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Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 20 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking towards a resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we are working with our international partners to encourage a resolution of the crisis. Mugabe’s regime continues to stand in the way of political progress. Its failed policies have devastated Zimbabwe’s economy and infrastructure. As a result, nearly 6 million people are in need of food aid and cholera has killed some thousands. Our immediate priority is to provide humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Zimbabwean people—the innocent victims of these failed policies.

My Lords, next week there will be another meeting on Zimbabwe. Considering the damage that the crisis is doing to the region, there was a disgracefully low turnout of heads of government at their last Zimbabwe summit in November. Instead of urging Mugabe to halt violent intimidation and accept the will of the people, SADC has so far adopted the feeble line of pressing Tsvangirai to make further concessions. Should we not remind SADC that after the violent June presidential run-off its own observer mission declared that:

“The elections did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe”?

My Lords, I think that the reason for the low SADC turnout was frustration among SADC leaders at the lack of progress. I believe that a number of leaders would entirely agree with the noble Lord’s last remark and share his frustration that there is no progress. Yesterday in Harare there was a long meeting between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe, but after 12 hours there was no progress because Mr Mugabe continues to refuse to make concessions.

My Lords, I think it is generally agreed that people in Zimbabwe are quite desperate. One effective means of getting hard currency to desperate people is via remittances. Does the Minister agree that it might be a good idea to allow Zimbabwean asylum seekers in this country to work, earn and remit?

My Lords, sadly, in this case remittances probably do not work because they are essentially confiscated in large part by the central bank and diverted to sustain the regime. However, I certainly share the noble Baroness’s concern about the condition of failed asylum seekers in the UK. Although the Home Secretary has concluded that they cannot be allowed to work for fear of breaching broader precedents, they can and do receive housing and living benefits to ensure that they are not destitute.

My Lords, my noble friend will recall the NePAD and Gleneagles agreement, which in shorthand meant that developed countries provided aid and in response the African Union provided good governance, which was monitored by a peer-review mechanism. Since then, there has been the stolen election in Zimbabwe in March, the situation is deteriorating daily and the peer-review mechanism has stalled. Does the African Union recognise the damage to potential investment by its failure to act in this respect?

My Lords, perhaps I may correct my noble friend on one point. The peer-review mechanism has not stalled and in fact has contributed significantly to the improvement of governance in many countries. I recently came back from the inauguration of a new President in Ghana, the result of a 50:50 election where the losing side respected the result. However, that makes my noble friend’s point even truer, because the great successes of improved governance in Africa are covered up internationally by the disastrous black spot of Zimbabwe.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the SADC mediation initiative is virtually dead, apart from a last-minute twitch of the corpse next Monday, either in Botswana or South Africa? In view of that, does he think that there is any possibility that the African Union, at its summit in Addis Ababa, will pick up the suggestion made previously by the Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, that the African Union should boycott Mugabe and supervise free, fresh and fair elections?

My Lords, I think that the prospect of the African Union summit is leading to a last flurry of diplomacy. The meeting yesterday in Harare and the SADC summit have taken place in the run-up to the AU one. Last year, the AU said that, if SADC could not fix this, it would want to be part of finding a solution. There is frustration that it has not been more fully involved. I think the AU will want to take a hard look at this. South Africa must remain part of the solution, as must SADC, but the present initiative has essentially shown itself to be exhausted and defeated by the sheer stubbornness of Mr Mugabe.

My Lords, as the old policy of quiet diplomacy fails, the United States Government have in their last days blacklisted a whole range of businesses that are aiding and abetting this revolting regime. Fourteen of those companies are located and based in the United Kingdom. Have we backed up that policy? Have we taken action against those 14 companies?

My Lords, I commend the United States Government for what they have done. They had been waiting to take the sanctions further from what had been the agreed line, which was one of targeting individuals who were part of the regime directly and now extends to a group of companies which are viewed, in part, as financing and sustaining the regime. The United States can act on its own; we need to act within Europe. Discussions are well under way, and although it is not appropriate to discuss individual companies in this House, I hope to bring good news to the noble Lord before long.

My Lords, can the Minister comment on reports that arms have been shipped from China into Angola and then airlifted into Zimbabwe?

My Lords, I can comment. Like the noble Lord, I was surprised and disappointed when I saw those reports. We went back to their source, which was the UN experts report on the DRC, which does not actually name China, but somehow it has been added in the reporting. However, China insists that it has not been part of such arms exports to Zimbabwe. We shall continue to track the situation because, in our view, anyone who exports arms to Zimbabwe at this time poses a real threat to regional peace.