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7.50 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I welcome this debate on Africa and the wide-ranging opinions and views that have been expressed across the House. In particular, the Foreign Secretary’s speech and those of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadow Ministers showed how much agreement there is on many issues to do with Africa. I will follow on from my vice-chairman of the all-party Zimbabwe group—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who made an excellent speech, and I just want to add a few things to it.

In speaking about that part of Africa, in which I have taken a close personal interest, I want to pay tribute to the magnificent work that has been done by our British ambassador in Zimbabwe, whose extended posting there will soon come to an end. Diplomats and embassy staff in Zimbabwe have had a very difficult time operating in a country where the regime has been far from welcoming or co-operative. Indeed, it has been quite threatening many times. Last Wednesday, we in the all-party group had the pleasure of having the ambassador, Andrew Pocock, here to speak to us. Although we all remain wary of what is happening in Zimbabwe, we feel very encouraged by the positive news that he brought back from Harare and by the other news that we have had and some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield.

Some economic progress has been made already by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Government in stabilising prices, overcoming the shortages of essential goods and getting
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Zimbabweans back to work. The short-term emergency recovery programme—STERP for short, which is subtitled “Getting Zimbabwe Moving Again”—sets out very clearly the programme of reform that is needed. The good news is that that is already starting to get under way. Tendai Biti, the new Minister of Finance, is making rapid and robust progress. A vital move was made to cut off the funding of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to curtail its activities and neutralise its influence. That is important because the bank, under Gideon Gono, operated as a never-ending cash dispenser for the ZANU-PF elite and mostly those who are now the hard-liners in ZANU-PF who are horrified at the rate that they are losing power and influence and who want the inclusive Government to collapse, so that they can sweep away Morgan Tsvangirai and his Ministers.

The other positive news is that the cholera epidemic is receding. Of course, we must remember that it was very much a man-made disaster. In many parts of Zimbabwe, the control of water supplies and sewerage in local authorities that had been run by the Movement for Democratic Change was taken away by Mugabe, which meant that no one was looking after those services. That is why the cholera outbreak was dreadful in some parts of Zimbabwe. That did not happen in Bulawayo, where the MDC remained in power and where the outbreaks have been many fewer.

In relation to how Gideon Gono has operated and the way in which a small number of people are trying to work together, I was very pleased to read the very stern warning that was given by the German ambassador last Friday to the hard-liners in ZANU-PF. He addressed a seminar in Harare as a representative both of the EU presidency and of the group of 17 donor nations, called the Fishmonger group, which is particularly committed to assisting the people of Zimbabwe. He set out the five most important goals specifically identified in the global political agreement: the restoration of the rule of law; economic stabilisation and growth; commitment to the democratic process; respect for human rights; and full access to humanitarian assistance. He went on to set out very clearly the priorities that require immediate attention by the inclusive Government. I am sure that we would all share those priorities: the immediate release of all political prisoners; the end of farm disruptions, to which the hon. Gentleman referred and which were condemned outright by Morgan Tsvangirai at the weekend; the cessation of politically motivated violence; the establishment of a credible and transparent reserve bank team; an end to the harassment and intimidation of the media; and a commitment of all the people of Zimbabwe to holding credible elections in a timely manner. The ambassador said—I think that this is also the British Government’s position—that only when they see positive developments in those areas will the donor nations that make up the group be ready to release development assistance to support Zimbabwe’s reconstruction.

The donors have made it very clear that, if we are to move forward in partnership with Zimbabweans in rebuilding their country, those who have been the cause of its destruction and who continue to thwart reform will have to go. So Gideon Gono must go, because he continues to use his position to provide power of patronage to the leaders of the cabal fighting that rearguard action. Attorney-General Tomana must go. He continues
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to use his position to pursue campaigns of harassment against the independent media, and he has used the legal process to pursue campaigns of persecution against political and civil society opponents of the regime.

The continuing abductions and detentions are evidence of the way in which the campaign of terror is being pursued under the control and protection of the parallel structure of the operational command, so ably pointed out by the hon. Gentleman. The two parallel structures are both trying to be responsible for what is happening. We are now seeing, for the first time, condemnation from within the Southern African Development Community, which is beginning to see the lawlessness of the regime that it has implicitly supported over the past few years. However, a SADC tribunal, which was set up under a treaty ratified by Zimbabwe as long ago as 1992, recently delivered a very strong and decisive ruling against the way the ZANU-PF Government implemented their disastrous land reform programme. Mugabe’s Government had tried to defend their policy by claiming at the hearing that the impact of the farm seizures

The SADC tribunal dismissed that excuse and ruled that the seizure of land had been based

It was really saying that it was a racist policy, which is, of course, what people in the MDC have been saying for many years.

A couple of weeks ago at the appalling celebration of Mugabe’s 85th birthday, on which he spent thousands of pounds, he dismissed the tribunal ruling as “nonsense” and said that it was of “no consequence”. In his speech, he claimed:

It will be very instructive for those of us in countries such as the UK and the USA to see how robust SADC’s leaders will be in defying Mugabe’s bluster and insisting on the implementation of that ruling.

