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19 July 2007 : Column 507

There is another problem with such debates. I mean no disrespect to any Member present, but usually only the usual suspects take part—I see that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), a veteran of many such debates, is smiling. In those debates Members propose prescriptions that frequently stop just short of a British invasion—although I have not heard such calls this afternoon. While that may enable us to go home feeling good about ourselves, it has not changed anything at all in Zimbabwe and has potentially done some damage in giving Mugabe yet another little stick with which to beat us. The painful truth is that our influence is limited. Yes, we can add or subtract a name from the EU travel ban or regret that Mugabe has been invited to the Lisbon summit. He should not have been, and I am confident that we did our best to stop him being invited—

Meg Munn: The invitations have not been issued yet.

Mr. Mullin: In that case, I hope that Mugabe will not be invited, but I dare to contemplate the possibility that he will be. In any case, I know that we will strongly resist. Then there is the issue of whether the Prime Minister should go, or the Foreign Secretary or a junior Minister. The problem is that it is a summit about Africa and there are other equally important issues that require the attention of Ministers. We can also argue about whether our cricket team should be banned from touring, but the painful truth is that short of putting the hon. Member for Macclesfield in a gunboat and sending him up the Zambezi, there are no original solutions left that we could impose on that tragic situation.

The bottom line is that, as has been said this afternoon, this is ultimately an African problem and it requires an African solution. I share the general disappointment at the silence of African leaders—with a handful of honourable exceptions—of the AU and of SADC. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall pointed out, some of those have acted as cheerleaders. They have not merely been silent, but have acted disgracefully. I have had many conversations with African Heads of State and Government about Zimbabwe. Many of them have been very critical of Mugabe in private, but that has not translated in what they have said to the outside world. I remember meeting one Head of State immediately before he was due to go into a session at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria in 2004 and he was very robust in what he said about Mugabe. He was from a more or less neighbouring country and I suggested he make those points when he got into the meeting. He said that he would, but when I asked the then Prime Minister afterwards whether so-and-so had had anything to say on the issue, he said, “Not a peep.” Unfortunately, that has happened fairly often.

The Foreign Minister of a west African country once described the problem to me as the great liberator syndrome. He said that Africa was full of great liberators who have gone on to ruin their countries. I shall not name his country, but he added, “And we should know”—as indeed he should.

As I have said, I was present at the Abuja CHOGM in 2004 and I am sorry to say that President Mbeki did not act as some sort of neutral mediator on the issue of whether Zimbabwe should be readmitted—it would
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have brought humiliation on us had that happened—but as an agent of Mugabe, and the issue dominated that summit to the exclusion of many other important issues. Even at this late stage, however, I hope that South Africa can be persuaded to intervene decisively to bring this catastrophe to an end. It is deeply in its interests to do so, as it has the best part of 2 million refugees from Zimbabwe and that must be having a serious impact on its economy. The South Africans are well aware of the problem and, as my hon. Friend said, some of them are beginning to speak out.

My hon. Friend also pointed out that African leaders cannot have things both ways. They cannot make wonderful speeches at the AU about their love of democracy and so forth, then go home and rig their constitutions so that they get third or fourth terms in office and still expect the assistance of the outside world. Neither can they expect to invite the outside world to get involved in a cause such as South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement—and they were very happy to have the outside world’s interest in that—and then say that the things that are happening now on their own doorsteps are no one else’s business. That is completely unacceptable.

I look forward to the day when more African leaders come from the new generation. Rightly or wrongly, many people regard Mugabe as a hero of the liberation struggle, but not many more of his ilk are left. He is the last of that generation, so we will probably not face the same problem again.

Whatever happens in Zimbabwe, the end is in sight. We can demand that the British Government do this or that, but the truth is that the person inflicting the most damage on the country and its regime is Mugabe himself. He is bringing it down, and it will fall around his ears unless a compromise is found that allows him to be evacuated into a safe retirement. His regime cannot survive the present levels of inflation, and little that we do or do not do will make any difference.

