Zimbabwe

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 23rd January 2002.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 10:21 am, 23rd January 2002

This is the second time that I have taken part in a debate on Zimbabwe, and I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak. While I, like my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude and Tony Worthington, deplore the actions of President Mugabe and his supporters, I wish to speak, in the time remaining to me, mainly about the plight of those ordinary citizens who are suffering from Mugabe's mismanagement of the economy.

Zimbabwe has traditionally been seen as the most industrialised country in the southern African region, and one which has traditionally produced a grain surplus. However, it is now clear that under President Mugabe's mismanagement the economy is in crisis. There is a grain shortage and hundreds of thousands of people face starvation. As my hon. Friend Tony Baldry commented, according to the World Food Programme, more than 550,000 people in the far north-west and south of the country now face severe food shortages.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website states:

"for many years Zimbabwe's per capita income was significantly higher than that of most sub-Saharan African countries. Mining (gold, ferrous alloys, asbestos and nickel) accounts for about 33% of exports, and manufacturing 23% of GDP. Commercial farming (tobacco, meat, cotton, maize, sugar, and plants) is export oriented, accounting for around 19% of GDP, and earning 40% of the country's foreign exchange."

More than 80 per cent. of financial transactions that pass through institutions in Zimbabwe pass through institutions that are owned or managed by whites, practically all of whom oppose ZANU.

The project document that accompanies the latest emergency operation in Zimbabwe from the World Food Programme states:

"all economic indicators currently show negative trends. The gross national product is expected to decline five per cent in 2001, amounting to a cumulative decrease of 18 per cent during 1999-2001. The country is facing an acute foreign exchange crisis limiting its ability to import fuel, energy and basic food grains to meet the looming food deficit. The prices of basic commodities and services continue to increase following the fuel price increase of 70 per cent in June 2001. Rapid inflation combined with high levels of unemployment and the increasing cost of living have deepened the poverty and eroded the purchasing power of poor urban and rural households."

The project document provides the following worrying evidence:

"The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, carried out in May 2001, determined that there would be a shortfall of 447,000 tonnes of maize during the April 2001-March 2002 marketing year."

The document states that the reason is that

"due primarily to disruptions caused by land acquisition activities, the large-scale commercial sector experienced a decline of 30 per cent in area planted under all crops and a 54 per cent drop in maize area planted during the main season. Mainly because of the poor production in commercial areas, cereal production in 2001 was 24 per cent lower than last year and 8 per cent lower than the ten-year average."

I am arguing that according to local experts, the only country in southern Africa with a grain surplus—and a narrow one at that—is now South Africa. One Harare-based economist told BBC News Online that the Zimbabwean Government had

"pretty much mismanaged the tendering process. There's very little on the way. For months they denied that there was a need to import, and by the time the government changed its tune most of it was allocated. There's not much more than a week or two's supply left."

The scandal does not end at Government mismanagement. According to the state-owned Herald newspaper:

"the government has seized 36,000 tonnes of maize from commercial farms who were refusing to hand it over to the Grain Marketing Board (Zimbabwe's monopoly supplier). More than 6,000 tonnes was seized from a German-owned farm, the paper said, despite efforts from German embassy staff to stop the process."

While the people starve, the Government are seizing food to feed Mugabe's henchmen. That scandal cannot be allowed to continue. I ask the Minister, what are the British Government doing to ensure that pressure is put on President Mugabe to allow that vital aid to reach those people who need it the most?

President Mugabe turns 78 next month and he is reputed to be in failing health. According to a report in Africa Confidential on Vice-President Simon Muzenda's birthday last October, Mugabe said:

"The biggest prayer of my life is that God gives me more life to see me through the land issue. I have the backbone to pull through, the courage, and I am fearless but I need God's blessings."

As that report depressingly concludes:

"Such blessings may bring an election victory but they are ruining the country."