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Zimbabwe - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:41 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 2:41 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, for introducing this very topical short debate. I, like many, had great hopes and expectations that the end of the Mugabe regime and the election of President Emmerson Mnangagwa would herald a new dawn of rebuilding political and economic stability in Zimbabwe.

Sadly, my high expectations and those of many others have been severely dashed. Many believe that the political and economic situation has deteriorated even more, leaving citizens grossly underwhelmed. While the recent street protests were triggered by the doubling of the fuel prices, this was just one of the multiple dimensions of the current Zimbabwe crisis.

There are, in essence, four key aspects to the current malaise, the first being the political crisis stemming from the contested legitimacy and leadership of the President, with clear divisions between him and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga. The political crisis also has a constitutional dimension in that the traditional structure of checks and balances between the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary are just not there: the state is now captured by the military and more compromised. Secondly, there is the economic crisis, which has been manifested by a crippling debt trap, huge unemployment and a debilitating currency crisis. Thirdly, and most importantly, the human rights crisis has resulted in a suspension of fundamental freedoms, unlawful killings by the state, systematic torture and mass rape of women and children as extra- judicial instruments of punishment. The final aspect is international isolation, which has seen the President seeking assistance from Russia.

After the recent atrocities by the military, where live ammunition was used to kill innocent civilians and opponents to the regime were hunted down, much of the population of Zimbabwe has lost all faith, in both the military and political leadership, and people fear that their voices are not being heard by the international community. The move by the state to shut down the internet and social media was another flagrant abuse of human rights and associated with authoritarianism.

In his inaugural speech when he took office, the President undertook to promote economic stability by respecting property rights, repealing the indigenisation Act and tackling the multi-layered currency crisis. He also undertook to have an independent and respected judiciary, which applies the law, and an independent and respected police force, which enforces the law. Sadly, Zimbabwe has descended into a lawless state where none of the four pillars of democracy is functioning effectively, and which is being subverted by a kleptocratic elite. Moreover, there have been strong rumours that Vice-President Chiwenga has been attempting to unseat the President but has not managed to garner sufficient military support.

There are, however, a number of encouraging developments. The recent move to allow companies and individuals to transfer dollars electronically is to be welcomed. There have been calls for financial assistance by South Africa to alleviate the humanitarian crisis— I hope that this will be made conditional by South Africa on political reforms in Zimbabwe. The economic reforms introduced by the Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube, have been slowly starting to take effect, but the move to double the fuel price overnight was deeply irresponsible and reckless.

The nature of the political crisis requires a negotiated political solution, but the relatively low level of trust between the key players, Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and opposition leader Chamisa, means that this is highly unlikely. Ideally, to attempt to restore the public’s trust, there should be a Government of national unity, with a negotiated transition. International calls for the demilitarisation of Zimbabwe, I fear, are a long way away. The military and political leaders appear determined to keep hold of the levers of power rather than relinquish them for the promise of what they see as an uncertain longer-term upside of support by the international community.

DfID and the CDC have played an important role in trying to reduce poverty and promote economic recovery. I believe that efforts should be focused more on the private rather than the public sector in Zimbabwe. Any aid to the public sector in Zimbabwe should be conditional on political reforms.

My allotted time is up. There is currently no clear fix or solution to the current crisis. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, I hope that, in time, Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth but this will require a rigorous set of preconditions to be met.