Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)

2 MARCH 2004


Q200 Sir John Stanley: Is the British Government's position vis-a"-vis the South African Government that the South African Government should abandon its quiet diplomacy policy altogether?  Mr Mullin: I certainly think we would like to see the South African Government being robust, given what is going on in Zimbabwe. It is not our policy to engage in megaphone diplomacy with the South Africans on this issue because there is a difference of view and we do respect the fact that we are both aiming for the same things and it is a tactical disagreement rather than a disagreement of principle. We do acknowledge that President Mbeki has been trying quite hard; he has been to Zimbabwe on many occasions and met not just Mr Mugabe but also opposition leaders. Even if we have a difference of nuance we do not go engaging in any public argument with them. Q201 Sir John Stanley: The case that was advanced to us by the ANC in particular was that President Mbeki had a unique possible degree of influence with President Mugabe by virtue of the geographical proximity of the two countries, by virtue of the way in which both have been involved in combating racism in their respective countries and the liberation of both countries, and if anybody in the African continent is going to be able to bring influence to bear on President Mugabe it was going to be President Mbeki. Do you believe that is a false judgment by the ANC or do you think that has any degree of resonance and credibility?  Mr Mullin: I think the key word is "if"; if anybody has influence over Mr Mugabe then President Mbeki would be the one, but Mr Mugabe is a very stubborn man and he has brought his country to the edge of ruin. There is cause to doubt whether he would listen to anyone: his former comrades in South Africa, let alone advice that comes freely from Western Europe or America or somewhere else. There is a degree of disagreement within South Africa itself which has been widely publicised as you will know. President Mbeki has stuck to his policy, because they are comrades going back a long way, of hoping to influence Zanu-PF to quiet diplomacy. All I would say about it is that we get to see a positive outcome and only this morning I was reading an interview that Mr Mugabe conducted on his 80th birthday in which he fairly brazenly said he had no plans for talking to the MDC whom he described as the devil. Q202 Sir John Stanley: Can you point to any specific tangible results of President Mbeki's quiet diplomacy policy?  Mr Mullin: I certainly think there have been some contacts, probably at a very low level, between the MDC and Zanu-PF but it is a bit hard to have constructive dialogue when the leader of your main opposition party is on trial for treason and when Zanu-PF thugs are smashing up the only independent newspapers. I cannot, at the moment, point to any seriously positive outcome and previous predictions that there would be a positive outcome have not so far born fruit, but I do not necessarily put that down to any lack of effort on President Mbeki's part but to a particular stubbornness on the part of Mr Mugabe and I would not wish to personalise it there; I think Zanu-PF is a pretty rotten party that has an interest in staying in power because many of their leaders have personally benefited and they feel they would have a great deal to lose were their monopoly on power to be broken. Q203 Sir John Stanley: Two alternative views were put to us when we were in South Africa as to how Zimbabwe might evolve towards a proper democracy. One was that the best route forward was going to be to form some form of government of national unity bringing Zanu-PF and the MDC together and to have that in situ for a considerable period. Equally, a completely contradictory view was put to us which is that it would be a huge mistake to create another basically single monopoly power basis in Zimbabwe and although it may be necessary to form some form of government of national unity on a temporary basis, it was profoundly important that the country function as a multi-party democracy with an alternative government being able to hold the existing government to account. Does the British Government have a view between those two alternatives and has the British Government been putting either or both alternatives to President Mbeki?  