My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for securing this debate. The recent developments in Zimbabwe do not reflect the aims stipulated in the historic global political agreement. Progress has been painfully slow with fears of a return to the old regime.
There is speculation that Mr Mugabe has sent serving and retired Zimbabwean military personnel to Libya in support of Colonel Gaddafi. The 46 people who were arrested in Zimbabwe for watching footage of the uprising in north Africa are to be charged with treason-an offence that carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe. The former MP and Labour activist, Mr Gwisai, is among those to be charged.
A magistrate in Harare has since halted the proceedings against these individuals and ordered that they undergo examination for torture. Most worrying is the revelation that among the 46 arrested is a woman who has had three operations for a brain tumour yet was assaulted by prison guards and refused treatment.
These actions have resulted in widespread condemnation, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concerns about civil society in Zimbabwe. The situation in Zimbabwe is such that there is hunger, poverty and unemployment among the majority of citizens but wealth is enjoyed by a select few.
The combination of low incomes and a shortage of food have exposed Zimbabwe, among other nations, to fluctuating market prices. The average citizen spends a large portion of his wages on food supplies. A meteoric rise in the cost of provisions has the potential to trigger protests in Zimbabwe as seen in north Africa.
The decision by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to increase tariffs by 30 per cent puts further pressure on the cost of living, especially for citizens on the lowest incomes. Although economic activity has increased over the past two years, Zimbabwe’s headline rate of inflation was still high for January despite the monetary policy statement of the Bank of Zimbabwe warning against the effects of rising inflation on the economy. Zimbabwe caught the world’s attention at the end of 2007 with hyperinflation which led to price increases of more than 60,000 per cent.
The rise in political violence is a cause for concern. Amnesty International has reported that supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change Party have been targeted by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF for a campaign of prolonged violence and intimidation. It has been just over two years since the historic power-sharing agreement was signed by the two parties. Shopkeepers who stock and sell independent newspapers are being harassed and intimidated by people suspected of being members of ZANU-PF.
A new organisation, Wealth to the Youth, which is linked to ZANU-PF, has been looting shops owned by foreigners. I support the decision of the European Union and the United States to extend sanctions on Zimbabwe until February 2012. This is the correct approach to dealing with a nation that does not reflect and does not respect its citizen’s human rights, democracy or the rule of law. These requirements were stipulated under the global political agreement but have not been implemented.
Britain is one of the largest donors to the Zimbabwean state and last year gave the biggest aid package to date. The Government have pledged to increase aid to Zimbabwe over the next four years provided that it holds free and fair elections and successfully implements reforms. I am in favour of this decision as Britain’s development aid reaches the people of Zimbabwe through the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.
I welcome the Southern African Development Community’s efforts to encourage the political parties in Zimbabwe to work towards achieving social and political reforms. The SADC is also playing an important role by investing in projects aimed at improving the infrastructure in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe has accused Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank of profiting to the detriment of Zimbabwe’s economy and has threatened to bring them under state control. I should be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to the steps Her Majesty’s Government will take in response to this overt warning.
During a recent visit, the Chinese Foreign Minister called for the withdrawal of sanctions on Zimbabwe. China has signed a deal to provide Zimbabwe with a grant of $7.6 million. It is important to remember that in 2008 China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that sought sanctions against Zimbabwe for violating human rights. Having an ally with the economic prowess of China provides the Zimbabwean Government with limited incentives to implement reforms.
It is not only irresponsible but incorrect for Robert Mugabe to blame the sanctions placed on his country for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. It is more accurate to place a significant part of the responsibility for the nation’s suffering on the violent land-distribution programme that has almost destroyed the agriculture industry. The way that the white farmers have been treated by Robert Mugabe reminds me of how the assets of my family and other Asians were seized by General Amin when we were expelled from Uganda.
The concerns of foreign investors in Zimbabwe are compounded by Mugabe’s Economic Empowerment Act that states that black Zimbabweans should own 51 per cent of companies worth more than £307 million. Any form of discrimination is wholly unwelcome. It does not serve the best interests of Zimbabwe’s economy or society to implement such a blatantly odious piece of legislation that gives rise to racism. I should be grateful if my noble friend could provide up-to-date details of British companies and individuals affected by this law.
The recent direction taken by the President of Zimbabwe is hugely disappointing in the light of notable successes. The nation appears to have made progress, given its participation in the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The Carlyle Group intends to launch a fund for investment in Africa, with a presence in three African countries, including Zimbabwe. The power-sharing agreement brought a great deal of optimism to Zimbabweans. However, it appears that ZANU-PF is still behaving in a manner that was rejected by the electorate two years ago.
Mugabe’s continued defiance of pressure from the international community is a constant concern. We have an historic duty to engage with partners in the region to work towards achieving the social and political reforms that the people of Zimbabwe greatly deserve.
Finally, I am a great believer in the Commonwealth and would like to see its countries, particularly the African states, do more to resolve the problems in Zimbabwe. I have spoken previously in your Lordships’ House on the Commonwealth. It should do more on conflict resolution and promoting trade among its various countries.