Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 111)



Mr Olner

  100. Could I perhaps talk about land reform. I think there is a case for land reform accepted by all sides, particularly last September's Commonwealth-brokered Abuja Declaration which set out a way forward on this. They were fine words but they have not been observed by the Government of Zimbabwe, and forcible seizures of land still continue. Is that agreement now dead? If it is dead, what else can we do before complete anarchy starts to rule?
  (Baroness Amos) There is no doubt that Abuja has been overtaken by events since we visited last year. I think when the Foreign Secretary and I came away from Abuja we felt we had worked extremely hard to get an agreement that was credible and doable, if the Government of Zimbabwe actually adhered to the commitments that were made within the Abuja agreement. Within days of leaving Nigeria the agreement was being broken. It is very hard to see where we can go next on land reform without some of the critical areas in terms of economic policy and human rights actually being put in place. Part of the Abuja agreement was that UNDP would go in and do an assessment and come out with proposals in terms of the next steps, which the UK and other donors would then look to support. UNDP went in; they did a report; and basically they said that the land reform programming in Zimbabwe is unsustainable, but they had difficulty actually making suggestions about the next steps because of the nature of the political environment in Zimbabwe. It is very, very difficult to see where we can go from here. In addition to that, the Zimbabwe Government has recently passed the Land Acquisition Act which basically means that the farmers can be informed that their land has been taken and they have to move within three months. So they have made law something they were doing by presidential decree before the elections. So fast track, which has been deemed to be unsustainable and which has led to some of the problems that we are now seeing with respect to food shortages, continues.

  101. How much do you think of Zimbabwe's catastrophic fall in agricultural production is due to the drought conditions that prevail over there now, and how much is due to the illegal occupation of farms?
  (Baroness Amos) Some of it undoubtedly is due to the drought. We have seen the situation in the region as a whole. Maize production this year is down 60 per cent on last year. The percentage is much lower in other countries in the region. Of course, some of it is due to drought; but I would say that the majority of it is due to mis-management of the economy.

  102. Have we got evidence at all that the farms that have been resettled are less well managed now?
  (Baroness Amos) There is some evidence of that. A UN assessment mission will be going in to look at the humanitarian situation. I think that further evidence will emerge from that. Of course, once that report is available I will send it to the Committee.

  103. I think one of the sadnesses is, you said virtually hours after the ink was dried on the Commonwealth-brokered Abuja Declaration it was broken. Is there anything that can be put on the table which the Zimbabwe Government will pick up and run with, or is all lost?
  (Baroness Amos) I would certainly not want to say that all was lost, but I think that we are very, very dependent on the role which is being played by countries in the region, particularly by South Africa and Nigeria, in terms of them facilitating some kind of process that might lead to an agreement of next steps. What we need is for the Government of Zimbabwe and the Opposition to actually agree that the welfare and the needs of the people of Zimbabwe come first; and to then think about the kinds of economic and political policies that would deliver that.


  104. Baroness Amos, I have been to the tobacco auctions in Harare, and I think tobacco used to amount to 40 per cent or so of foreign exchange earnings. What can you say about the current state of the those earnings from tobacco and planting? Who is likely to plant if they are on three months' notice?
  (Baroness Amos) It is highly unlikely that anyone will plant on the basis of three months' notice. We have already seen problems with the wheat crop where, because of what has been happening in terms of fast track, little or no planting has happened, which will have a further impact on food shortages; and the same will apply to tobacco farming which has historically contributed so much to the economy.

