Speech in the House of Commons on Zimbabwe
"I welcome this debate. It is not before time. It is in fact extraordinary that in seven years of government this is the first time we have had a debate on Zimbabwe in government time. I am nevertheless grateful. I only hope that this belated recognition by the Government of the need to debate it is an indication that at last they are beginning to address this issue with the seriousness it merits.
I could after these seven years indulge in a sort of 'recherche du temps perdu'. It would serve little purpose. Zimbabwe's problems may be rooted in the past. But they are very much current and in the future. Four years on from the last rigged parliamentary elections, and two years on from the 'stolen' presidential election, preparations for the next parliamentary elections are already being made. The problems are worse, and they must urgently be addressed.
As the House knows I have been shouting about Zimbabwe for the last two years and more. I have sometimes been criticised for spending so much time on it. I make no apologies. This is not, as someone once admonished me, just another African country upon which we should not seek to impose our values. Zimbabwe is a country which has enjoyed democracy and the Rule of Law. Zimbabwe is a country which has known prosperity and full stomachs and economic stability. All of these are now lost or under threat.
Nor is Zimbabwe a far away country of which we know little. Zimbabwe is a country we know well, for which we must still feel a sense of responsibility, if only a moral one. We cannot say that it has nothing to do with us, that to seek to interfere smacks of neo-colonialism. That is not what the dispossessed black farm workers told me when I met them in the woods outside Harare two years ago. That is not what the politicians and the many other victims of Mugabe's brutality told me. They believed that we had a moral duty to act. They felt a sense of betrayal at what they saw as our inactivity.
That is why I welcome this debate today.
The simple fact is that month after month the situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse. It was bad enough when I was there. It is considerably worse now. I saw some pretty horrifying sights of ethnic cleansing, of political intimidation and of food queues. My Rt Honourable Friend for Buckingham - who cannot be with us today because he is in Darfur - visited only a few months ago. The situation he witnessed was far, far worse. We are watching, the birth of a failed state, the victory of crude despotism, and the failure of the international community to respond.
I am baffled by the inertia with which the international community has responded to Mugabe's vile regime. To quote the most recent International Crisis Group report of 19th April "the response … has been inadequate and ineffectual at all levels. Their (the US and the EU) policies do not begin to address the roots of the crisis". I am not advocating a military solution; I am asking for international action. More of that later.
First it is worth reminding ourselves of the nature of the crisis in Zimbabwe. It can best be described as a series of deficits.
First the democratic deficit. A patently rigged parliamentary election four years ago. A stolen presidential election two years ago after which the Foreign Secretary told us "we do not recognise the result or its legitimacy." What we have seen is a systematic undermining of the principles of free and fair elections, and the flouting of the (ironically) named Harare Principles and the SADC principles. What we have seen over these last years has been dishonest voter registration which allowed Mugabe effectively to rig the Register, rigged vote counting with ballot papers going missing, voter intimidation and bribery, and the physical persecution and even murder of political opponents. And now we learn that voter registration for next year's elections has begun, without any independent supervision or verification - and in one case at least without the sitting opposition MP being told until after it was completed. And Mugabe announces that he will have no observers in Zimbabwe for this election. The democratic deficit is almost complete.
Then the Rule of Law deficit. Many opposition members of Parliament in Zimbabwe have been subject to murder attempts, torture, assault and arrest. A recent survey of MDC members of parliament found that 42 percent claimed to have been assaulted in the past four years, most commonly by the police, while 24 percent said they had survived assassination attempts. And because of the politicisation of the police and of the judiciary there is rarely any legal comeback. The once proud rule of law in Zimbabwe, despite the immense courage of many Zimbabwean lawyers, lies in tatters.
The independent judiciary, one of the pillars of democracy, has been severely compromised, with the Bench packed with Mugabe supporters. The 'Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act', adopted before the elections of 2002 requires journalists to provide detailed information about themselves. If they do not, they will not receive a journalist license. The law has been used to close Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper and to arrest people for "suspicion of journalism." The state now claims a virtual monopoly of written and broadcast media; foreign correspondents, meanwhile, are a thing of the past. The Public Order and Security Act restricts the freedom of association. The government in Zimbabwe has used it to stamp out any form of activity or protest by opposition groups.
