Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Have sanctions boosted Mugabe's morale?
by John Montagu
The following is a contribution to a debate at the House of Lords by the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, on Friday, March 11, 2011:
MY LORDS , it is a great privilege to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dannatt on his interesting and compelling maiden speech. We have all followed his recent career both as a soldier and, for a time, as a party politician, and I hope and expect that it is with great relief that he has arrived on the Cross Benches, where he will feel among friends both gallant and otherwise.
As my noble friend told us, he completed 40 years’ service in the Army. He held many prominent positions, including Commander, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, 2003-05, Commander-in-Chief Land Command, 2005-06, and Chief of the General Staff, 2006-09.
He also told us very movingly of his personal experience of and service to Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans. I reassure him that his map-reading in the House can only improve. In the mean time, we will greatly look forward to his contributions to our debates.
We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for securing this debate at a time when we need to be more watchful than ever of events in Zimbabwe, which, again, are taking an unpleasant turn. It seems that the violence that we saw three years ago leading up to the elections is returning in a similar form.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury—as he does so well—and others have given us details of this rise in violence and human rights abuse. Inevitably, the MDC is being targeted, as are the churches, the trade unions and civil society—in fact, anyone, for whatever trivial reason, who falls foul of the authorities. The most ludicrous example was the video of the news the other day, and most recently there have been gruesome attacks on those attending International Women’s Day and other events in Bulawayo.
There is a new determination by Zanu PF to block constitutional change, remove or intimidate the opposition, and threaten more violence in preparation for possible elections later this year, no doubt assisted by the diamond money which is being pocketed by officials. I strongly support those who call for a firmer intervention from SADC and the African Union. They could be selecting observers and getting ready for these elections now.
What can the Minister tell us about the UK’s contribution, including technical support for the Electoral Commission, the need for voter education and making better use of civil society organisations, churches and trade unions in spreading awareness? Some of us have direct experience of the elections in South Africa, where this was so effective. It seems that history is repeating itself. It may therefore help to look back at what happened after the 2008 elections and to examine the EU’s and the UK’s diplomatic role at that time.
During the summer, when Mr Mugabe had clearly lost all legitimacy and credibility in the June 2008 elections, could the UK and other EU members have played a cleverer game? In retrospect, we now see that, three months later, he got ahead of us by entering this agreement which led to a coalition the following spring.
Surely, we can now admit that the coalition, which left the opposition with almost only the junior portfolios, was a considerable coup for the president and a major deception for the rest of us, as my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said. It simply became a prop to perpetuate Mr Mugabe’s regime.
Secondly, I wonder whether the sanctions, strengthened in February 2009 and relaxed since then, have really had any effect on Mr Mugabe, or whether in some perverse way they have actually boosted his morale. If we look at the Ivory Coast, we see President Gbagbo grandstanding against the French colonial power in order to boost his post-election position, echoing Mr Mugabe's performance three years earlier. Colonel Gaddafi in Libya is playing a similar game of one-upmanship by baiting foreigners.
Clearly, the Zimbabwe dictator has attracted other African leaders, or should I say gangsters, to his master class. Interestingly, Jeune Afrique magazine left him out of its list of contemporary political arch criminals from Salazar to Saddam last week. Is it possible that we in the UK have exaggerated the importance of Mr Mugabe and, thereby, contributed to his platform?
Having recently spent two weeks in Africa, I am certain that in both African and European Union eyes, we in the UK still seem to feel over-responsible for Zimbabwe and are still his outstanding critics. I am not sure that that is a good thing. Is it perhaps time for us to lower our profile and join forces with the European Union in reaching a more convincing EU foreign policy?
I recognise that that is controversial, but in a sense the process is inexorable and it might be a more effective and pragmatic diplomatic policy. We already have positive examples of close EU co-operation. At the time of the coalition—the Minister may confirm this—some EU members were understandably reluctant to work with the ministries held by Zanu PF but since then there has been a more general engagement with the government as a whole which has undoubtedly been a more productive way of working.
Another example has been the success of the EU’s partnership with the NGOs, which kept many families out of poverty during the harsh times of inflation and the collapse of social services. We can be very proud of the EU aid programme, and our own, and of the work of UK aid agencies over the past 10 years, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.
With the restoration of most services, NGOs, rather than being purely service providers, are beginning to adapt to a more traditional development role, albeit under a humanitarian banner. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, about the need to support skilled Zimbabweans in the UK and the organisations which are behind them.
With the positive changes in the economy, thanks largely to the excellent Finance Minister, there is a new investment climate. There has also been an improvement in food supply and health performance mainly in urban areas and a decline in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, but some of the figures for maternal mortality, as my noble friend Lord Crisp will probably say, are still among the worst in Africa. I could speak of the conditions of farm workers, but I have spoken about them in these debates before.
In conclusion, I am not suggesting that sanctions should be further relaxed, but I feel that we are stuck where we are and that we should press much harder for the rule of law, fairer elections, constitutional change and a great deal more commitment from SADC, the African Union and Zimbabwe’s African neighbours.