Mr Mullin: Our view is that there has to be obviously a transitional government to get us over the immediate problem followed as swiftly as can be decently organised free elections which would result in a government that enjoys national and international confidence which can then help reconstruct that shattered country. I have no doubt at all that there will not be significant international help for Zimbabwe until there is a government in Zimbabwe which clearly cares about its people and enjoys a democratic mandate. Q204 Mr Illsley: One of the things that struck me during the whole of our visit to South Africa was the extreme sensitivity of some South African politicians regarding our view that South Africa might not be doing enough or perhaps not putting out the right message in relation to Zimbabwe. This is probably best illustrated by a meeting we had with the South African Foreign Affairs Committee, where there were some lively exchanges in relation to their view that we took the view that South Africa and President Mbeki were doing nothing in relation to improving the situation in Zimbabwe. They took great exception to that, even though we explained that that was not our view, to the point of comparing their situation vis-a"-vis Zimbabwe with our situation regarding Northern Ireland. Is the British Government aware of this level of resentment that we might be trying to dictate to South Africa or tell them that they should be doing more in relation to Zimbabwe?  Mr Mullin: I am certainly aware of that sentiment and I would not want to make too much of the Northern Ireland comparison, but we did used to get a bit shirty when outsiders—particularly in America—told us how we should sort out our problems in Ireland. It is not only South Africans who get sensitive when foreigners start offering free advice. It is certainly not our position—as I think I have made clear already—that the South Africans are doing nothing to help in Zimbabwe; they are. The only thing I would say to any South African who said, "It is none of your business at all and you should stay entirely out of it" (not that they do necessarily say that), is that "You were very happy to have our help when you were fighting apartheid, which was freely given, and we were entitled to have an opinion about the internal situation in South Africa or the internal situation in Rhodesia when they were under those racist regimes, and so we think we are entitled to have an opinion now about the internal situation in Zimbabwe. You, of course, have a perfect right to reject our opinion, but we have the right to offer it." I would say that in the spirit of a free exchange amongst democrats who are used to hearing things with which they do not necessarily agree and can respond in a dignified fashion without entirely going off the handle. Q205 Mr Olner: I am sure the Minister will know that we were not all singing from the same hymn sheet when we were opposing apartheid, but we did eventually get there. Watching the Panorama programme on Sunday evening left me with the view that I would not know what on earth was going to take place. Zanu-PF is so manipulative of the next generation and to me it hinges around food. I just wondered how much thought you had given, Minister, on food being used as a political weapon by Zanu-PF and is there any hope of democracy in that country at the end of the day if so many of its young people have been indoctrinated in these camps?  Mr Mullin: Certainly the longer this tragic situation goes on the more difficult it would be to resolve and it will take more than a change of government to repair the damage that has been done in Zimbabwe. You are right, Zanu-PF does use food as a political weapon and it is a sad fact that the outside world is now feeding more than half the population of Zimbabwe each winter. If I were a proud Zimbabwean nationalist I would be rather ashamed of the fact that this government that inherited what was once the bread basket of southern Africa is now reduced to a situation where it depends entirely on foreigners—like us and the Americans—to feed its own people. Q206 Mr Olner: Do we need to keep supplying the food? It seems to me that if there is going to be an internal rebellion within Zimbabwe then it has got to be those in Zanu-PF who are no longer being fed by us.  Mr Mullin: The feeding is done by the World Food Programme and it is very carefully monitored to make sure it goes to those in need. It is quite true that through the Zimbabwean Grain Marketing Board they do manipulate food, but that is a Zimbabwean operation. So far as international aid is concerned, that is done by the World Food Programme. It is strictly monitored and we do not use humanitarian aid as a weapon because the only people we would end up hurting are those who are already in a dire situation. Q207 Mr Hamilton: I suppose we could not have been more impressed by the contrast between South Africa and the transition to black majority rule there and what has happened in Zimbabwe. I do not know whether you have read a book by Peter Godwin—whose sister gave evidence to us because she worked for SW Radio Africa—about growing up in Rhodesia and the transition to black majority rule there, but I wondered whether you and any of your colleagues (and I think we had fairly good evidence when we were in South Africa from the people we spoke to) could imagine that what has happened in Zimbabwe—from the great hopes that everyone placed in the Mugabe regime and Zanu-PF being in power there to the dreadful tyranny, starvation, murder and disintegration of that country—could ever happen in South Africa?  