The rule of law has been exchanged for the rule of tyranny and of the organised mob.
And then there is the Law and Order Deficit. Mugabe has skilfully created a society in which his orders to kill, maim and destroy are easily carried out. His private militias, the so-called Green Bombers are evil. The methods in which they are trained in special camps to which often they are abducted include not only systemised violence, but also organised rape and brutal abuse and humiliation. The first hand accounts of these from some former members who have fled to South Africa are chilling.
And then the Economic and Social Deficit. Zimbabwe's economy is among the fastest-shrinking in the world. Unemployment has risen to more than 70 per cent . As recently as 1997, Zimbabwe was twice as rich as the median sub-Saharan nation. Now it is crashing. Inflation still rides high at over 440 per cent. GDP has shrunk by one-third in 5 years . The black market exchange rate still flourishes, despite legislation to outlaw it. At the official exchange rate, £1 is worth Zimbabwe $815, on the black market, £1 buys $7,000.
And now we hear threats of wholesale nationalisaton of agricultural land, despite the fact that current land seizures have already led to the collapse of the once prosperous agriculture sector with all the attendant consequences on food production.
And of course there is the Humanitarian Deficit. Zimbabwe has lived on food aid since 2001 and last year 6.5 million people, more than half the population, depended on international help.
Mugabe is now refusing help from the United Nations World Food Programme. Regime officials say that Zimbabwe will have a bumper maize crop this year of 2.4 million tons, more than enough to meet domestic needs. Yet a report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee - a government body - concludes that 2.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe "will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004/05 season".
We know why Mugabe lies. By keeping the UN and aid agencies out of Zimbabwe, he can ensure that his regime controls all food aid.
Mugabe thinks he can feed his people by doing black market deals to buy grain and then tell the world it is home-grown.
It is of serious concern that two American companies are in cahoots with Mugabe. Sentry Financial Corporation and Dimon Incorporated are both involved in the tobacco-for-maize scam. Surprisingly our Government does not seem to know about it. I quote from Baroness Amos, who said only last week: "I am aware of the rumours with respect to Zimbabwe selling tobacco in exchange for maize." These aren't rumours. They are real. At least the that the US authorities are aware of what is happening. Both Congress and the Treasury are now investigating the two firms involved.
Aids is rife. A third of the population has HIV. The government's Aids levy is failing to get through to the frontline services. Hospitals and clinics cannot afford even the most basic of Aids testing kits. I wonder if the money is actually being directed to the fight against Aids.
A recent National Audit Office's report on DFID's HIV/AIDS strategy was highly critical. It found that DFID's own country assistance plans do not address the issue of HIV/AIDS consistently, and many of them "failed to consider the effect of the epidemic on poverty reduction" .
I hope that the Minister will address these points when he speaks later on in this debate.
And on the day that the ICC meet there is the thorny question of cricket. Sometimes I am told that I should not try to bring politics into sport. This is not a question of sport versus politics. It is a question of morality versus money. Given the situation I have described in Zimbabwe, I cannot see how in conscience England's cricketers should be asked to play even one-day internationals in Zimbabwe this autumn. The Tests have gone, but we are told these matches are still on. The ZCU, whose patron is Mugabe, has already played cynical and apparently racist politics with its own team selection. Anything that gives comfort to them or to Mugabe in terms of sport should be abandoned. The Tour should not take place, full stop. The Government should clearly and unequivocally say so, and say so now.
The greatest deficit is in the international response. It has been lamentable. For a start far greater pressure must be brought to bear on President Mbeki of South Africa. He must be told the bald truth that his policy of quiet diplomacy is dead and buried. What happened to his vain promise to President Bush last year that by June 2004 Zimbabwe's problems would be solved? Just last week Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad is on record again as saying: "it is clear that we will not meet the June deadline"…"I have no other alternative to quiet diplomacy, so we will continue with quiet diplomacy." The truth is that it has failed and our Government should acknowledge it.
I have been to New York and asked why the UN does not get involved. The response, I have to say, is pathetic. I am fobbed off with the answer that because the Zimbabwe crisis is an internal or domestic problem, the UN can't get involved. Tell that to some 127,000 Zimbabwean refugees are trying to get into Botswana each month. Is the UN blind to the refugees which flee over the border to Botswana, to South Africa and to Malawi, bringing economic havoc in their wake? And doesn't the demolition of human rights, or ethnic cleansing, or genocide concern the UN. If not, why then their sudden interest in the appalling problems of Darfur in Sudan?
