Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Tenth Report



3. The Government of Zimbabwe did not submit evidence to our inquiry, but according to the ruling party in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF, it and its allies "challenged, and finally defeated the colonial governmental system which was based on racism, minority rule, and totally undemocratic. This oppressive system was run by the local white settlers who were less than 5 percent of the total population, with the concurrence and full support of successive British Governments."[6] The imperial past is a convenient scapegoat for subsequent failings on the part of the post-colonial regime, which might with benefit recognize that much of the responsibility for the problems of Zimbabwe rests not in the past but on themselves. In this Report, we consider how the United Kingdom has affected and responded to the present crisis in Zimbabwe, and whether the Government's policies are the right ones.


4. Following the unhappy episode of Southern Rhodesia's illegal UDI in the 1960s and 1970s, the emergence of the independent nation state of Zimbabwe in 1980 was perceived almost universally as a sign of hope. Relatively free elections were won by Robert Mugabe, the leader of one of the two main armed factions which had fought against the illegal regime of Ian Smith.[7] Initially, relations between Mr Mugabe's government and the United Kingdom were good. Trade between the two countries was high; Zimbabwe was a full and active member of the Commonwealth; military co-operation was extensive. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the United Kingdom sold arms and other military goods to Zimbabwe and provided training and aid to the Zimbabwean armed forces.[8]

5. Internally, Zimbabwe was a functioning democracy, if not on the Western model of liberal democracy then better than some other African nations struggling to deal with the new demands of independence within borders which had been determined by the nineteenth-century rivalries of Europe's colonial powers. While there was widespread international condemnation of mass killings of ZAPU supporters in Matabeleland, training of the Zimbabwean forces' 5th Brigade by the North Koreans, harassment of political opponents, and election malpractices, on some of the key indicators of a fair society such as independence of the judiciary, active political opposition and the existence of a free press, Zimbabwe scored highly. Yet by mid-2000, the Government had concluded that Zimbabwe was no longer a country that the United Kingdom could do certain kinds of business with, and an arms embargo had been imposed.[9] Zimbabwe had made the transition from protégé to pariah.

6. We believe that after independence, successive British governments made a genuine attempt to assist Zimbabwe to become a successful, democratic society with a strong economy. Establishing why those efforts failed—as they manifestly did—is not the purpose of this Report. We turn now to consider the policies of the present Government in the period leading up to the 2002 elections.


Land reform: the Harare and Abuja Agreements

7. Between independence in 1980 and 1997, 3.4 million hectares of land in Zimbabwe was transferred from the ownership of mainly white farmers and landowners to black commercial farmers and to the 'rural poor'. Based on the willing buyer, willing seller principle enshrined in the 1980 constitution, this process was predominantly peaceful and relatively uncontroversial. Some white families no longer felt comfortable in the new Zimbabwe and preferred to sell their land and emigrate to South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom or elsewhere. However, no white farmers were compelled to leave, and most wished to remain. A more far-reaching distribution of land therefore required financial incentives, combined with an element of compulsion, which was provided by the Land Acquisition Act 1992.[10]

8. In 1997, however, the Government of Zimbabwe claimed to lack the funds to offer adequate compensation to those whose land was to be taken away from them and, impatient to make swifter progress, announced its intention to introduce a new 'fast track' programme of acquisitions. However, some £3 million of a total of £47 million United Kingdom funding for the farm transfer scheme remained unspent at this point.[11] In May 2000, the then Minister with responsibility for Africa, Peter Hain, told the Committee that this was because that government was running "a corrupt, inefficient land reform programme. We cannot put British taxpayers' money into that."[12]

9. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative suggested to us that "The one area where the UK could have been more effective was in making it clearer that it wished to see equitable land redistribution in Zimbabwe. The Mugabe regime has claimed that the UK reneged on promises made at independence. Although this is not entirely true, the UK could have done more in the 1980s and early 1990s to fund land transfer to black farmers."[13] The underspend of the sums which were offered casts some doubt on this claim.

