the leadership of Zimbabwe's most influential neighbour, South Africa. In the United Kingdom's relationship with Zimbabwe, too, we must consider the implications of the change of government in this country. New Governments anywhere can, if they are sufficiently imaginative, create real opportunities for change if the circumstances merit it, and the British coalition now has the challenge of how it will respond to some of the changes that we have been discussing and begin to make a real step change in the way in which Zimbabwe relates to the United Kingdom.
In all the years that I have been part of the debates on Zimbabwe in this House, concern has centred on four main destructive and interrelated crises. First, there has been the economic crisis. Secondly, there has been political deterioration in the country and in its relationships with many countries overseas. Thirdly, there has been the HIV/AIDS crisis. Finally, there has been the humanitarian crisis, which has been the inevitable consequence of the first three crises.
As we have heard today so graphically from the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for years Zimbabwe's economic and social indicators painted a really alarming picture. Over half the country required emergency food aid and other humanitarian aid simply to survive. The contrast with the former years of plenty as the breadbasket of Africa was indeed stark. The United States aid department calculated that over that period more than a third of the adult population of Zimbabwe was HIV positive, and that more than 10,000 people were dying every month from AIDS. Meanwhile, the GDP was in an unstoppable downward spiral, and inflation was way out of control. Official figures for unemployment were in excess of 60 per cent, and shortages in medicines and fuel as well as in food were evident everywhere.
Most people with marketable skills left the country as soon as they could in the early years of this century. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there were teachers, health workers and many with professional skills who simply moved away and did not return. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, emphasised the importance of the diaspora and asked how they might now be encouraged to return to Zimbabwe. This is a scarred and miserable story with which we are all only too familiar. The analysis of why this happened has varied. From Mr Mugabe's point of view, the blame is placed squarely on Britain's shoulders as the former colonial power, although Zimbabwe never had a colonial civil service; it had its own internal service. Meanwhile from the point of view of many commentators outside the country, the blame lies with Zanu-PF for running a regime that totally failed its own people in terms of economic competence, political inclusion and social cohesion. Others, notably South Africa, have been for many years very ambivalent. They have been unable to criticise the self-evident shortcomings of Mr Mugabe's Government and have impeded some of the efforts of the international community to deal with human rights abuses and disease control, not only in terms of HIV/AIDS but also, latterly, in terms of the cholera outbreaks.
As we have heard from many noble Lords in this debate, there have been real changes in the economy. I am sure that all of us welcome the fact that at long last there is real improvement in what the IMF has to say about the Zimbabwean economy. In its announcement on
The IMF attributed the improvements to strong taxation policy and strong administrative measures following implementation of its own advice. It went on to stress the importance of further strengthening of financial management with the World Bank's assistance and noted that, sadly, many social programmes in Zimbabwe are still grossly underfunded and in danger of failing completely. I agree with my noble friend Lord Triesman that years of neglect cannot be righted without a huge effort within Zimbabwe and from its friends.
What is the British Government's assessment of the IMF report? Is the UK coalition now able, or willing, to give bilateral advice to the Zimbabwean Government on the future strengthening of such things as their manufacturing and service industries, and very particularly on the budgetary messages that need to be put in place in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
I am sure we can all express pleasure that Zimbabwe's eligibility to use the resources of the IMF's general resource account have been restored, which is good news and significant. What does the Minister think the practical impact of the restoration of such eligibility will be? It is clear that the economic policies have improved significantly, but what assessment have the British Government made about the way in which the improvements are sustainable or whether the recovery is too fragile to survive without further important policy changes in the economic outlook in Zimbabwe?
I turn to what I described as the political crisis. The continuation of the Government of National Unity is the bedrock of providing the stability necessary for any continued economic improvement. The IMF was pleased that during its visit in March its meetings with Prime Minister Tsvangirai and other Ministers were matched by access to representatives from the diplomatic and business communities, and, very significantly, in its meetings with civil society organisations as well as trade unions. The IMF noted the improved respect-its own words-for property rights and for the strengthening of labour markets. Today we have heard about the welcome licensing of the newspaper industry, which is another significant move.
