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Zimbabwe: Governance

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussions they have held with the chairperson of the commission of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré, concerning the current state of governance in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, I have personally raised Zimbabwe with President Konaré at each of the past three AU summits. Yesterday the Prime Minister discussed Zimbabwe with President Kufuor of Ghana, who is also the AU president. They agreed to work with the AU to support and help a process of ensuring that proper order is restored in a lawful and constitutional way so that people are able to express their views and proper democracy can be introduced. We work with African leaders to try to press on Mugabe the steps needed to end that country’s nightmare.

My Lords, I thank the Minster for his Answer. It is widely recognised that the UK is in a peculiarly difficult position vis-à-vis Zimbabwe but the Government nevertheless give that country a significant amount of humanitarian aid. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to support all those organisations, both inside Zimbabwe and in neighbouring countries, that are working towards creating pockets of democracy by increasing their funding, particularly those that work with citizens to enhance citizen participation and democratic protest?

My Lords, we work hard with those who are trying to improve the democratic space in every respect. Sometimes when we assist they are immediately denounced as being in some sense in the pockets of the former colonial power. It does not always help them. None the less, that work is imperative, whether it is with journalists, women’s organisations or the Zimbabwean trade unions that I saw yesterday morning. We will continue to do everything we can to improve that democratic space.

My Lords, the International Crisis Group report suggests that Commonwealth member countries in southern Africa should help to mediate a political settlement for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Is my noble friend seeking to detect and support currents of opinion in the African Union which are going in that direction?

My Lords, absolutely; hence the discussions with President Konaré, Ambassador Djinnit and others. We are trying to build as much of an alliance as we can within the African Union, and between us and it, towards exactly those aims.

We have also made it plain that this is not a bilateral dispute between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe which can be mediated. It is the terrorisation of the people of Zimbabwe by their Government. That is what must be resolved and where we must put our efforts.

My Lords, I was pleased to hear about the discussions that the Prime Minister held with President John Kufuor yesterday. We also heard yesterday evening about the discussion between the Secretary of State for International Development and President Kufuor. Did any practical suggestions emerge from these discussions on how the UK could best help the African Union to rescue the people of Zimbabwe from the economic and political abyss into which they have been plunged by Mugabe and ZANU-PF? Following the awful reports in yesterday’s media of the murder of Gift Tandare and the systematic torture of 50 opposition leaders, is there not a case to be made for indicting some of Zimbabwe’s leaders before the International Criminal Court? How does the Minister think that that could be pursued?

My Lords, on work being done with the African Union—a good deal of which is between the EU and the AU, not just the UK—first, we are sustaining the sanctions against 130 named individuals. Secondly, we are doing what we can with the AU to ensure that the return to law and order and the underpinning of the legal institutions that President Kufuor also demanded yesterday are central to the work being done. In due course, people will have to consider whether crimes against humanity are being committed. We are currently trying to get changes in the economy and the political space, as I have described, but everybody must understand that there can be no process by which people go along with this kind of brutality.

My Lords, do the policies made by the president, welcome though they are, go as far as the policies already in the African Union treaty, the NePAD treaty and the SADC treaty, which call for human rights, the rule of law and good governance, and peer pressure to ensure that they are observed? The danger is that if the African countries continue to fail to enforce those undertakings, the fate of the African Union one day—not just yet, but later—may be the same as the fate of the OAU, which was folded up in ignominy not long ago.

My Lords, I understand the point that having words on paper in treaties and in the formulation documents that start organisations is very different from taking the steps that then secure the aims of those constitutions and treaties. I believe that there are many in the African Union who see the matter as we do. They are not always as forthcoming in what they have to say, and that sometimes must be a matter of regret, but most of all I want them to do the things that are in those treaties and I want us to work with them to secure those outcomes.

My Lords, will my noble friend try to make it clear to the members of the African Union, especially southern African members, that a failure clearly to denounce the oppression in Zimbabwe begins to call into question the commitment to good governance? Does he not agree that the continued failure to act will lead almost inevitably to the dissipation of the good will towards Africa, which was shown so clearly in the Commission for Africa?

My Lords, we plainly want them to be forthcoming on these fundamental issues and it is damaging when people are not. However much one understands the history of reticence, it does not help. I like to try to recall with African leaders that the Gleneagles outcomes were an agreement. We undertook to do many things in the aid area, with the cancellation of debt and the stimulation of trade. They made undertakings on good governance. That was in essence the agreement and an agreement should be seen through as an agreement.

My Lords, I hope I am not alone in this House in hoping that some day soon this fellow Mugabe will get his come-uppance. But what happens next? Who is doing the thinking, either elsewhere in the world or here as a former colonial power, as to how on earth, whenever that happens, this place gets an incredible and tremendous lift?

My Lords, that question would require a very long answer, but detailed work is obviously being done about what might be in the next phase. That was one of the things Kofi Annan was addressing when Mugabe said he did not want him to go to Zimbabwe. That post-Mugabe period has to be looked at with great care. I can assure the House that that is exactly what is happening.