Mr Mullin: I do not think it could. One must never say never, but I see no sign that it could. I think that the habit of democracy is becoming engrained in South Africa. It has a very vibrant free press, a very strong civil society and all the things that Zimbabwe lacks and never really had on the same scale as South Africa anyway. If you recall, in the early years of majority rule in Zimbabwe—the first four years certainly—the country was pretty well managed and they did not make the mistakes that some other newly-independent countries had made. If I had to spot a moment when it began to go wrong it was the massacres in Matabeleland in 1984/5. Again after that there was still a period when things seemed to be more or less normal and it was not until the late 1990s when, I think, Mr Mugabe's economic policies and certainly his social policies were going badly wrong that he began to look around the world for scapegoats. Needless to say, he alighted upon us at a fairly early stage. Q208 Chairman: I have a couple of questions on the African Union before we move on. Latterly there have been a series of initiatives with grand sounding titles. You will remember no doubt the African Renaissance. Then we went through a series of other names, finally we have come to the African Union. Are you surprised if there is a degree of scepticism about this new initiative and that perhaps because it means different things to different people, for many in Africa it is a means of channelling additional aid from the west in their direction; for the west it is a means of looking at human rights and good governance? Do you understand why there is an element of scepticism about the African Union?  Mr Mullin: I think anyone looking at the recent history of Africa would have to be modest in their ambitions, but I do think there has been a change from the OAU. One should not attribute it to any particular personality; I do not think it is. It has changed from an organisation that was mainly concerned with African solidarity and sweeping problems under the carpet to an organisation that now genuinely acknowledges the problems on their continent and the recognition that Africans must increasingly take responsibility for resolving them. I think NePAD is a very good example. It is early days yet; we will have to wait and see what it achieves, but this idea of peer review where the monitoring and analysis is done by Africans themselves, the idea of an African peace keeping force where they make a contribution—to which we would have to assist because these are young nations and they do not have the experience or the resources that we have—and the idea of them increasingly taking the lead I am mildly optimistic about. Q209 Chairman: And the African Court of Human Rights?  Mr Mullin: The jury is out on that one, I would say. Q210 Mr Illsley: I have a couple of questions on Commonwealth issues. To what extent have the disagreements over Zimbabwe damaged any inter-Commonwealth relationships that we have, particularly between ourselves and South Africa?  Mr Mullin: It is true there was a disagreement at CHOGM[14]on the question of whether Zimbabwe should be suspended or not. What I took heart from was that actually most African countries went along—it was done by consensus in the end, as you know—with maintaining the suspension. However, there were some fairly tough arguments and if it did do any damage, I think it was only temporary. It is yet more evidence of the extent to which, as I say, the entire Zimbabwe issue poisons everything it touches. That is another reason for wanting to resolve it.Q211 Mr Illsley: How would you respond to the criticism—which I think was published in The Times on 9 December—that the British delegation breezed in, tried to dictate the game and then left early and that perhaps we could have achieved more had we spent more time talking to some of our African allies? [15]Do you accept that criticism?Mr Mullin: As a member of the British delegation, who breezed in early and spent a lot of time talking to other African delegations (including a number of heads of states), I reject Mr Dowden's analysis—I think you are quoting Mr Dowden—although I take Mr Dowden's views seriously on other matters; he is a serious journalist. I think he is just wrong on that point. Q212 Mr Olner: You mentioned earlier, Minister, the United Nations. Would you personally—or would the Government, do you think—support any additional seats on the UN Security Council, and do you think that South Africa ought to be a candidate for an African seat?  Mr Mullin: I can say that it is certainly our policy to support an African seat on the Security Council and it is not for me to say who would fill it, but South Africa would be an obvious candidate, one of the obvious candidates. "An", not "the".Q213 Mr Olner: Are there any countries who are member states of the UN that are opposing such an enlargement to the Security Council?  