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, about the recent acquittal of one of Prime Minister Tsvangirai's allies, the former white farmer, Roy Bennett, also need to be noted. I think that we all hope that this acquittal will ease some of the self-evident tensions in the Government in Zimbabwe. On the charges of terrorism against him, Mr Bennett said that,
"the judgment gives hope that we are returning to justice and the rule of law".
Can the Minister give us the British Government's assessment of the current state of stability in the coalition; that is to say, whether Mr Bennett's judgment that this was a significant move in consolidating the coalition is one with which they can agree? Also, is he able to tell us whether Mr Bennett has now been installed as the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, as was originally mooted?
Can the Minister comment on the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, regarding the new law requiring all companies owned by foreigners and racial minorities to cede 51 per cent of their shares to indigenous people? There seems to be genuine confusion on this point. Some Zimbabwean Cabinet Ministers have said that the law is still firmly in place, but of course the Prime Minister's own spokesman has given a very different point of view, saying that the whole of that law is now under revision.
I turn to the AIDS/HIV epidemic, a matter that was not raised by many noble Lords during the course of the debate, but which nonetheless plays an important part in achieving stability in Zimbabwe. Is the Minister able to give us up to date figures for mortality rates? The figures were very high a few years ago and I wonder how they have changed, or indeed if they have changed at all. Further, is he able to tell us what the United Kingdom is currently doing in terms of providing aid to combat AIDS and HIV in Zimbabwe? Clearly we are not alone in this: Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands have also made significant contributions, but in recent years there has been some reluctance on the part of other Governments to deal with the issue.
The humanitarian climate seems to have improved at least in some measure, although I was concerned by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, regarding the points made by the Friends of Zimbabwe and about what the Zimbabwean churches have had to say. I am sure that many of us were pleased to see the ban on all diamond exports until senior politicians accused of human rights abuses are cleared of any wrongdoing. In its assessment made on
The fact is that these are all bedrock issues. Democracy without the rule of law tends to become the licensed tyranny of the majority over the minority, and human rights are the hallmark of any decent and civilised government. As the noble Lord, Lord St John, remarked, the drawing up of the new constitution will be a key element, but as many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, many questions are being raised in relation to whether the constitution will indeed get a fair hearing and whether in the end there will be a fair vote on it.
The Minister has a terrific record on his support of the Commonwealth, and as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, in the past he has been a persuasive supporter of it. Given that, is he able to say anything about how he sees the future role of the Commonwealth in relation to Zimbabwe? In short, can he tell us how the UK Government intend to respond to all these changes? As my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside pointed out, the coalition document supports better trade with Africa. Is the Minister able to tell us in what ways this might be done? Would it be through, for example, help with small businesses and for entrepreneurship, and programmes of assistance such as those that were provided by British Executive Services Overseas? In particular, do the Government have any practical ideas for ways in which to help Zimbabweans in this country return to their homeland in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Luce?
We have had a wide-ranging debate. The question I leave with the Minister is whether he believes in the picture that has been painted by the IMF, taking into account all the difficulties raised by noble Lords in terms of human rights? Does he believe that the future of Zimbabwe is now set on the right course and that it has a sustainable and secure future planned ahead for its people?
My Lords, this has been a debate rich in expertise and knowledge of the Zimbabwean situation, the like of which is not replicated in any other forum, in this country or elsewhere, and certainly not in any other legislature. An enormous range of expert comments and questions have been raised. It would be physically impossible for me to answer every single one in the 20 minutes allotted but I shall try answer a great many of them. Most of them it would be possible to answer, but not in 20 minutes. I shall simply do my best.
I, too, begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for the opportunity to have this excellent debate. Secondly, I echo what other noble Lords have said about our sadly departed friends: my very good friend Lord Blaker and the wonderful lady, Lady Daphne Park, who made huge contributions and played huge parts in our discussions of Zimbabwe over the years. I thank also the opposition spokesman, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the former opposition spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, with whom I have debated over the years. Indeed, I began to feel that this was a kind of "This is your Life" debate as comments from the past arose. We have been looking at these matters together for almost a decade and I hope that our joint contribution will carry forward understanding and create an effective policy on these matters in the future.