The end is close, so we need to spend a little time talking about what comes next, because that will not be easy. When the time comes to try to stabilise Zimbabwe, we will have to work with some of the people who are mixed up with the present regime. That may be distasteful, but it is a fact of life and we have to think about it. I do not know whether or not Mr. Gono should be added to the travel ban, but in the end we will have to work with someone who knows about economics in Zimbabwe. I am not asserting that it will be him, merely raising it as a possibility that we should not exclude.

When the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), sums up the debate, I hope that he will say something about how he imagines that the international community will be able to help when the regime falls. We are within sight of that and, although I appreciate that he will not be able to go into much detail, we need some assurance that plans are being laid and that we are talking with our EU and African partners, and with other international contacts, about what exactly will happen when the end comes. Obviously, we cannot be too prescriptive, as we do not know how the end will occur. We pray that the transition will be peaceful, with no more bloodshed or catastrophe, but we cannot rule such things out.

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The most we can say to the Zimbabweans is, “We are with you. We support you. We want your beautiful country to be put back together again, and we stand ready to help. You have not been forgotten.” However, I hope that we do not get involved in too much posturing about who said what to whom, and who should or should not be banned. In the end, all that is fairly irrelevant to the big picture.

We should welcome the fact that the end is coming. On many occasions, hon. Members of all parties, in the Government and on the Back Benches, have made their views clear. We must be ready to help when the time comes.

4.13 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): We have heard some powerful speeches today, but I am sad to say that I must begin by questioning whether the Government were entirely wise in letting this debate go ahead. The whole point of holding a debate like this in the House of Commons should have been to send a powerful message to Zimbabwe, Mugabe, the AU and others about the British Government’s determination in this matter. For whatever reason, however, the Foreign Secretary was unable to take part, and that has served to reduce the debate’s value.

In addition, the Minister’s opening speech contained nothing new—I do not blame her for that—but what she was unable to say had the effect of putting us back a little. Far from being able to confirm the clear indication given to the press that the Prime Minister would not attend any summit attended by Mugabe, she refused to be drawn on the matter. There might be reasons for that, but given that there will probably be another debate on Zimbabwe later in the year, I have to question whether today’s debate has been in the interests of that country’s people.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), in his statement on Zimbabwe on 26 March, confirmed that the French had banned Mr. Mugabe from going to the French-African summit last February, and does he not think that the British Government, by declaring today that they will not attend the AU-EU summit, could do exactly the same thing as the French?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There is a process not just of putting pressure on Mugabe, but of applying pressure within the European Union. Clear messages of that kind from the United Kingdom at this stage need to be given not just privately, but publicly if they are to have the full weight that we would wish.

The whole issue of Zimbabwe, and, formerly, of Southern Rhodesia, has dominated debates in the House for many years. I could not help but recollect that my maiden speech in this Chamber, 33 years ago, was on what was then Southern Rhodesia. I can trump the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), because my first visit to Southern Rhodesia was in 1967. I lived and worked in what was then Salisbury and is now Harare for almost two years. I taught at the then university college of Rhodesia and got to know the country very well indeed.

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I have various recollections of that period. Even at that time, in the 1960s, the university was a multiracial university of black and white students. When I left the university, I lost touch with most of them. However, in 1979, when I first became a member of the Government, I received totally out of the blue a letter from one of my former black students, who wrote on headed notepaper from Harare: “Dear Mr. Rifkind, I am writing to congratulate you on your appointment as a junior Minister in the British Government. As you can see from the notepaper, I am now Foreign Minister.” That was an interesting indicator of the unpredictability of public life.

It is worth remembering that, at the time of the Lancaster House conference, there was great optimism—justifiably so—about the future prospects of what was becoming Zimbabwe. First, the transition from the Smith regime to an elected Government happened peacefully thanks to the consequences of the Lancaster House conference. Secondly, and equally importantly, the vast majority of the white minority had agreed to continue living in the country. They were prepared to accept that there was a prospect of a future for both black and white. We were seeing the emergence of a black middle class and the Zimbabwean economy began in a very strong way.