The problem is that the institutions in many of the countries in Africa still find it very easy to be very forthright and demanding in telling us what we should start to do to help Zimbabwe. Of course, most of that seems to involve signing rather large cheques, with no questions asked. They have to be more forthright in demanding what Mugabe’s wreckers should stop doing. If they were to do that, they might really help both Zimbabwe and the entire region to move forward.

What Zimbabwe needs and what Africa needs, as has been said over and over, is a productive agricultural sector that provides food, jobs and export earnings by utilising the abundant resources of its land and its people—a consideration that I hope our Ministers will draw to the attention of the G20 summit this week. That is why the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) was true. Everything that we try to do to help in Africa must be bottom up. It must be about giving people there the skills and tools to be able to do things for themselves; projects must not just bring in more and more workers to those countries as well as all those different people
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who come in and spend time trying to do what they can. It must be about getting the people of Africa to help. That is particularly true of Zimbabwe.

It is absolutely criminal that an agriculturally rich country such as Zimbabwe, with hundreds of thousand of highly skilled agricultural workers, should have virtually shut down production and driven its people to the brink of starvation, now to be rescued by the aid of British and American taxpayers and other countries. That shows that there is hope, in a way. People talk about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full; I feel that in the case of Africa, it should be thought of as half-full, because there is such opportunity there, particularly in countries that have already been developed to a certain extent, but have been brought down again by corruption and dictators.

The United Kingdom stood by the people of Zimbabwe throughout the recent years of terror. We in this country have provided a refuge to many thousands, and we have provided food for millions. I hope that soon, many of the Zimbabweans in this country—those intelligent, educated Zimbabweans who came here in fear of their lives, or to try to get support and help for their families—will feel that they can go back to Zimbabwe. Very soon, the day will come when Morgan Tsvangirai calls for the diaspora to come back, as happened when South Africa defeated apartheid. I hope that those people will come back, because many of them have the skills that are needed.

Over and above the massive work of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy and renewing its infrastructure, there are other things that have to be done in the next year. There is the new constitution to be written and agreed by the people. New, accurate electoral rolls need to be compiled, so that genuinely free and fair elections can be held. All that needs to be done quickly, because the present arrangement can only be transitional. We all hope that the transition to peace, security and prosperity will take place, and that it will send a clear message to the whole of Africa that the age of corruption and tyranny, which has blighted the continent for too long, and was personified by Mugabe, is drawing to a close.

I should like to end by adding my commiserations and sympathy to Morgan Tsvangirai on the tragic death of his wife, Susan. I had the privilege of having supper with them when I was last in Zimbabwe. No one can overestimate Susan’s importance, not just to Morgan but to everyone in the Movement for Democratic Change and in the country. I, too, think that he has been amazingly brave in how he has managed to continue, despite suffering a terrible personal blow. I hope that he is comforted by knowing that all over the world, we are all praying that the little glimmer of hope now there for Zimbabwe will make a difference and take Zimbabwe back to being the great and wonderful country that it once was.

8.2 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I think that we would all agree with what the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said about Zimbabwe. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), it has been a grim time in Zimbabwe. One has to hope that the small glimmer of hope will start to get brighter as the days go on.

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Like everyone who has taken part in the debate, I am really pleased that we are having a whole day’s debate on Africa, with Foreign Office and Department for International Development Ministers present. That is important, not least because there has been a tendency in the recent past, through no one’s fault, for DFID to take a lead on some issues of policy, and for the Foreign Office to do so on others. The problem is slightly heightened by the fact that the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN is not in this House but another place. It is healthy to have a whole day’s debate that involves both Departments, those who take an interest in Africa from every part of the House, the Chairman of the International Development Committee and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; the latter will, I am sure, contribute in due course.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), I hope that we will have such debates more regularly, and do not have to wait several years before we have another. It is slightly curious that the Ministry of Defence has about four days’ debate devoted to defence matters each year, whereas all too often, we have to scrabble around for debates in Westminster Hall if important issues of foreign and international development policy are to be properly debated in this House.

International development policy on Africa has a curious history. We had great hope in 2000, after the publication of the millennium development goals. For a while, it looked like the whole of the international community was focused on Africa. To his great credit, Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, really wanted to take forward a focus on policy on Africa. In the lead-up to the Gleneagles summit, the Commission for Africa provided a very good, comprehensive study of what was needed and required. Tragically, various bombings then took place, and instead of us focusing on the war on poverty, the language was suddenly all about the war on terror. The focus moved from what we could do on development in Africa; the focus was increasingly elsewhere.

I suspect that I am not alone in being somewhat confused about what the international community is doing, in terms of its commitment to funding development in Africa. The UK Government commendably say that they are committed to reaching the 0.7 per cent. target in due course, and that is absolutely fine, but it is now rather unclear by what mechanism the European Union and the other major donors are committed to giving development assistance to Africa. There tends to be a number of important but ad hoc commitments to, for example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and money is spent elsewhere on education. There does not seem to be an overall process and commitment to ensuring that the millennium development goals are not only achieved, but funded.