10. A Land Conference was held in Harare in September 1998, attended by international donor countries. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

    "The 1998 Conference agreed a two-year Inception Phase, during which Government resettlement schemes would be tried alongside ideas from the private sector and civil society. In May 1999, UK-funded consultants began work to identify ways in which the UK Government could provide further support for land reform in Zimbabwe. Terms of reference for a follow-up visit were agreed with the Zimbabwe Government in September 1999. But work on donor support for land reform in Zimbabwe was interrupted by the illegal farm occupations and the subsequent violence in the run-up to the 2000 Parliamentary elections."[14]

11. In that period, the United Kingdom continued to offer financial assistance to implement a land reform package consistent with the principles agreed at Harare in 1998: transparency and sustainability consistent with the objectives of the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation; broadened and more flexible approaches to implementing land acquisition and resettlement; broadened and strengthened stakeholder consultations and partnerships; a focus on poverty reduction; addressing gender issues; access to and control of land and proportionate representation on decision-making structures; integrating communal and resettlement area reorganization and development into Phase II; and streamlining land policies such as land taxation, subdivision and tenure.[15]

12. When he appeared before our predecessor Committee in May 2000, Mr Hain said that "£36 million is now available for development, anti-poverty work, including land reform and a substantial proportion of it could go to a proper land reform programme. If the conditions which we put down were met, of the violence ending, the intimidation ending, the squatting ending and a proper land reform programme being in place, that money would be available."[16] These conditions—which the Minister confirmed were based on the "willing buyer and willing seller principle"[17]—were not met, and the money was not handed over.

13. The collapse of the arrangements agreed in 1998, the failure of Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom to agree a bilateral arrangement, the handing over of seized farms to close associates of Robert Mugabe, and international concern at the violent occupation of farms by 'war veteran' militias, led to the holding of a further conference at Abuja, Nigeria, in September 2001, at which foreign ministers of Commonwealth countries, including Zimbabwe, agreed a programme of orderly land reform based on the 1998 Harare Land Conference principles, with "a significant financial contribution" to be provided by the United Kingdom and other international donors.[18] The Government of Zimbabwe undertook to prevent further seizures of land, to restore the rule of law, to take action against violence and intimidation, and to allow freedom of expression. The Abuja agreement was, however, soon subverted by the announcement by the Government of Zimbabwe of a new round of compulsory seizures of land, without the right of appeal.

14. We asked Baroness Amos what had gone wrong. She replied "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."[19] We agree with the Minister that the Government had done all that could reasonably be asked of it, and that the failure of the agreement was the responsibility of Mr Mugabe.

15. We accept that the efforts of successive British Governments did not produce an outcome which was agreeable to Mr Mugabe, but this does not in any way excuse the illegal campaign of violence, intimidation and forcible seizures of land orchestrated by ZANU-PF. In any case, Mr Mugabe was offered a good deal at Abuja, which at the time he appeared to accept—if only to buy time—but which he later rejected. The prime responsibility for the crisis in Zimbabwe is his.

16. The Government has very properly continued to insist on adherence to the 'willing buyer, willing seller' principle originally agreed at the independence talks in 1980 and endorsed at international conferences since then. Mr Mugabe, on the other hand, has persisted in a 'fast track' programme of forcible seizure of farms, many of which have been handed over to his political associates or have been allowed to remain under occupation by so-called 'war veterans' who appear to have little if any intention of farming the land productively. Farmers and farm workers alike have lost their homes and their livelihoods, in some cases even their lives. Under the fast track programme, no compensation has been paid for the value of the seized land. We recognise the need for land reform, but reform must be carried out responsibly, with adequate compensation.

17. We condemn Robert Mugabe for his role in the violent seizure of farms and for rewarding his cronies with gifts of expropriated land. We conclude that responsible land reform in Zimbabwe must include agreed compensation and must favour genuine farmers, who will contribute to Zimbabwe's prosperity. Such a programme should be funded and monitored by the international community. We recommend that the Government continue to stress this when working with its partners in Africa and elsewhere to bring about a solution to Zimbabwe's land reform crisis.

Freedom of expression

18. Contrary to what is often thought to be the case, there is still an independent press in Zimbabwe, but in recent years it has been under great pressure and what remains operates under extremely difficult circumstances. As we were told by the two journalists who gave oral evidence to our inquiry, media workers in Zimbabwe—Zimbabwean and foreign—are subject to arbitrary arrest and to physical intimidation.