I would go one stage further: part of the reason why we were optimistic was the attitude of Robert Mugabe at that time and for several years thereafter—with the terrible exception of what happened in Matabeleland. Right at the beginning, Mugabe accepted the advice he got from Samora Machel, who said, “Do not make the mistake we made in Mozambique when we thought we could do without the Portuguese and our economy collapsed.” Mugabe accepted that advice and gave assurances to the white community. To a considerable extent, for the first few years he honoured those assurances, which provided a period of stability in the country.

In addition, although Mugabe went through the rhetoric of “Comrade This” and “Comrade That” and meetings of the politburo in Harare, the economic policy that was pursued was not significantly different from the policy of his predecessors, which also enhanced the stability of the country. Furthermore, I pay credit to the fact that he allowed Ian Smith—who had locked Mugabe up for many years in Rhodesian prisons—not only to remain at liberty but to sit in the Parliament of Zimbabwe, albeit obviously without any real power.

In those early years, there was some practical reason to believe that, whatever Mugabe’s background and innermost ideological thoughts, he had realised what the interests of his country needed at that time. So why did things change in such a fundamental way? It was essentially because the policies being pursued, although moderate, were increasingly unpopular within Zimbabwe and Mugabe realised that, far from being able to assume that elections would give him power for the rest of his life, free elections would drive him out of power. We all know what the consequences of that have been. As a number of hon. Members have said, instead of Zimbabwe being the bread-basket of Africa, it has become the basket-case of Africa, in a very depressing and miserable fashion.

What flows from that? There have been two external tragedies that have added to the woes of Zimbabwe.
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The first is the attitude of the African Union. It is a matter of considerable sadness that the African Union, which was created in order not to continue with the foolish attitudes and priorities of the old Organisation of African Unity, has copied some of its worst mistakes. We see that most vividly in the case of its attitude towards Zimbabwe.

The assumption that criticism of Mugabe’s record on human rights is evidence of a colonial mentality is increasingly absurd, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall rightly emphasised. The United Kingdom has been equally determined to ensure that it condemns and brings to the forefront of public attention human rights abuses in any country in the world, including those with which we have no colonial links. Indeed, I recall dealing with the banning of Solidarity in Poland when I was in the Foreign Office. When I insisted on meeting members of Solidarity at the British embassy in Warsaw, General Jaruzelski publicly accused me and the British Government of treating Poland as if it was a former British colony, thus implying that this is something that all British Governments inevitably find themselves doing. The African Union needs to reconsider how it can best serve the interests of its continent and people.

The other deep disappointment is South Africa. I am wrong to say that; it is President Thabo Mbeki. People such as Nelson Mandela have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Mugabe. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “We in South Africa should be ashamed of ourselves because we are not bringing more pressure on Mugabe.” Mbeki should reflect on the fact if he looks at the history of his country and region that it was only when P. W. Botha, his white predecessor, decided to withdraw support from Ian Smith that the Government of Southern Rhodesia were forced to accept that the whole unilateral declaration of independence experiment had totally failed. That was when steps began, first involving Muzorewa and then leading to Lancaster House. South Africa is not just a neighbour of Zimbabwe. As we know from historical experience, it is the one country that can have an impact on what any Government of Zimbabwe can contemplate at any time that is not only profound, but decisive. If Thabo Mbeki declines to use such authority and power, he has personal responsibility for the continuing suffering of Zimbabwe and the implications of that for his country, because 2 million or 3 million Zimbabwean refugees are living in South Africa, which inevitably has a damaging impact on that country’s economy.

Where do we go from here? What are the prospects for the United Kingdom or other countries being able to bring some pressure? Let me turn to the African Union-European Union summit. It is not unreasonable to point out that it is seven years since there has been an AU-EU summit, which is a long time. Such a summit would be desirable, but we have waited seven years, so no one should be too alarmed if we have to wait a few more, if the alternative is to destroy all credibility in the policy that the EU has adopted to try to deal with the problem of Mugabe and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Africa has more to lose than Europe if European-African co-operation is not enhanced. It will benefit most if a summit takes place and that leads to improvements in the economic and trading relationships between Europe and Africa.