All of us in this Chamber know that, whether we like it or not, in politics, process is very important. When we have International Development questions once a month, it is always possible for Ministers at the Dispatch Box to tell the House what they are doing on particular initiatives and in particular countries, but we have lost the sense that there is an overall narrative, in terms of a commitment to funding development in Africa. Of course, that is all the more important now, given the global downturn, which will obviously hit Africa harder than most. I was pleased to hear what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, in a key part of his speech, which I think will
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bear re-reading in Hansard. I think that I understood him to say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute, will closely monitor what is happening in various countries in Africa, so that we can get a much better impression of how the present economic situation is affecting different countries.

In the House there is great expertise on Zimbabwe, as we have just heard, and we heard the great expertise that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has on Sierra Leone, but sometimes, what we hear is slightly too anecdotal, and it would be very good if the Foreign Office were able to share with us a much more informed, detailed appraisal of what is happening in individual African countries as a consequence of the downturn. What is quite clear is that the downturn will not be good news for Africa, so we need a much more focused commitment towards funding in Africa.

Another thing that we have lost over the past few years is the deal. It seems a long time ago, but way back at the start of the millennium, in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the commitment was that we—the west, the developed world, the north—would continue to give more and more development assistance to Africa, but the quid pro quo was to be an enhanced improvement in governance by African countries. We have today heard of a litany of coups, from Mauritania to Guinea to Guinea-Bissau; one had to get the map out. We all looked desperately hard, but between us, we could find only two or three countries, including Ghana and Botswana, that had improved their governance. Improvement in governance in Africa has been lamentably poor over the past few years.

Of course, all of us, being good liberal democrat Panglossians, want Africa to succeed, so we always tend to look for whatever glimmer of hope we can find, but the truth of the matter is that governance in Africa has been lamentably slow in improving. We should make it much clearer that there is a deal: we will meet our commitments under the millennium development goals, but there is a quid pro quo, which is that there must be enhanced governance not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout the whole of Africa, and the African Union must ensure that that happens.

Under NEPAD, there was meant to be peer review of how countries were performing, but there has been little peer review in Africa. We saw very little pressure on Zimbabwe until it became blatantly obvious that South Africa had to do something. It was pathetically slow at bringing pressure to bear on Zimbabwe.

John Bercow: Has not one of the weaknesses of the African peer review mechanism been that a country can be peer-reviewed only if it agrees to be?

Tony Baldry: Yes, that has been a substantial weakness. A further weakness is that African leaders are very wary of criticising each other. There just is not the collective discipline to enhance governance and, until that happens, there is a danger that such money as is invested is being squandered. We have to ensure some coherence about how money is invested in Africa, and we have to do something about the deal to improve governance in Africa.

The third thing that concerns me is intervention for humanitarian purposes. Surprisingly, we have heard little about Darfur in today’s debate. I am sure that if he
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catches Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) will rectify that and rebalance the debate. The House and everybody else keeps saying, “Rwanda—never again.” I am not sure where our abhorrence at the nightmare of Rwanda finishes, and what is not sufficiently abhorrent about Darfur for it not to be Rwanda again.

I sometimes facetiously say to my children, when we get round to discussing which part of the garden I will be buried in, that I have no fear of death. I have been to hell. Hell has been Gaza, because I cannot imagine anywhere after death that is worse than Gaza, or Darfur. On the occasions that I have visited Darfur with hon. Friends, it is incredibly difficult to imagine how life can get any worse than we see in Darfur.

I am sure it was right of the International Criminal Court to have imposed an arrest warrant on Bashir, but with 13 aid agencies being expelled as a consequence, huge numbers of people in Darfur will get no access to water or basic food. What is going to happen? They will be forced to leave the settlement camps for internally displaced people in which they have been living for a very long time, and they will have to go to neighbouring towns and villages, where they will get picked off.

Very large numbers of people in Darfur are at risk of losing their lives over the next couple of years. It is difficult to see what the UN can do to prevent that. Much UN assistance had for a long time been delivered through well-established professional NGOs, which have been expelled. Apparently, Bashir has said that if the warrant is not removed by the end of this year, the rest of the development agencies will also be expelled from Darfur.

We heard in 2005 that the General Assembly of the United Nations had passed a resolution on the responsibility to protect. On 12 January this year the Secretary-General published a report to the General Assembly entitled, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”. The General Assembly will shortly debate that, but the international community as a whole has not yet managed to find one single helicopter of the 22 helicopters that the UN peacekeepers in Darfur have asked for to support the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur. If the entire international community jointly cannot find a single helicopter to help in peacekeeping in Darfur, what hope have we of seeing any effective implementation of the responsibility to protect?

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) last week helped convene here at Westminster a meeting of parliamentarians from around the world interested in enhancing conflict prevention. Such initiatives are worth while, but they will be as naught if the international community is not prepared to put some commitment behind the warm words of UN resolutions such as that on the responsibility to protect. I suggest that the test of that will be Darfur. I fully understand that the UK Government and UK armed forces personnel are totally committed in Afghanistan, but we are not the only nation in the world. The UK is not the international community. I am not suggesting to the Minister that we single-handedly have to sort out Darfur.

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