It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.
First of all, I thank and congratulate Kate Hoey on bringing this issue forward for consideration. I will place it on the record that she is undoubtedly a true democrat—the honour that she has shown this country by honouring the referendum vote is something that I sincerely wish was emulated by others in her party. She has done that very well, I congratulate her on it and we look forward to working with her on many other issues as we move forward.
Over the years, I have had a particular interest in Zimbabwe—or Rhodesia, as it was formerly—because I have a number of Zimbabweans who have come to live in my constituency who have lost their farms, their property and in some cases everything they had bar the clothes on their back. They fled the lovely country of Zimbabwe.
When I was a young man starting off on life’s road, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia was Ian Smith; those of us who are of a certain vintage will recall him. I always remember his saying, because I have used those words myself many times, when he made a unilateral declaration of independence and separated himself from the United Kingdom and from the Commonwealth: “This is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. It is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
If only Zimbabwe was at the beginning of a process. We had hoped that, with the election of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, there would be a normalisation of the economy and a repairing of relations with multilateral institutions. We had hoped that his election would bring a new beginning, but unfortunately it has not. Indeed, the most recent clashes in Zimbabwe earlier this month were prompted in part by a sharp hike in fuel prices, which has made petrol and diesel in the country the most expensive in the world. So we can understand why people are up in arms.
Inflation in Zimbabwe is very high. Probably the only country that beats Zimbabwe for inflation is Venezuela, where inflation is running at 1 million % and is predicted to be 10 million % by the end of the year—unless, of course, there are new elections and Venezuela’s Opposition leader is elevated to the position of President.
What has happened in Zimbabwe has been the first glimmer of democracy in many years and yet it is clear that there is not democracy there just yet; there can be no true democracy without fear-free elections.
In my constituency, I have a number of churches that do missionary work in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. They are very active in education. They are the Elim Missions, whose headquarters is in Newtownards, in my constituency. There are very active Elim churches in my constituency, and indeed in nearby constituencies. I see that Lady Hermon is here in the Public Gallery today; there is a very active Elim church in her constituency, and there is also one in Belfast East. Collectively, they do some fantastic work in education, health and helping young people. There is also the issue of medication and HIV/AIDS, which is very prevalent in Zimbabwe.
I am well known as someone who believes in foreign aid. I believe that we should provide help in a sustainable manner to those who cannot help themselves: rather than giving them a fish, we should give them a net; and rather than have a farming show, we should show people how to farm. The ways in which we can help go on and on.
For Zimbabwe to have gone from being the breadbasket of Africa—as it was once, in its heyday, and continued to be even when Mugabe first took over—to the poverty-stricken nation that it is now is simply heartbreaking, and I sincerely believe that Zimbabweans must be helped. In this debate, we are very conscious of how we can help the ordinary Zimbabwean people.
Successful farmers helped the economy by creating jobs and wealth, but their land and farms were seized. There has been murder, destruction, the stealing of land and, as referred to by the hon. Members for Vauxhall and for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), sexual violence and the rape of women, who have been violated. It is totally wrong that those involved in the Zimbabwe army are those who are responsible for the bestiality that we have seen in recent days.
However, it is also clear that Zimbabweans need more than simply our help in the form of foreign aid funding. The Library briefing makes something abundantly clear:
“In 2018 the UK government gave support to international and local election monitoring initiatives, including £5 million specifically to support election-related work.”
There was an onus on, and perhaps a need for us in this country to ensure that the elections were free and not corrupt, so that any illegalities did not take place. Unfortunately, it was not shown that the election was entirely fair. There were many violations and concerns were expressed. As a Christian, I pray for many countries in the world, including Zimbabwe, because we hope it can reach the democratic process, and also because I have many brothers and sisters in that country who are also Christians, and I am very conscious of that.
UK-Zimbabwe trade and investment has been at low levels over the past decade and sensitive to political and economic uncertainty. In May 2018, the CDC Group, the UK Government’s development finance institution, announced an investment facility, in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, that would lend some US $100 million to growing businesses in Zimbabwe—a really good idea. It was reportedly the first commercial loan by a British entity to Zimbabwe in over 20 years. Again, we as a country were trying to help Zimbabwe in the new democracy that was hopefully going to unfold, and we hoped that they would do better. In 2017, Zimbabwe was the UK’s 14th-largest export market in Africa, accounting for 2% of UK exports to Africa, and the 13th-largest source of imports from Africa, accounting for 1% of UK imports from Africa. So there were key economic links going out and coming in. Globally, Zimbabwe was the UK’s 91st-largest export market and the 108th-largest source of imports. We want to trade with Zimbabwe, but we also have to ensure that Zimbabwe has a democratic process and democratic institutions that work.
Let us look at what has happened recently. The hon. Members for Vauxhall and for Rochford and Southend East have already referred to this. The internet was deliberately stopped by the Government for three days; roads, schools and banks are closed; the very fabric of society has broken down; hundreds of people have been arrested simply because they were protesting about the hike in the price of fuel and food. If people and their families are starving and the new President has told them there will be a brand-new beginning, no wonder they ask, “Where is this new beginning?” People were unable to communicate for the most basic of reasons, all to ensure that no message could be spread other than the ZANU-PF propaganda.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned some of the reports on TV, which I have seen as well. The TVs did not lie. Behind the army trucks in Zimbabwe were soldiers kicking, beating and taking violent action against innocents on the street. So I ask this question: whenever the evidential base is there, how come action is not taken?