19. Both Mr Dowden and Mr Keane pointed out that some very brave journalists inside Zimbabwe have been able to continue to record events and to file their copy, but both were concerned that the Western media were failing to give due prominence to reporting events in Zimbabwe.[20] It takes a fraudulent election or a particularly brutal act to provoke editors into carrying such reports. Sometimes, correspondents for British newspapers have been harassed or even arrested and it is entirely understandable that such incidents have been given particular prominence by editors in London. Meanwhile, thousands of acts of violence and intimidation against Zimbabweans occur and are diligently recorded in Zimbabwe, but are seldom reported elsewhere.

20. It is important that reporting of events in Zimbabwe should not be allowed to disappear from the printed or broadcast media. We have no power to persuade editors to carry such reports, nor to station reporters in Africa, where few British newspapers now have correspondents. We recognise, too, that as public figures we as politicians have an equal responsibility to continue to raise and draw attention to the situation in Zimbabwe, as we are doing in this Report and as we did on two occasions in 2000 and two further occasions in 2001.

21. We pressed the Minister on what the Government is doing to help journalists in Zimbabwe. Baroness Amos told us that the Government "will try to sustain and support and assist [them] in any way that we can,"[21] but did not set out what she is doing to achieve this. BBC journalist Feargal Keane could only suggest that "We can usefully stay engaged."[22]

22. There is, as we pointed out to the Minister, at least one precedent for the Government supporting journalists who are attempting to work under oppressive circumstances.[23] In its Report on Government Policy towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Wider Region following the Fall of Milosevic, our predecessor Committee drew attention to the FCO's Independent Media and Civil Society Programme, which they concluded had given "encouragement to the democratic opposition to Milosevic". They recommended that "the Government take account of its successful strategy in Yugoslavia when providing support in the future to democratic movements in an autocratic state."[24]

23. Whatever the similarities between the autocratic regimes of Milosevic and Mugabe, Zimbabwe is not directly comparable to Serbia. The United Kingdom's status as the former colonial power in the former is perhaps the most significant difference in the context of this discussion. However, we trust that Ministers have borne in mind the recommendation of our predecessor Committee and we recommend that the Government pursue all appropriate means of supporting the work of independent journalists in Zimbabwe—including working through its EU and Commonwealth partners—by encouraging and enabling them to continue to report events and to stand up for democratic values.

24. The role of BBC World Service in ensuring that the views of the international community are accurately reported in Zimbabwe has been justly praised. Richard Dowden told us that " the one source which is the most believed one... is the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. That is the source of news in practically the whole of Africa."[25] We recommend that the Government ensure that BBC World Service continues to have sufficient funds to maintain the quality and extent of its coverage in Zimbabwe, and better still, given the repressive nature of the Mugabe regime, to extend it further.

The electoral process and political freedoms

25. The history of elections in Zimbabwe has been an unhappy one. Before 1980, the basic requirement of universal suffrage and representation in Parliament was not satisfied. The 1980 constitution introduced one-person-one-vote, but with a guaranteed level of representation for the white community. While this was probably necessary at the time, it was not sustainable in the long term. Having won the first elections, Mr Mugabe and his ZANU-PF administration amended the constitution, by abolishing the upper house of parliament and by replacing the non-executive head of state by an elected President, to which position Mr Mugabe was elected in 1987 and which he has held since.

26. Parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe in the 1990s were characterised by controversy. Most opposition parties boycotted the 1995 elections, in which ZANU-PF won 118 of the 120 seats. It later lost one of these seats after the courts ruled that more people had voted in the Harare South constituency than had registered as voters. In 1996, Robert Mugabe was the only candidate for President after his opponents withdrew; one of them was later arrested and jailed.

27. In 1999, a new opposition party was formed—the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC contested the 2000 parliamentary elections. Well-organised, and with widespread support among the electorate, particularly the urban poor, the MDC expected to win. They lost, though narrowly. But for acts of violence by the ruling party, the MDC might have won, for the polling itself was judged by international observers to have been conducted quite fairly.[26]

28. It appears that, having come so close to losing, Mr Mugabe was more determined than ever to ensure he retained his hold on power. The presidential elections in 2002 would not be permitted to get in his way. In the words of Feargal Keane, "There is a deep-rooted sense in ZANU-PF that nobody else can be the legitimate rulers of Zimbabwe because they did not fight for the country. That is not some sort of propagandising statement: people like Mugabe and those close to him really do believe that."[27]


