Skip to main content


Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the reported agreement to form a Government of national unity in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we are cautious about the workability of the agreement, but this is a solution that has been agreed between the Zimbabwean parties. Our hope is that those parties can make it work. Our formal engagement, including the provision of donor support, will depend on the new Government’s ability to demonstrate through their actions a commitment to reform.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for all his work on the issue. Does he share—it sounds as if he may—my sinking feeling about the agreement and whether it has any real chance of bringing peace and prosperity to Zimbabwe, given that Mugabe still controls the police, the army and the central bank? Does he think that SADC feels that it has now washed its hands of the problem? If so, how does the international community now best support and protect the people of Zimbabwe?

My Lords, perhaps “sinking feeling” is the wrong phrase. All of us have great scepticism towards this, but we should all devoutly hope that the agreement can work. I met a range of African leaders at the AU summit in Addis Ababa during the past few days, many of them people who have privately been very critical of President Mugabe. All of them felt that the desperate nature of the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe meant that one more try at power-sharing was enormously important, that the suffering of the people required the politicians to overcome their differences and try one last time to see whether the power-sharing arrangement could be made to work. Although the noble Baroness makes very important points about how control is shared, we have to give this a chance, while setting very stern conditionalities for what we expect in terms of political freedoms and economic reform before we can provide support additional to our generous humanitarian assistance.

My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that when it comes to resuming aid to that poor country, 75 per cent of whose people are currently starving—I know that he is cautious, and he is right to be—and funds start flowing again, whether directly from Britain or through the EU or other agencies, we will take steps to see that they do not fall into the hands of Mr Gideon Gono, the central bank governor, who seems to regard the central bank as a private ZANU-supporting agency and is quite willing to distort the distribution of funds from it for purposes that have nothing to do with the recovery of the people of Zimbabwe?

My Lords, one of the conditions that Mr Tsvangirai has pressed for is that he has control of the economic team that he was assured under the agreement, and that therefore he has the right to select a central bank governor. It will be an early test of the credibility of the power-sharing that he be allowed to do so. I agree with the noble Lord that it is utterly implausible that we could put British taxpayers’ money into the hands of Gideon Gono.

My Lords, it was depressing that the Minister had to explain yet again to the participants at the AU meeting the actual meaning of sanctions. Did the participants understand that Mugabe himself is the main cause of the bankruptcy and universal starvation of the people of Zimbabwe? In any AU fallback plan that may become necessary as a result of the failure of the SADC initiative, will the first priority be to remove Mr Mugabe from office?

My Lords, when you are trying to make the current plan work, you do not want to undermine it by immediately discussing hypothetical alternatives should it fail. Again, our emphasis should be on making this work. The AU summiteers called for sanctions to be lifted because they believe that they interfere with humanitarian support to Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord observes, I explained to them again that the sanctions are targeted only at individuals and the corporate entities that are controlled by those individuals; they are not aimed against the people of Zimbabwe. Indeed, Britain is the second most generous humanitarian donor to that country, and I suspect that we will be putting in even more resources for humanitarian assistance by routes that we can control, due to the growing crisis.

My Lords, there have been appalling assaults on Zimbabwean parliamentarians in the past. Does the Minister have any confidence that they will not continue?

My Lords, I have publicly said, as have my colleagues, that the release of political prisoners and the end of abductions and of political violence are the first test of the credibility of this agreement.

My Lords, the Minister is clearly right to say that a humanitarian catastrophe on this scale means that political principle must be put second, but does he see a danger in the significant survival of Mugabe, albeit in a reduced state, setting a precedent for other outgoing, or should-be outgoing, new democratic Governments to reduce their own countries to penury to secure their own survival?

My Lords, we need to hope that Mr Mugabe is sui generis. Certainly, the mood of the summit was that there was no great enthusiasm for the agreement, just an acceptance that a pragmatic solution needed to be found in the interests of the people of the country. I very much hope that it will not lead to the precedent of the kind to which the noble Lord refers.

My Lords, no doubt the Minister is aware that, under the Lancaster House agreement, we entered into a commitment to transfer funds to Zimbabwe in return for certain actions that we had to cut short because they were not being properly fulfilled. Is there any way in which the money that we now transfer to Zimbabwe could be seen to be completing our undertakings under the Lancaster House agreement so that that is never used against us?

My Lords, we feel that we met our commitments under the Lancaster House agreement. It is correct that some resources for land reform were not transferred because the Government of Zimbabwe at that time failed to give priority to land reform or to utilise the resources available to them. They are a Johnny-come-lately on this issue. It is important that the economic assistance that we very much hope we will be able to provide in the future to a new and effective Government in Zimbabwe will be less about paying an unmet debt under the Lancaster House agreement—a debt that we really do not accept there is—and more a demonstration of commitment from the people of Britain to the people of Zimbabwe to restore that beautiful country to the wealth and democratic opportunity that it has lost.