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Volume 685: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the news that the President of Zimbabwe has appointed the former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa as his designated mediator.[HL7193]

We welcomed the UN Secretary-General's engagement on the Zimbabwe issue. He sought to help the Government of Zimbabwe in the reforms that the country desperately needs to arrest its deepening decline. However, President Mugabe blocked the initiative, and with it an opportunity to build bridges within Zimbabwe and with the international community. If Mr Mkapa can persuade President Mugabe to undertake the policy changes that Zimbabweans urgently need for a more stable and prosperous future, we will support his efforts in any way we can, as we would any international efforts aimed at achieving real progress in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is in a profound crisis. Inflation, even by official estimates, runs at over 1,000 per cent. The economy has shrunk by 40 per cent since 1999, exports by 50 per cent, and Zimbabwe now qualifies as a least developed country according to the UN's classification system. Formal unemployment has reached 80 per cent, and a quarter of the population is dependent on food aid, when once Zimbabwe was a major food exporter. An estimated 3,200 people die a week of AIDS-related causes. There are regular demonstrations in Harare and other cities, and daily infringements of the basic rights of Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe has been censured by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and subjected to critical scrutiny by UN envoys. I set out my concerns to the Zimbabwean ambassador when he called on me on July 24, and urged his Government to address these problems.

It is clear that this is not, as the Government of Zimbabwe contend, a bilateral problem with the UK. It is, as the EU, US and many others in the international community have made clear, a problem between the Government of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe’s people, concerning governance. We support the specific policy recommendations made to Zimbabwe by the UN, IMF, World Bank, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international organisations. The UK only wishes to see a better future for Zimbabweans. It is for Zimbabweans to freely determine who should govern Zimbabwe—it is they who will then hold that Government to the governance standards that much of the rest of Africa is now working towards.

The Government of Zimbabwe have also blamed their economic woes on economic sanctions imposed by the EU. However, the EU has no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. It has an arms sales ban and a travel ban, as well as an assets-freeze on 126 members of the regime. These measures have had no impact on the Zimbabwean economy.

The international community is not responsible for Zimbabwe’s current problems: the wide-scale destruction of housing and livelihoods during Operation Murambatsvina; the abandonment of the rule of law so vital to maintain investor confidence; the destruction of Zimbabwe’s agricultural productivity; the assault on the independent media; and the trampling of basic human rights. Above all, it is not the international community that has caused millions of Zimbabweans to vote with their feet by leaving their mother country; they have left because of their Government’s policies.

The problem of Zimbabwe is between its Government and its people. The solution is a Government working for, not against, the people, pursuing policies that realise Zimbabwe’s enormous economic and human potential, and giving Zimbabweans the rights that much of the rest of the world insists on. If Zimbabwe pursues this path, the UK will be at the forefront of international efforts to support it, in addition to the significant humanitarian assistance that we are already providing Zimbabweans. It is in that way that Zimbabwe can build real bridges between our countries.