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Everything now centres on the question of whether Mugabe will be invited to attend the summit. Some rather disturbing remarks have been made. Mr. Sócrates, the Prime Minister of Portugal, has said:

thus suggesting that there is a method of inviting Mr. Mugabe not as the President of Zimbabwe, but as a simple participant in an intergovernmental conference, as if that would somehow resolve the difficulty. On 3 July, The Daily Telegraph reported an unnamed British official as saying of Mugabe:

If those words are taken literally, they are very disturbing. That British official could not have got it more wrong. There can be no doubt that whether Mugabe is there or not will totally dominate the summit and preclude any progress on other issues.

If Mugabe is to attend, it is not a question of his simply being issued with an invitation. The EU has a ban on Mr. Mugabe visiting EU countries. I have with me a copy of the Official Journal of the European Union. The rules permit exceptions to be made, but they clearly say that any member state can object if a country—presumably Portugal in this case—wishes to get an exemption to allow Mr. Mugabe to visit Lisbon. If an objection is made, a vote under qualified majority voting is required for an exemption to be made.

The very least that we ask—we expect the Minister to respond to this point later today—is an assurance that if it is proposed that we depart from the rules banning Mugabe from visiting an EU country, the UK will object, and will require a vote to take place. My view, and I suspect the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is that even if a majority voted to invite him, through some mistaken judgment, the British Government should have already made it clear that if Mugabe is in Lisbon, the British Government will not be there—and I do not just mean the Prime Minister; there would be little impact if he was absent but the Foreign Secretary was there.

The United Kingdom should make it abundantly clear that the UK will not take part in an EU-AU summit if Mr. Mugabe is present in Lisbon, but that has to be made clear well in advance, so that other member states know the kind of stakes for which we are playing. It is important to play for very high stakes, because the sadness is that if the African Union will not champion the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, and if the European Union starts deserting the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, who is left? Who would speak out for their requirements if that depressing situation arose?

I will not speak for much longer, because I want to allow hon. Friends and other hon. Members to speak, but I make one final point: the past 30 or 40 years have been a difficult period in the history of Africa, partly for reasons beyond the control of many African states. Most states across the world came about when a nation was already in existence. The Italian nation existed, and it created an Italian state. The German nation existed before there was a German state. In Africa, because of the colonial experience, it happened the other way round: states were created in the 1960s, but for the most part they had artificial borders, and there was no sense
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of national identity. That has made it very difficult for many African countries to realise their aspirations, and that is one of the reasons why Africa has so many failed states, even compared with other parts of the world.

Even taking that background into account, the sad and terrible fact is that Zimbabwe was one of the countries least exposed to such concerns, because it had a degree of homogeneity. The Ndebele and Shona populations were mostly to be found within the borders of the old Southern Rhodesia, and the creation of the state of Zimbabwe followed a greater natural logic than many other African countries, as it was between the Limpopo and the Zambezi. In addition, unlike most of sub-Saharan Africa, because of the Southern Rhodesian period, Zimbabwe inherited an impressive infrastructure, including a working civil service, experience of the rule of law, a free press, and various other instruments of government. It should have seen that as a great benefit and advantage. That has been squandered; that is the tragedy of the people of Zimbabwe, and the personal responsibility of Robert Mugabe.

The British Government’s responsibility is more important than perhaps it ought to be. The African Union is declining to exercise its responsibility, the South African President will not, I fear, change his view, and other countries around the world do not have our knowledge or experience of the reality of Zimbabwe. If the British Government are to carry the influence and the impact that they ought to, there must be greater clarity of policy. There must be a willingness to exercise diplomacy, and not just privately, in the corridors of the EU. There must be public exposition of the policy, because in the current rather difficult situation, every available weapon must be at our disposal and fully used. The development of public opinion is a weapon that can be used only if we are prepared to be robust, not only privately but publicly, and we could do a lot worse than to start on that course about an hour and a half from now.

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