29. The failings of the 2002 presidential election, in which Robert Mugabe was returned to power, are well documented in the reports of the various observer groups which did their best to monitor the process. The Commonwealth sent a team of 42 observers and 19 staff. Among their conclusions were these:

30. The AMANI Trust, a Zimbabwean non-governmental organisation with offices in Harare and Bulawayo which was one of those attempting to monitor the election, detailed 18 "irregularities and impediments to fair conduct of the election," not including the physical violence, intimidation and arrests which occurred during the campaign, on the days of the election and afterwards.[29]

31. Only weeks before the election, the Government of Zimbabwe amended electoral law so as to make it difficult for supporters of the MDC's candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, to organise. The International Bar Association told us that it had found that "the cumulative effect of the legislation provisions unlawfully restricted the freedom of expression and association, and therefore had an impact on the election."[30]

32. Any of these conclusions would count as a severe indictment of the fairness of an election. Taken together, and in conjunction with the findings of other impartial observers, they amount to a complete condemnation of the 2002 presidential election in Zimbabwe.[31] While it has to deal with the realities of life in Zimbabwe, where Mr Mugabe retains power, the British Government has not accepted that the election was free and fair.[32] Speaking in the House on 25 June, the Foreign Secretary said that he shared the wish "that we move quickly to new elections, which are properly monitored at every stage and which Mugabe and his henchmen do not steal."[33]

33. We conclude that the Government was entirely right to refuse to accept the result or the legitimacy of the Zimbabwe presidential election of March 2002 and we support the demand for new, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, monitored by Commonwealth and other impartial international observers.


34. In the words of Feargal Keane,

35. Mr Keane went on to say,

    "if you look at our newspapers and others since the election, there has been scant coverage and, one has to say, on the part of our politicians scant reference to what has been happening in Zimbabwe. I would ask you what kind of message that sends. To be seen to act, in terms of our government and our opposition, and to be seen to be concerned only in the run-up to an election and then to fall silent afterwards sends a rather dangerous message."[35]

36. We do not accept that Mr Keane's strictures are entirely justified. Ministers have made statements in Parliament on Zimbabwe;[36] the official Opposition has devoted some of the limited Parliamentary time at its disposal to a debate on Zimbabwe;[37] many other Members of both Houses have raised Zimbabwe through Parliamentary Questions and other means. Like so much of Parliament's day-to-day proceedings, these occasions have not been widely reported.

37. However, we do accept that the United Kingdom's concern for the people of Zimbabwe has been misrepresented, mostly by Mr Mugabe and his supporters. Britain has been portrayed as the white, colonial power protecting its own. This is unfortunate and deeply regrettable. To the extent that it lies within the power of the Government to counter misrepresentation of its motives, all steps must be taken to portray what truly motivates the United Kingdom to declaim on Zimbabwe and to seek to assist its people: a real concern for those who are hungry, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, oppressed and abused, whatever their colour, and whatever their history. A dignified, diplomatic silence is no response to allegations of partiality or indifference. We recommend that the Government act wherever possible to prevent misrepresentations of the United Kingdom's policies and motivations towards Zimbabwe by ensuring that it explains its policies clearly to all concerned, that it briefs the press fully and frequently, and that it counters in the strongest terms all misrepresentations of its position whenever they come to its attention.


38. Post-election, the reality in Zimbabwe is that Robert Mugabe remains in power. However, that he had to resort to illegal and violent methods in order to remain in power demonstrates his weakness. Beset by a strong, if battered, political opposition, by a failing economy, by the effects of drought and of his own policies on food supply, and by pressures from other African leaders, he knows that sooner or later he must either cede power or reach an accommodation with his opponents. Talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC began shortly after the election, were adjourned, but then were not resumed on 13 May as had been planned.[38]

39. It appears that neither ZANU-PF nor the MDC was committed to the talks process. Richard Dowden suggested that "It is purely imposed from the outside. I would have thought Mr Mugabe would be happy to accept that, if that is the price he has to pay, if as a consequence of outside pressure he has to delegate someone to talk to the MDC. Neither the MDC nor ZANU has any interest in these talks whatever. There is no internal dynamic which should bring them together, the MDC sticks to its line that it wants the election re-run under international supervision and it will not join a government of national unity."[39] The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative told us that "Neither party is much interested in genuine power-sharing."[40]