I asked officials in my department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-as I believe should be the case when new government Ministers arrive-just why, looking forward, there is so much concern and interest-and what are the interests of our nation-in the developments in Zimbabwe? Whatever the links of the past-of which we must be aware-I asked the crude question: "Where do we go from here? What is the importance for our nation of what is happening in Zimbabwe?". Their answer was very clear: it is directly in our national interests that this major African country of wonderful potential should become again within the region a zone of law, justice, peace and democracy, and of the economic prosperity which goes with those things and which tends to disappear if they are absent. When I say "democracy", I mean the word in the deepest, broadest and wisest sense, not in the superficial way in which it is sometimes interpreted around the world, including, I am sad to say, even within this country.
The Government intend to do everything they can to support the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people for a prosperous and stable Zimbabwe. Their objective and ours is to overcome the years of misrule and bring back Zimbabwe once more to its place as a beacon of hope for Africa's future and as a land of plenty as it once was.
In my allotted time, I want first to deal with the precise questions that noble Lords have raised with great insight and effectiveness-although I shall not be able to deal with them all-and then to make some broader comments which, in turn, will cover some of the issues that noble Lords have raised.
The noble Lord who introduced the debate made an interesting speech. He described himself as an optimist. We all want to be optimistic about the future but it is very hard in some cases. There is much wrong and much to fear and worry about still in Zimbabwe, but that is the right stance. He asked about the International Criminal Court and whether it could, as it were, catch Mr Mugabe. I am advised that as Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the Rome statute-that is the ICC statute-he can be referred to the ICC only by Security Council resolution. I think that that is the right procedure, but if he were so referred, we would be in no position to protect Mr Mugabe from any of the consequences. That should be clear and on the record.
The noble Lord spoke equally effectively about the rights of women in Zimbabwe, a matter to which we should return again and again as we press for a better future for that country. The noble Lord had many other comments to make as well, which I shall cover in my general remarks.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh made a very fine speech about human rights in Africa, which should always be to the forefront of our thinking. Many of these areas are, as many noble Lords said, African matters for African solutions and they demand African action. However, it is our duty as a nation to help and support in every way we can.
My noble friend raised the diamond issue, as did other several other noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Avebury and Lord Chidgey and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, all touched on it. We deplore the human rights abuses that were reported at the Marange mine and we will encourage our EU partners who lead in the Kimberley process to secure reform of the Zimbabwean diamond mining industry. That is all I can say on that at the moment, but behind those words are some strong intentions to ensure that the Kimberley process works.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, spoke about links and dialogue with South Africa. That is ongoing and continuous and regarded as urgent. Talks were held with the president when he visited here; there have been further and constant links with South African officials. There is a sense of urgency, but it must be balanced, as the noble Lord will be the first to recognise because he is expert in these fields, with a degree of timing, so that we do not stumble into giving advantages to those who do not wish well of Zimbabwe or want to prolong the present difficulties.
