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Volume 787: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent developments in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the resignation of Robert Mugabe provides Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path free from oppression and misrule. The only way for Zimbabwe to achieve a legitimate Government is through free and fair elections. As Zimbabwe’s oldest friend, we will do all we can to support a legitimate Government to rebuild the country, working with international and regional partners and addressing economic, human rights and constitutional issues, including free and fair elections.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend that Answer. I recognise that we should not intrude on an independent country, but given that tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are resident in the UK, could not their expertise be brought together to help Zimbabwe, particularly given that the IMF has identified the dramatic problems the country faces? Examples include the issuance of $100 trillion notes, which were in general circulation.

My Lords, I am very much in sympathy with my noble friend. Of course, the Government do not wish, nor intend, to interfere in the affairs of Zimbabwe. But approximately 113,000 Zimbabweans live in the UK, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a regular programme of positive engagement with the Zimbabwean diaspora and will meet several of its representatives tomorrow to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, including the need for deep and lasting economic reform.

When the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, responded to the Statement, he referred to the Foreign Secretary’s visit next month to the African Union. I fully support the noble Earl’s assertion that the only voice that really matters is that of the Zimbabwean people, and free and fair elections to take place early next year are the way to guarantee that that voice is heard. Will the Government work with the African Union to ensure that those elections are free and fair?

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa are engaging with the region and other international partners, especially South Africa and the African Union, the EU and the UN. In fact, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa is in Harare at this moment with the aim of engaging with leading figures from all parts of the political spectrum in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, with the likelihood that President-elect Mnangagwa will form a Government of national unity in Zimbabwe, one of his key focuses will be on resurrecting the agricultural sector and job creation. What support can our Government give, whether bilaterally or through multilateral agencies, to revive the agricultural sector, possibly providing compensation to former landowners in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, DfID is already active on a number of fronts in Zimbabwe, as the noble Lord will be aware. If there are free and fair elections, Britain and indeed the international community would be prepared to support the country in whatever way is thought appropriate. We are putting together a package of support that will be tied to political and economic reform and implemented alongside international partners.

My Lords, if noble Lords gave way more quickly and asked shorter questions, everyone would get a turn. It is the turn of the Liberal Democrats for a short question and then the turn of the Labour Benches.

When Mr Mugabe took Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in December 2003 to avoid suspension, both the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and our own Foreign Secretary showed their approval for Zimbabwe rejoining, should it conform to Commonwealth principles. Does the noble Earl agree that the forthcoming London summit provides an excellent opportunity for us, as the oldest friend, to encourage Zimbabwe to reapply to rejoin the Commonwealth at the London CHOGM?

My Lords, several steps need to happen before Zimbabwe can rejoin the Commonwealth. First, it falls to Zimbabwe itself to apply to the Commonwealth Secretariat and to make it clear to the Commonwealth that Zimbabwe fulfils the criteria on human rights, the rule of law and democracy that are necessary for Commonwealth membership. Its eventual readmittance to the Commonwealth will obviously be a matter for all Commonwealth members to decide following a formal approach by Zimbabwe in the way that I described.

My Lords, effective election monitoring will be key to the holding of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. What support can Her Majesty’s Government give to the churches and other civil society organisations in the work they do on the ground so successfully in Africa, because that at least belongs to Africa, is rooted there and can be owned by the whole community in Zimbabwe?

I very much agree with the noble Lord. We are putting together a potential package of measures to support a credible election process and encourage economic recovery, to be delivered alongside our international partners—but, I emphasise, in exchange for meaningful political and economic reforms.

My Lords, perhaps I may reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said about Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth—when, of course, democracy has developed and the economy is recovering. In addition to accepting that idea, will my noble friend encourage his fellow Ministers, when they speak about these issues, to recognise the enormous value that membership of the Commonwealth can bring to a recovered Zimbabwe in due course? We should say these things in our speeches and not forget the Commonwealth aspect, which is very important.

My Lords, the new political leader has a history of abusing human rights. Will the Government raise with him the question of people who have been detained during this intervention, who have disappeared and are unaccounted for, and whether lawyers are being threatened or will be made available to those who have been detained? Abuses of human rights are one of the matters that we ask the noble Earl to raise.

My Lords, the UK regularly calls for an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and the restoration of internationally accepted standards. An important element of that will be the implementation of the 2013 constitution. We have raised specific cases with the authorities in Zimbabwe and we will continue to stress the importance of human rights in our engagements with any new Government that may emerge from the current crisis.