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Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 22 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the allocation by Robert Mugabe of portfolios in the proposed Government of Zimbabwe.

My Lords, along with other EU states, we have condemned Robert Mugabe's unilateral allocation of ministerial portfolios. The allocation of portfolios needs to be agreed by all parties and reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed in the 29 March elections, which gave Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC a clear majority.

My Lords, noble Lords will agree that the proposed allocation is wrong, unfair and leading to deadlock. Is not Botswana, as a neighbour, one of the countries which has suffered most from Mugabe’s rule? Has not the President of Botswana recently suggested that there should be a rerun of the presidential election under international supervision? Might not this suggestion be of interest to other neighbouring countries such as the members of SADC and of the African Union?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the President of Botswana has several times made this suggestion. It is for the neighbours to determine first whether this is the way ahead. I remind the noble Lord that there was extraordinary violence during the second round and we do not want to recreate a circumstance where Mugabe and his butchers again start to slaughter the civilian volunteers of the MDC.

My Lords, in view of the controversial and highly unpopular decision by Mr Mbeki to approve the allocation of ministries and the protests which are taking place now in South Africa against that decision, does not the Minister agree that it is time for Mr Mbeki to step down and to be replaced as mediator by Mr Jacob Zuma, as has been suggested? How will this get on to the agenda of the next SADC meeting?

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, there was an attempted troika meeting yesterday which, in an indication of Mugabe’s lack of trustworthiness, Morgan Tsvangirai was unable to attend because the Prime Minister-designate could not be given a passport. There is to be another SADC meeting next week and there is talk that it might be of the whole membership. It is incumbent on that meeting, whether it is of the troika or of the whole membership, to address the fact that the current mediation effort has clearly run out of steam and not arrived at a resolution of this problem.

My Lords, does not the Minister think that the Kenyan model may be helpful in the sense that it has a much more robust system of arbitration and monitoring? Why cannot this be done at a higher level, through SADC, and perhaps without Mr Mbeki?

My Lords, that is a question which SADC will have to answer. Invidious comparisons are increasingly being made between the efforts made in Kenya, where two parties were brought into a relationship of trust and co-operation, and those in Zimbabwe, where the distrust grows every day.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s estimate of the number of people in Zimbabwe who are dependent on food aid at the moment? Is the food that we are able to supply appropriate for them?

My Lords, it is an astonishing story. Zimbabwe was a country of 12 million people: 3 million have gone into exile; of the remaining 9 million, some 5 million will be dependent on food aid by the end of the year. We have just made an allocation to the World Food Programme of £9 million. Ours and other contributions will make sure that appropriate food is available in this manmade tragedy.

My Lords, my noble friend’s frustration with the situation in Zimbabwe is evident in the way that he is answering the questions. Does he see any solution in the near future to this appalling situation and the lack of real response from Zimbabwe’s neighbours? Does he see any breakthrough possible in the near future over this or will we repeat these endless exchanges where we all agree it is terrible and nobody knows what to do?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct to note my frustration, which I think the whole House shares. There is a clock ticking: Zimbabwe has 230 million per cent inflation, some 5 million people—more than half of those living there—will shortly be on food aid and the regime is coming under a lot of pressure as its support begins to disintegrate. On the outside, as has already been said, neighbours such as Botswana are being ever more forceful in their public condemnation of what is happening. At some point this will end, and the sooner the better for everybody in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, as Mugabe and his gang are obviously determined not to surrender power quietly or wisely, can we be assured that the hard currency money the UK is providing to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and through our UN and EU agencies is going towards the purposes for which it is intended and is not being siphoned off and manipulated for the benefit of the ZANU-PF gangsters?

My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to an appropriate issue. The central bank is making every effort to find any source of foreign currency to keep its patronage operations for the top leadership ticking over. The noble Lord should be assured that we are making absolutely certain that our moneys in no way fall into the hands of Government and go directly to UN and non-governmental partners, mainly for purchases made outside the country.

My Lords, the noble Earl will not expect, in the few seconds allowed me, a lesson in economics. Let me therefore limit myself to saying “A lot”.

My Lords, in light of the announcement this week that former President Mogae of Botswana won the prize for good governance on the African continent, what is my noble friend’s assessment of improvements in governance on that continent, despite the deadlock in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, former President Mogae, whom we should all congratulate on winning this award, is one of those who signed the letter from African leaders that was published in the Financial Times and other places condemning the actions of President Mugabe. The fact that Botswana has had three admirably honest Presidents and now has a fourth in President Khama shows that the issue of honesty and quality of leadership in Africa is a vital individual determinant of the success of different African countries.