My noble friend Lord Avebury characteristically produced an enormous list of very expert insights and questions. I cannot answer them all, but he spoke about safeguards for electors in the moving of the constitutional process up to a referendum. These are things that we must watch for very carefully, and we shall do our very best to overcome, although it is not easy, some of the open and blatant abuses that have gone on in the past. There are some other questions on which I want to write to my noble friend. He raised, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, the IMF report and engagement with the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank on economic reform. We see that as critical, and are working to encourage and develop this engagement. The IMF has identified in its report a number of policy improvements to be made by the Government of Zimbabwe in order to move towards a staff-monitored programme. We hope that the IMF and the Government of Zimbabwe will work together to implement these changes. It is a very important report, and the procedures which could flow from it will be valuable as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned also the Commonwealth, a matter, as other noble Lords have been kind enough to observe, which is dear to my heart. Zimbabwe was a member of the Commonwealth; a time will come when the Commonwealth network, with its skills, its focus, its values and its practical help, will be able to play a vital part in the rebuilding of Zimbabwe. Of that, I am convinced. When that time comes, I cannot say at the moment, because I cannot see, as noble Lords cannot, exactly how matters will develop. But I am quite sure that the Commonwealth's role in the future piecing together of Zimbabwe will be vital and leading.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the interesting question of reskilling Zimbabweans in the Zimbabwean diaspora. We share the noble Lord's wish to see Zimbabweans able to return home to contribute to the rebuilding of their country when the time is right. The noble Lord referred to the funds available to Zimbabweans who return home under the assisted voluntary return scheme, which includes funding that can be used for reskilling or setting up a business. I can tell him that officials are in discussion with the diaspora on how that can be made most useful, so I hope that that meets his very valid point.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I think, raised a number of vital issues, among which was the issue of the UK people domiciled in Zimbabwe. We had a voluntary resettlement scheme, because I am advised that there are actually 12,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe-that seems a large number-most, it is said, long-established and self-sufficient. But I am quite sure that there are some difficult cases as well, and we must keep an eye on them. The voluntary resettlement scheme has now ended, I am advised, so I do not know whether it is operating to help those people. It is obviously an issue that we must watch very closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, with his usual expertise, who also mentioned the diamond issue, turned to the whole question of rebuilding Zimbabwe and how investment confidence can be mobilised, and so on. I intend to make further comments on that in a few minutes, if the noble Lord will allow me.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the huge refugee problem, with literally millions of people housed or camped in South Africa as a result of the refugee exodus. These are very serious problems, which we are discussing with the South Africans all the time, and which will create more challenges in future that we have yet to solve. But we are very much aware of them.
The noble Baroness covered the broad sweep of these matters, as one would expect, and asked for a number of responses, which I think that I shall cover in the next few minutes before I close. She asked about HIV mortality; I have not got the answer and shall have to send that to her. Nor do I have a really detailed assessment, because it is not actually very clear, as to whether the 51 per cent ownership of projects or incoming investment is still valid, or whether it ever was-whether it was just a statement from President Mugabe and was never enacted in law. I do not know the details, but I shall supply them to the noble Baroness, because they are rather crucial in creating the atmosphere in which funds begin to flow into Zimbabwe again.
Having covered those areas, I shall address one or two more questions and put the matter in more general terms. The troubled history of Zimbabwe in recent years is very well known to your Lordships. It is also known that its essence is rotten governance and the collapse of prosperity, along with the appalling violence that characterised the elections of 2008. Like your Lordships, I am encouraged that there has been some progress on economic stabilisation since the formation of the inclusive Government last February following mediation by the Southern African Development Community-SADC. Thanks to the inclusive Government, Zimbabwe is for most people a safer and better place to live today than it was in 2008. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai made a very brave decision to enter into an agreement for the sake of the Zimbabwean people. We should therefore do as much as we can to help make a success of the inclusive Government arrangements. That is not to say that Zimbabwe does not face continuous and enormous challenges, some of which are worsening, as we have heard. But at least the inclusive Government are there, even if they do not turn out to be the underpinning of the long-term solution that we all want to see.
There have been some successes, however, most notably in economic reform. Just over a year ago Zimbabwe faced the greatest hyperinflation in economic history, the shops were empty and productivity had collapsed. Now urban shops are full again and the IMF predicts modest growth of around 2.5 per cent this year-the sort of figure that we could do with here. Not everyone is in a position to benefit from this improvement, but economic regeneration has provided some local employment and enabled the Finance Ministry to benefit from modestly increased revenue. In recognition of the progress achieved in creating the conditions for greater macroeconomic stability under Finance Minister Tendai Biti, the UK supported the restoration of Zimbabwe's voting rights at the IMF.
