Zim crisis requires leadership and political will
The following is the full text of an address to the British parliament by Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey during a debate on foreign affairs on Wednesday, November 22:
By Kate Hoey
IT IS always interesting to follow one of my many constituents, who can be found on both sides of the House.
I shall not talk about Iraq, other than to say that I share many of the views that have been expressed on both sides. We do need an early withdrawal. It will not be acceptable to my constituents, most of whom were opposed to the war, for our soldiers to continue to be killed. We need a way out, soon.
I wish to address a crisis in which the UK’s historical position means that we could play a special role. Indeed, we have a right to play a special role in Zimbabwe. I apologise for not being in my place earlier in the debate, but I was chairing the all-party group on Zimbabwe, at which we had the immense privilege of listening to Archbishop Pius Ncube, the very brave Roman Catholic archbishop from Bulawayo, who has repeatedly stood out against Mugabe and the political oppression in his country.
Until now, the Government have preferred to play a behind the scenes role in dealing with the crisis in Zimbabwe, and Ministers have been anxious—perhaps understandably—to avoid playing to Mugabe’s propaganda scripts, which portray the Zimbabwe crisis as a bilateral post-colonial dispute. That has to change, and soon.
The socio-economic position in Zimbabwe has never before been so bad. The country’s inflationary rate is almost 2,000 per cent., the highest in the world. The economy has declined at a rate unprecedented in a nation that is supposedly at peace. It is the fastest declining economy in the world. The GDP has shrunk by more than 40 per cent. in the past six years. Such an economic collapse has never happened before in a nation that is not at war.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV infection rates on earth, with more than 24 per cent. of the population infected, while pathetically small amounts are spent on antiretroviral drugs by a Government who have been more concerned to import military aircraft from China than to protect the lives of their people.
By the end of this year, there will not be enough grain to feed the nation, although Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of southern Africa. There is no sign of economic recovery, with the Zimbabwean Government threatening to seize 51 per cent. ownership of all mines in the country. The lack of security of any kind of ownership is hardly likely to encourage the foreign investment needed to reindustrialise Zimbabwe.
Just a few weeks ago I visited for the third time and I saw for myself the hunger, illness and desperation stalking the country. The cemeteries are filling up, but no blood is being spilled. People are just fading away, dying quietly and being buried quietly with no fanfare and no international media attention. Each week an estimated 3,500 Zimbabweans die from a unique convergence of malnutrition, poverty and AIDS. The figures suggest that, far from the media spotlight—no BBC cameras allowed in—more people die in Zimbabwe each week than in either, in the past, Darfur or Iraq. Those deaths are largely preventable, but without significant intervention the situation threatens to develop into a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions.
The Zimbabwean Government continue deliberately to underplay the extent of the malnutrition crisis for political reasons, using food as a political weapon, most recently in the rural elections. The World Health Organisation’s figures, released earlier this year, put life expectancy in Zimbabwe as the lowest in the world—34 for women and 37 for men. Despite attracting little media attention, those figures, which relate to 2004, show the gravity of the situation.
Recently, there has been a crackdown on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and I met many of the trade unionists who have been beaten up. Those brave trade unionists are fighting hard to get their voices heard and for the rights and basic democracy that we take for granted.
One of the things that this country can do is try to change international perception of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is not stupid. He is a clever operator and he has manipulated world opinion, especially in the African region. He has also played on our memories of past struggles to paralyse progressive opinion that should be expressing outrage at what he is doing. It should be as unacceptable to defend Robert Mugabe today as it was in the past to defend Pinochet of Chile or Idi Amin of Uganda.
Our Government cannot expect sustainable development in Africa until we find ways of preventing the plunder of its economies and the destruction of its natural and human resources by rogue leaders. Persuading regional leaders that they must engage in finding a way to end the crisis in Zimbabwe is basic to the future well-being of the entire Government there.
The Government have a real opportunity to support the recent moves towards a resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe by promoting the initiative from within the Southern African Development Community region. The recent decision of the new chairman of SADC, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, to dispatch a ministerial action group to Harare has evoked furious reactions from the ruling Zanu PF in Zimbabwe.
Lesotho’s decision to put Zimbabwe high on the SADC agenda shows an acceptance, at last, that the crisis there is undermining the economies of the region and peace there. I understand that that indictment of Mugabe’s regime at last has the blessing of the Governments of South Africa and Botswana. SADC countries are beginning to face up to the political realities of the crisis in Zimbabwe and accept regional responsibility for dealing with a member state that has long been in breach of its fundamental obligations as a member of that community.
I welcome the recent statements of the Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Triesman, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, both of whom are now prepared to speak out more clearly and unequivocally on Zimbabwe. I wish that Ministers in other EU countries would stop trying to undermine the targeted sanctions in their own national self-interests and without regard to the plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I hope that the British Government will do what they can to stop France from inviting Mugabe to the African conference in the new year. We must ensure that we support the efforts of those who carry on the struggle inside Zimbabwe—civil society, the churches and the opposition. They need money and resources, and we have to find ways of ensuring that they get them.
Mugabe’s final term is due to end in March 2008, but there are already moves afoot to extend it to 2010. He is terrified of ending up in a cell in The Hague like Charles Taylor of Liberia. If the opposition in Zimbabwe are prepared to say that one man cannot be allowed to stand in the way of ending the suffering of an entire nation, we could accept that. Offering a way out for Mugabe and, perhaps, other figures in the ruling party could form part of negotiations on a transitional process. That process has to pave the way for a new constitution and genuinely free elections so that the people of Zimbabwe can start to rebuild their country and its institutions under a democratic Government.
Many hon. Members might think that compared with other emergencies around the world, the situation in Zimbabwe is a relatively unimportant problem. In fact it is relatively straightforward, but it requires leadership and political will. The people of Zimbabwe would welcome any serious initiative with enthusiasm. That would not require military involvement from our already overstretched armed forces. With the help of allies in Africa, a solution is possible.
Conditions in Zimbabwe have not got any better; they are getting worse. The brutality of the regime has not declined. It is prepared to disregard all civilised standards when it comes to suppressing expressions of dissent from trade unions, churches or civilians. However, during my visit there I saw that there is a unity of purpose. A cohesive opposition alliance has emerged between trade unions, civil society and the opposition, who are planning together for the future. That gives me grounds for optimism.
There is no point in devoting tens of millions of pounds of my poor constituents’ money from DFID’s budget to food aid and efforts that will at best ameliorate and at worst camouflage the impact of Zanu PF’s wanton mismanagement if ways of funding the organisations that make up the mainstream opposition cannot be found. The Prime Minister is not going to get his legacy in Iraq; if he wants a real legacy, he should spend the next six months going around the African countries and really working. He could end up getting a solution to the problems in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabweans and the world want that, and it would give the Prime Minister his legacy.
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