Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Welcome Address by Sule Lamido, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the Meeting of Committee of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on Zimbabwe held in Abuja, 6-7 September 2001


  I am honoured and delighted to welcome you to this important meeting. Your presence here today, to deliberate on ways and means of assisting Zimbabwe, in moving forward the process of land reform and to also rescue the country from its current socio-economic crisis, is a clear demonstration of your commitment to a peaceful solution to this lingering problem. I must let you know that President Olusegun Obasanjo is particularly pleased that you have been able to honour our invitation to this meeting, in spite of the short notice and your very tight schedules. I am confident that the positive spirit with which you have accepted our invitation would be brought to bear on our deliberations such that we can come up with a practical way forward at the end of this meeting.

  By proposing the establishment of this Committee, I would like to stress, once again, that Nigeria was motivated by the strong desire to help find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe, conscious of the potential threat it continues to pose to Africa. Africa cannot afford another war, not least, racial war, or one with racial undertones. So much scarce resources and time had been frittered away on the prosecution of conflicts and wars in Africa, at a time that the rest of the world is advancing on the promotion of happiness and prosperity for their peoples. The signals coming from the crisis in Zimbabwe should not, and cannot be ignored by Africa and friends of Africa all over the world. This is why we are determined to continue to concert efforts with like-minded countries, to find an enduring solution to this problem.

  Let me also stress, at this juncture, that the establishment of this Committee is not intended to undermine the authority of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), or to supplant its function. Our intention is to assist the Commonwealth, ahead of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Brisbane, Australia, so that the current situation in Zimbabwe does not distract attention from other matters of major concern and interest to member states of the Commonwealth family.

  I would also like to stress that Nigeria's mediation efforts are predicated on the need to ensure the unity of the Commonwealth, and to preserve its age-long tradition of informality and forthrightness in addressing matters of mutual concern to member states.

  As we gather here in Abuja today, it is our expectation that the serene atmosphere of this virgin city will provide the appropriate ambiance needed for a frank and open-minded discussion. Neither must we pre-judge the outcome of our deliberations. We expect that our dialogue will be characterised by mutual respect as well as the spirit of consensus and compromise, in the true tradition of the Commonwealth, based on our shared concern that a peaceful and speedy solution must be found to this problem.

  The need for an early resolution of the land question in Zimbabwe has even become more urgent and imperative. So much time has elapsed, since the problem degenerated into a crisis with attendant violence, and so many lives and property have already been lost as we continue to grapple with this matter without any feasible solution in sight. As we speak, the situation on the ground is deteriorating by the day as forcible land seizures had continued. The feeling of insecurity on the part of White Zimbabweans is palpable, with some said to be contemplating the option of emigration. The current situation, if not addressed in a forthright and definitive manner, can only do incalculable damage to our quest for a peaceful and stable Africa, in which peoples of all races and ethnic pluralism can co-exist in harmony.

  The land issue has, unwittingly, thrown up other challenges in Zimbabwe. There are clearly some problems of law and order as forcible land seizures and reprisal actions had tended to portray some excesses on the part of veterans and White commercial farmers alike. Only a few in Zimbabwe will deny that the current situation has not affected investor confidence and tourism in the country. Questions have, thus, been raised about the need to take appropriate and firmer measures to protect the lives and property of all Zimbabweans, irrespective of colour or class. Government must not allow the impression to be created that it, directly or indirectly, acquiesces in forcible land take-overs, or is incapable of enforcing its own laws, thereby fostering the image of lawlessness and lack of respect for the rule of law in the country.

  Nigeria is deeply concerned at the threat the situation poses to regional peace and security in Southern Africa. We are equally concerned that what started out as a purely bilateral issue and disagreement between two members of the Commonwealth family is being gradually internationalised. As a result of the impasse, the United States Senate has already adopted a Bill on Zimbabwe whose intent and purposes seeks the imposition of sanctions on the country. The European Union has also gone far in its bid to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. At the last OAU Summit in Lusaka, Zambia the Foreign Ministers of Africa also passed a solidarity resolution on Zimbabwe. In the face of these, the severe economic difficulties facing the people of Zimbabwe persist, including their negative and destabilising consequences on the sub-region.

  There are, therefore, ominous signs that must impel us, at this meeting, to arrive at some solution to this potential conflagration, as we can no longer afford to dither and bicker over these matters. We must seek ways and means of assisting Zimbabwe to get out of the present difficulties in order that the country can return to the path of glory and rapid economic development, which independence promised the ordinary people of Zimbabwe.

  Nigeria is of the opinion that a workable solution can best be found, if we all work together on the basis of mutual respect and as members of the Commonwealth family. As Nigeria's modest contribution to this collective endeavour, we have proposed a two-track approach towards a durable solution to this lingering land issue. The first element of this strategy is the establishment of this Committee, whose objective is to facilitate dialogue on the way forward. The second element is the adoption of a gradualist approach to land acquisition and compensation in a just, equitable and fair manner.

  At the onset, we were faced with a situation in which the White farmers offered to provide a Compensation Fund for 1 million hectares of land, out of the 3.5 million hectares already acquired by the Government. It was proposed that the balance of 2.5 million hectares should be covered by contributions from donor countries and agencies. In exchange, the proposal was for the Zimbabwean Government to put on hold the acquisition of the remaining 1.5 million hectares, which had been earmarked for acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act.

  In light of the recent decision of the Zimbabwean Government to increase the total landmass for acquisition under Phase II, to 9.5 million hectares, it will be necessary to modify our proposal to take into account the new situation. Nigeria is convinced that had these proposals been given serious consideration in June this year when it was first made, the current disturbing escalation of violence and forcible seizures of land would have, probably, been avoided. What is important, at this point, is for us to come to an agreement on the basic principle of our proposal. Therefore, one of the specific tasks of this meeting will be to work out the precise details of this proposal, in close consultation with all the parties and other stakeholders. This meeting should also deliberate on the mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the decisions that may emerge at the end of this gathering regarding the land reform and other related matters in Zimbabwe.

  May I end this address by once again welcoming you to Abuja. The Government and people of Nigeria are grateful to you for the confidence you have reposed in this forum. It is our expectation that this meeting would lay a solid basis for dialogue and the ultimate resolution of this problem ahead of the next CHOGM.

  I would, therefore, like to appeal to all delegates to this meeting, to seize this historic opportunity to find an enduring solution to this problem. I urge all parties to liberate their minds from the tyranny of history, and move forward into a brighter future for the people of Zimbabwe, based on a shared vision of racial harmony and prosperity.

  I urge this meeting to demonstrate the necessary political wisdom and determination as well as a deep commitment to peace in Zimbabwe by working for a compromise solution that is feasible, fair and just to all Zimbabweans.


September 2001

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