Queen’s Speech — Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:54 pm on 28th May 2015.

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Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 3:54 pm, 28th May 2015

My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to our Government’s commitment to re-engage with and tackle the major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges, as well as to efforts to degrade and defeat terrorism in the Middle East. Briefly, I will focus my remarks today on some of the key challenges in Africa.

Fortunately, last year’s Ebola epidemic in west Africa has, in the main, been contained—except for Guinea, which is still struggling. We have also been relieved by the recent presidential election in Nigeria, which went off far more peacefully than everyone anticipated. However, the scourge of terrorism has badly affected Libya, Mali and Somalia. We have also seen horrendous attacks by Boko Haram in the north-eastern region of Nigeria. Despite high expectations after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, negotiations to achieve peace settlements have become harder and harder. Many noble Lords have spoken passionately today about Libya, which has become a melting pot for extremist groups including Ansar al-Shabaab, ISIS, al-Qaeda, LIFG and even Boko Haram, all of which are opposed to the legitimate Government forced into exile in Tobruk. The House of Representatives was meant to be based in Benghazi and the Ministers in Tripoli, but it is simply not safe for any of them to be in Tripoli.

ISIS has succeeded in consolidating control in unstable political environments in the Middle East but has now turned a lot of its attention to Libya, which has become its key focus in Africa. Boko Haram, which means “the movement against education”, has recently modelled itself on ISIS and is even using its flag. Regional Arab states have lost patience with the United Nations’ attempts to broker a peace deal in Libya after almost a year of going nowhere. The European Union’s promises of action have brought only fresh delays. As we are all aware, ISIS has shown itself to be adept in deploying what Joseph Nye calls both hard and soft power. It has proved itself fluent in social media, particularly YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and the production of apps that appeal to radicals. This has provoked the US and its allies and recruited support from outside the Middle East. I have two questions for the Minister who will wind up today’s debate. What support can be given to the Libyan army to counter the extremist militia and ISIS threat? Secondly, in a more global context, what measures are being considered to counter ISIS’s social media campaign? I do not think that much has been done in either of these respects.

Time restricts me from speaking about South Sudan. My noble friend Lady Cox spoke eloquently about the challenges in Sudan. South Sudan currently faces a major humanitarian and refugee crisis, while Riek Machar and his supporters continue to try and destabilise the legitimately elected Government of President Salva Kiir. I was in Juba just a few weeks ago. It would be helpful to get some indication from the noble Baroness as to what our Government are doing with our international partners to restore peace and stability to this young democracy.

I end by briefly making reference to current developments in South Africa and Zimbabwe. As a regular visitor of South Africa and having spent more than 28 years living in the country, I have been deeply alarmed by the recent demise of this great nation. So many of the remarkable achievements of Nelson Mandela in promoting reconciliation, harmony and economic growth have been shattered by the incompetence, mismanagement and lack of accountability of President Jacob Zuma’s Government. Not only has maintenance of the national electricity grid and the ailing water distribution system been severely neglected, but corruption has been rife. Recent xenophobic attacks are largely the result of people’s frustration at the failure of the Government to tackle the scourge of unemployment and poverty. This deterioration has been widely criticised by the IMF and former friends of the liberation movement.

In the light of these developments, what strategy do our Government have for boosting trade and investment in line with the binational agreement between our respective countries to double two-way trade by the end of 2015? In the words of that magnificent man Bishop Desmond Tutu:

“Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself … The fabric of the nation is splitting”.

I find this deeply alarming.

In February, I led a private delegation to Zimbabwe. It was my first visit there for many years. While I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by many of the meetings with Ministers and senior businessmen, the immediate prospects for the economy are extremely bleak. The country desperately needs a clear political and economic road map, entrenching the rule of law and the protection of human rights. Zimbabwe has huge potential and its people hold huge affection for Britain—but without economic growth, the country risks another humanitarian crisis.

The noble Earl in his opening address referred to the success of our aid budget and other programmes enhancing healthcare, improving nutrition and boosting job opportunities and trade in developing countries, as well as assisting in reducing global poverty. I wholeheartedly support our Government’s commitment in this regard and look forward to building on the successes of the past.