40. In a Report produced in June 2002, the International Crisis Group recommended that the international community should "focus efforts... on getting ZANU-PF back to the table with the MDC and both parties to negotiate in good faith" to hold fresh elections.[41] However, we fear that the well-intentioned efforts of the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria to broker a deal between two unwilling parties were probably doomed to fail. It is clear from the words of a prominent member of the MDC in evidence to us that the opposition's patience is running out:

    "If we are denied a re-run of the elections... we will have no other choice but to go onto the streets and confront this government. We have striven for three years to avoid this, we have held our members back from violence of any kind—even self protection. But this option is now running out of time. Should we be forced to take to the streets there will be bloodshed and the image of southern Africa will be further tarnished. It will also make a transfer of power through democratic means less likely."[42]

41. The probably irretrievable failure of the inter-party talks symbolises the current disengagement between the parties in Zimbabwe and the lack of a functioning political process through which dissent can be channelled peacefully. There are no indications of progress, no signs of hope that a process of dialogue can achieve a peaceful transition of power. And all the indications are that, in the words of Richard Dowden, "It is going to get much, much worse. I do not think it is just going to go quiet. I think it will all blow up again."[43]

42. As Feargal Keane told us: "In all of this let us remember one fundamental: change in Zimbabwe, the change of government in Zimbabwe, will be brought about by Zimbabweans."[44] The central dilemma for the United Kingdom and other concerned observers of the situation in Zimbabwe, is to decide what they can do to assist the people of Zimbabwe, without being counterproductive. We consider that dilemma and the role of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe's fellow African states in the following sections.

6   See Back

7   Robert Mugabe was the leader of the Shona-dominated Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (ZANU-PF). The other main armed faction, the mainly Ndebele Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (PF-ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo, eventually merged with ZANU-PF in 1987. Back

8   See Ev 28. Back

9   Official Report, 12 May 2000, col 493. Back

10   Compulsory acquisition of land was neither a new concept in Zimbabwe, nor a particularly old one. Cecil Rhodes acquired mineral rights over huge areas of land in 1889 by means of an unequal treaty with King Lobengula. In the 1930s, the colonial administration in Southern Rhodesia passed the Land Apportionment Acts, which allocated the most fertile areas of land for settlement by Europeans only. The 1992 Act discontinued application of the willing buyer, willing seller principle and provided for the Government of Zimbabwe to list farms which would be subject to acquisition by the black rural poor. Back

11   These facts and others in paragraphs 7 to 13 have been taken from the FCO's country profile of Zimbabwe, the full text of which may be found on the FCO's website at The US State Department profile is also useful and may be accessed from Back

12   Minutes of Evidence taken on 22 May 2000, HC 1999-2000 447-ii, Q125. Back

13   See Ev 23. Back

14   See Zimbabwe country profile on FCO website ( Back

15   According to the United Nations Development Programme: see Back

16   Foreign Affairs Committee, Minutes of Evidence taken on 22 May 2000, HC 1999-2000 447-ii, Q125. Back

17   Ibid, Q126. Back

18   For the text of the Abuja Agreement and related documents, see the Foreign Affairs Committee's Fourth Report, Session 2001-2002, Zimbabwe, HC 456. Back

19   Q100. Back

20   QQ51-54. Back

21   Q80. Back

22   Q19. Back

23   QQ80-81. Back

24   See Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2000-2001, Government Policy towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Wider Region following the Fall of Milosevic, HC 246. Back

25   Q15. Back

26   According to the FCO country profile on Zimbabwe. See Back

27   Q7. Back

28   Zimbabwe Presidential Election 9 to 11 March 2002, Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Commonwealth Secretariat, 15 March 2002. Back

29   See Ev 25. Back

30   See Ev 49. Back

31   For a summary of countries and observer teams' reactions to the elections see Official Report, 5 July 2002, col 635W. Back

32   Official Report, 14 March 2002, col 1035. Back

33   Official Report, 25 June 2002, col 810. Back

34   Q29. Back

35   Q19. Back

36   Most recently, on 14 and 21 March 2002. Back

37   On 25 June 2002. Back

38   See Back

39   Q5. Back

40   See Ev 23. Back

41   Zimbabwe: what next?, International Crisis Group, 14 June 2002. Back

42   See Ev 23. Back

43   Q32. Back

44   Q45. Back

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