Mr Pope

  105. Really we have got a terrible combination of three things: we have got the drought; we have got an economic downturn, which is partly due to the incompetence of the government; and we have got the land seizures which are leading to people not planting for next year. You have already told us, a little while ago, that people are short of food, and some people are queuing for up to a week for food. There must be a real possibility that by early next year people will be starving to death and there will be famine in Zimbabwe. What can the UK Government do to prevent famine taking place; what assistance can we provide?
  (Baroness Amos) At the moment we are talking about a situation as being a crisis, rather than a famine. I think it is very important that we use our words carefully, obviously. I have mentioned the UN assessment before; that is going to be absolutely critical in terms of giving us the facts and evidence we need that will let us know whether or not the situation has gone beyond being a crisis in the south and east, to becoming something that is a great deal more serious in terms of famine. We are working with the World Food Programme. There is a group of donors who have formed themselves into a humanitarian group which includes the UN organisation and ourselves, which is dealing with the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. We have a monitoring process as well to ensure that the money we give for emergency feeding and food aid is being used properly and is not being diverted. We will continue to do that, and we will continue to work with our international partners. There is a possibility that after the UN assessment mission they will launch a further appeal on Zimbabwe. There is a concern that an appeal might be launched and the amount of money that is required may not be met because of concerns about the divergence of money. One of the things we absolutely have to be clear about is that food aid goes on food and that it is available to all people in Zimbabwe who require it. We and other donors are absolutely firm about that. Last year there was some talk by the Government of Zimbabwe that urgent humanitarian assistance could only be channelled through the Government. All donors challenged that, and that situation did not occur.

  106. It is interesting you say that, when the respected journalist Fergal Keane came before the Committee recently he suggested that the only organisation which could practically deliver aid to prevent a famine and ensure that it was delivered fairly was the South African army. I was rather sceptical about that but it was an interesting view. The question I wanted to ask was about the state of disaster which Mr Mugabe declared on 30 April. Are the practical consequences of that, that it makes it easier for international organisations to get aid into the country? Does it make any difference at all in practical terms that there is a state of disaster announced?
  (Baroness Amos) I am not sure. What is difficult at the moment is that there is a regional problem. We have a problem in Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. The real problem is partly the possibility of shortages across the region as a whole, and difficulties with distribution, which are more general problems, rather than problems associated with getting the food to the right places, rather than problems associated with the Government of Zimbabwe itself. We have not in the work that we have been doing, and that the World Food Programme has been doing, faced difficulties in terms of getting the food to the right place. This is something we continue to monitor.

Mr Chidgey

  107. Baroness Amos, you have graphically talked about the crisis of week long queues for food in some parts of Zimbabwe. The World Food Programme has estimated half a million people facing acute food shortages; yet you have also said it is the case that food aid is not being diverted. I find that very interesting. I hope it is true. I would like to know a little more from you. Given the chaotic situation that clearly exists in Zimbabwe—and there are many parallels one can draw with other parts of the world, we have seen in Afghanistan food aid being diverted—can you tell us, have you any reports at all of food aid being diverted by military means, or whatever criminal activities? What, in all honesty, can the British Government do in that situation, apart from withdrawing food aid if it is in fact stolen?
  (Baroness Amos) In terms of our own NGO supplementary feeding programme, which comes to about £4 million, this is a programme which is directly monitored by our DFID team, we are absolutely confident that it is reaching its beneficiaries. We have had absolutely no reports of humanitarian aid being seized. Where there is a concern, where we have to continually look at the situation, is in respect of the World Food Programme. They are also distributing through NGOs. The Government of Zimbabwe have guaranteed distribution will not be manipulated; but beneficiaries for that programme are selected by committees at the ward and village levels, and this includes local chiefs and headmen, but it also includes NGOs and other civil society representatives. Because of that involvement of people at a more local level, there is clearly a greater possibility of divergence. WFP have made it absolutely clear that they will investigate any problems, and they will suspend distribution if there are problems, if those problems are reported, and the Government of Zimbabwe fail to act. Incidents have been reported from two of the 19 districts so far. Those have been investigated and have been dealt with. We are confident with the money we are giving for our emergency feeding programmes that there are no problems with that, but we will continue to monitor. We continue to have a residual concern—I will not put it any more highly than that—about the World Food Programme. They are absolutely clear they do not want their food to be diverted; that they will deal very, very quickly with any complaint. I think we also have to remember that when we are dealing with small communities like this, if a family is in urgent need of food and they do not get it because the local chief or headman says that family can get it rather than another, it is absolutely obvious in a small community and we expect to know about it.