Come to think of it the UN response is to put both Zimbabwe and Sudan on the UN Commission for Human Rights. Is it surprising that the people of Zimbabwe feel betrayed?
And then there is the EU and their much-vaunted sanctions. EU sanctions are pretty toothless. The red carpet treatment Mugabe received in Paris a year ago was disgraceful. It totally undermined the credibility of EU sanctions both internationally, and in Zimbabwe where they are a laughing stock. There is a strong suspicion in Zimbabwe that some European members tacitly wish to support Mugabe. When there is a need to comprehensively strengthen these sanctions, we hear that there are voices in the EU that are arguing that they should be abandoned. So much for a common EU foreign policy.
The EU has a chance of imposing real pressure on the Mugabe regime. When will it accept its moral responsibilities and act effectively? The sad reality is that by the time the EU sanctions come up for review next year, Zimbabwe could well have become a failed state with all the domestic and international implications which that involves.
What defines a failed state? "In general terms, a state fails when it is unable:-
· to control its territory and guarantee the security of its citizens;
· to maintain the rule of law, promote human rights and provide effective governance; and
· to deliver public goods to its population (such as economic growth, education and healthcare)."
All of these apply to Zimbabwe today.
This is not my defintion. It is the definition of the FS in a speech in September 2002. I agree with him. He even offered a solution. "Experience suggests that the prevention of state failure depends on a scarce commodity: international political will. If we are to secure public and international support for action, we need to make the case for early engagement much more strongly."
I could not agree more. So why the failure on the part of the Government to act decisively or even to take a firm lead? Why the relcutance to lead from the front?
The Americans have no such hang-ups. Christopher Dell, the newly nominated next Ambassador to Zimbabwe, with experience in Kosovo, Mozambique and Angola, explained to the Ambassadorial nomination hearing last week that "In Kosovo, I witnessed firsthand how misrule by one man and his regime in pursuit of narrow political advantage devastated the lives of millions of his citizens, both Albanian and Serb, and I'm proud to have helped in the effort to bring about Slobodan Milosevic's departure from power by Democratic means." A clear message to Zimbabwe which we would do well to emulate.
So what would we do? I have a five-point plan which I believe should now urgently be pursued. First we must, if necessary by invoking the benefits of good governance in return for Nepad aid, persuade South Africa and the other SADC countries to insist on the SADC norms for the March 2005 parliamentary elections. We must be prepared to criticise South Africa's culpable inaction in the face of the evil of Mugabe.
Second, the UN should join with the SADC to produce free and fair parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe by supporting any SADC benchmarks that are developed to determine whether the process is credible. We must see SADC and UN teams in Zimbabwe as soon as possible to observe the entire electoral process. UN personnel on the ground must be demonstratively effective in their monitoring and humanitarian advocacy. Mugabe must never again be allowed to select which countries can send observers.
Third, pressure should be brought to bear by not only the EU but also the US to repeal of the Public Order and Security (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (AIPPA) Acts and amendment of the Electoral Act.
Fourth there is an increasingly urgent need for EU and US targeted sanctions to be revised to include the family members and business associates of key Zanu-PF figures. Freezing the assets of those who bankroll Mugabe would have an immediate and dramatic effect.
Fifth and finally it is time the British Government tabled a Resolution to send UN observers to Zimbabwe to monitor the fair distribution of food. This would at last internationalise this crisis. The FS argues that we would never get a Resolution through. Perhaps not at the first attempt. He should then persist, in his own words "making the case for engagement more strongly", shaming those who vote against such a resolution, until he succeeds. One thing is certain; if he doesn't try he will never succeed.
For too long Zimbabwe has been the crisis from which the world has averted its gaze. South Africa has murmured about quiet diplomacy on the one hand and feted Mugabe on the other. The EU have imposed targeted sanction which have then been more honoured in the breach. And the British Government has wrung its hands and walked by on the other side. The time of walking by is over.
Zimbabwe cries out for international action.
We should take the lead in making sure they get it."