Mr Mullin: You have me there, Mr Olner. There are 191 countries in the UN and I am sure there are a number of mighty vested interests to be reconciled, but I can only speak for Her Majesty's Government and we do favour a reform of the composition of the Security Council and we do favour an African seat on it. Q214 Mr Chidgey: Minister, you touched briefly on NePAD a few minutes ago. I would like to ask you a few more detailed questions to get a better feel of the Government's position. Firstly, you will be aware I am sure that there is a school of thought which believes that NePAD suffers from being different things to different people. For example some feel it is seen as a tool for securing better governance by donors and, on the other side, as a means of securing more aid for African nations. Firstly, do you and does the Government subscribe to that school of thought? Secondly, whether you do or not, do you feel that those two interests can both be satisfied? Or do you have a different slant, perhaps, on that?  Mr Mullin: I think it is an understanding—I will not say deal—that in return for a higher quality of governance, democracy, more transparency and proper economic management, the West, through the G8, would have a responsibility for addressing issues like trade, debt, aid; both sides a partnership, both sides having responsibilities. Q215 Mr Chidgey: But the emphasis perhaps is partnership rather than donor and recipient of aid.  Mr Mullin: Yes, and I think we all understand these days that there is no quantitative aid that can resolve the problems we are talking about. You have to get all sorts of other things right first of all. Q216 Mr Chidgey: You also said a few minutes ago that you are hopeful—I am sure you are—and do you feel it is possible to say at the moment what in concrete terms NePAD has achieved so far?  Mr Mullin: At the moment they are putting in place a structure and the key test will come from the rigour of the Peer Review Mechanism. I am told that so far 17 countries—most recently Angola, I think—have signed up to Peer Review. I think the first Peer Reviews will take place this year. I think the first country in line is probably Ghana, which is one of the better managed African countries so no doubt they will get a fairly good report. I suppose the test will come when we get to one of the more difficult customers, certainly when we get to Angola but probably before that. There must be an intellectually rigourous exercise and I am sure that that is what the NePAD secretariat are aiming at. Q217 Mr Chidgey: You will be aware, Minister, that President Wade of Senegal (who is one of the instigators of NePAD) has recently expressed his disappointment on the slow progress of the African Peer Review Mechanism. Were you surprised at that and do you agree?  Mr Mullin: It is very often that new initiatives—including many in this country—get off to a slow start. I think what counts is not so much the speed as the robustness of what is put in place and that a proper mechanism is set up and is seen to work, not in fits and starts but in a sustained way. We remain hopeful of NePAD; I know the Prime Minister does and he has taken a close personal interest in this. As I say, we will have to wait and we do not have that long to wait because the first Peer Reviews will take place this year and then we will have a better idea. I do not feel qualified to pronounce just yet. Q218 Mr Chidgey: Would it be reasonable to summarise from what you are that the Government is reasonably happy; you are not disappointed, you are not frustrated and you are recognising that it is difficult and it takes time, but so far so good sort of thing. Is that a fair summary on the Peer Review Mechanism?  Mr Mullin: Yes. It is all moving in the right direction. I think there is a capacity question about NePAD and we have been helping out in that regard and there is no harm in outsiders enquiring from time to time about progress and keeping up a little pressure. I am sure the NePAD Secretariat would welcome that. Certainly we must not let this potentially worthwhile initiative drift into the sand. Q219 Mr Chidgey: One of the things that has come up in our evidence sessions on this issue has been the reaction of the G8. We are getting the message that there is now growing disappointment in the lack of commitment that G8 is apparently showing after a great deal of initial enthusiasm. Would you agree that G8 is guilty of failing to respond adequately to NePAD? There is not enough enthusiasm from the G8; too much stick and not enough carrot, perhaps?  Mr Mullin: I am sure there is a great deal more we could do. Cancun has been mentioned and that was definitely a disappointment. I am sure there is possibly some concern that all members are not pulling in the same direction at the same speed. I think everyone is pulling in the same direction but not necessarily at the same speed. We certainly, before too long, will have the chairmanship of the G8 and we intend to make full use of it to boost our commitment to Africa. I would not like to think that anyone who was not so keen on the governance aspects of NePAD was using any alleged failure by the G8 as an excuse for not pursuing that. I hope that is not the case.

14   Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Back

15   "We can't just play boss in Africa any more, Mr Blair"-article by Richard Dowden in The Times on Tuesday, 9 December 2003. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 18 May 2004