  108. One can imagine tremendous difficulties in distribution of food aid given circumstances in Zimbabwe. I am sure there is a huge petrol shortage, for example, let alone having the transport there to distribute the food to rural and often remote villages. How confident are the British Government that there is adequate infrastructure, and there are adequate transport facilities to make sure that food aid is distributed to those in the most need?
  (Baroness Amos) I think it is not so much a problem about infrastructure in Zimbabwe; I think it is more the impact of needing to have a distribution chain and channel across the region as a whole, ensuring that there are enough trucks and other things to get the food to the right places. The Southern African Development Community and other donors will be meeting in South Africa in early June to look specifically at regional problems, and this will include Zimbabwe. I think one of the issues that would be very high on the agenda is the issue of distribution. There are other countries in southern Africa where the infrastructure is much poorer than it is in Zimbabwe. I think the issue is really going to be, do we have enough trucks, and do we actually have enough food to get to the six or seven countries suffering.

  109. Maybe you misunderstood but I was thinking of the management structure and organisation.
  (Baroness Amos) In terms of the management structure, this is something the World Food Programme has dealt with not only in southern Africa before but across the world. In addition to that NGOs, donors and the World Food Programme have set up a humanitarian aid response team to look at these issues as a result of our experiences elsewhere. I think in terms of the administrative structure we have sufficient experience of dealing with humanitarian crises. The Committee will remember the terrible famines we saw in Ethiopia, for example. I am confident that the administration will be okay.

  110. Finally, you mentioned in that last answer the importance of the regional aspects and regional cooperation. One of the issues that concern this Committee has been the impacts of migration from Zimbabwe of the current crisis, whether it be political or starvation. I would like to know to what extent you and your colleagues have discussed these issues with the South African Government and their colleagues in neighbouring countries? How much has it been possible to impress upon the leaders in the region the possible economic decline and collapse of local government, whatever, because of the impact and the pressures that would be caused by the migration on a scale that can be foreseen in the present turbulence in Zimbabwe? What has been their reaction?
  (Baroness Amos) I think the regional leaders are well aware of the implications and possible implications of migration. There is already an extremely large Zimbabwean community in South Africa, for example. In addition to that, you have a large number of farm workers in Zimbabwe who come from Mozambique and Malawi who are second and third generation. As a result of the Act that was passed just before the election, which stripped a number of people of Zimbabwean citizenship if they held dual nationality, there was a possibility that you would have farm workers trying to get back to Malawi and Mozambique who had really no connection with the country, apart from their grandparents having been born there. Regional leaders are well aware of the problems. Particularly with Mozambique and Malawi we are talking about fragile and vulnerable economies in their own right. This is a great concern, and I know has been something which they have discussed at length.


  111. Baroness Amos, one final sweep-up question. It is said historically the moment of truth came for the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1986 when the Chase Manhattan Bank refused to roll over credits to South Africa. Transposing that to Zimbabwe, there effectively is no substantial private investment. The international financial institutions have written off Zimbabwe. You have told the Committee of the very limited effect of the Commonwealth and European Union pressures. I think you began by saying how frustrated you all were at the position—frustrated and depressed. Is there anything you could tell the Committee, any signs of hope which you could give us, or is that too difficult?
  (Baroness Amos) I think one of the things I said in answer to a question is that things can change very quickly politically in a country if one thing happens. We do not know what that one thing might be in Zimbabwe. Whilst the situation is frustrating, I come back to the point that we have a population which clearly wanted to exercise its democratic right. We saw that during the elections. We have a media that continue to try and ensure that there is a free press in Zimbabwe. I think that there are things which are happening in the country which could put more pressure on. As the months go on, if the situation does not change, I think the neighbouring governments may well have to review their strategy. Whilst I am frustrated by it, I continue to believe that there may well be something that happens that will make a critical difference. We saw it in Angola recently. We have seen it in other situations where one thing that was entirely unexpected happens and makes a change. I continue to hope that that will happen in Zimbabwe, because its people deserve better.

  Chairman: We travel in hope. You have been extremely helpful to us in dialogue with the Committee. I thank you, Baroness Amos, and thank your colleagues.

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