As noble Lords observed, a year ago our newspapers were full of horrors about the cholera epidemic when 4,000 people died. Now, thanks to the inclusive Government and the support of donors, including our own DfID, doctors, nurses and teachers are being paid and the schools and hospitals are open again. Donor efforts to improve sanitation have helped to avoid a repeat of the epidemic. Far fewer Zimbabweans now require food aid, but difficulties remain. Parents struggle to afford school fees or meet charges for health services and unemployment is extremely high, but the situation is undeniably better and we should applaud the efforts of the reformers who have driven this progress.
Our own support has played a key role in enabling the reformers to improve service provision and improve prospects for the people of Zimbabwe. I will not have time to go into all the aspects of DfID's £60 million investment in Zimbabwe last year but that was its largest aid package ever, and it has gone to improve the supply and availability of food for up to 3 million people by providing seeds and fertilisers to boost smallholder farming. It has also gone to basic education. All of this assistance has gone to the people who need it most. DfID has also supported activities that more directly support reform through a contribution to the process to develop a new constitution for Zimbabwe, and to improve budgeting and wider financial management.
Although it is the economic and social recovery that is the more noticeable, there have been some limited political reforms. Your Lordships may be surprised to know-I certainly was-that there are now no convicted political prisoners in Zimbabwe. All those who were imprisoned before the creation of the inclusive Government have now been released, although regrettably many are on bail with their prosecutions pending. There have been notable acquittals, noted by your Lordships today, including those of human rights defender Jestina Mukuko and Deputy Minister designate Roy Bennett-I do not quite know whether he has been reinstated in his position, as the noble Baroness asked me, but I can find out. Human rights, electoral and media commissions have also been established, with the potential to create conditions for credible elections. I would make more comments on developments regarding newspapers, which the noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned, but I do not have time to do so.
There have been tinges of political reform, but of course the pace of that is very disappointing. A great deal of work remains to be done. We welcome the granting of licences to independent papers; it is equally important that journalists should be able to report freely and without fear of unjust prosecution. True friends of Zimbabwe should therefore hope to see the Government of Zimbabwe take further steps in this regard, including the repeal of repressive legislation. Relatively few Zimbabweans have access to newspapers but many have access to radio and, in towns, television. It was therefore disturbing to hear reports of recent attempts by so-called "war veterans" to control access to radios in rural areas. It is vital that Zimbabweans have access to a wide range of political views for the constitutional reform process to develop an effective way.
There are challenges, too, on the economic front, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others said. Investor confidence will return only if transparent, accountable government and the rule of law are established. It will remain low while arbitrary, violent farm seizures continue and foreign businesses are deterred from investing as a result of an ill conceived indigenisation programme. Let me make it clear that it is the means by which indigenisation is achieved rather than the end that is of concern to potential investors.
I have much more to say, but time forbids. This has been a powerful and effective debate. Successful and sustainable elections alone can free Zimbabweans to build a prosperous, stable and democratic future. We look forward to Zimbabwe once again providing inspiration across the continent and serving as a force for stability and economic growth. I thank noble Lords for their lively and profound contributions to this debate. The Government look forward to working closely with both Houses in pursuit of our shared goal of a better Zimbabwe.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I am also pleased that he mentioned at the outset why Zimbabwe is such an important subject for this country.
I apologise for overrunning my speech; I rather naively thought that I had more time and got rather carried away. I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken with their vast experience and expertise. They certainly covered all the key issues, including respect for the rule of law, transparency and good governance, land reform, the role of the Commonwealth-I sincerely hope that one of these days Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth-and of course the important subject of the Zimbabwean diaspora. I fear that until dual citizenship is allowed to Zimbabweans living abroad, many will be prevented from returning to their home country. Other subjects were the challenges of infrastructure-specifically power and water-and the IMF report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, mentioned. I am delighted to see her speaking from the Front Bench again.
I was also pleased that the Zimbabwean ambassador, Gabriel Machinga, was able to join us today, as well as David Banks, who has played such an important role for the Zimbabwe All-Party Parliamentary Group. I hope that we will continue to have constructive dialogue to promote change in Zimbabwe. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.