My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for securing this debate. Africa is a continent close to my heart. I was born in Kenya and spent my childhood in Uganda. His Excellency the Ambassador of Zimbabwe is in the Chamber, and I welcome him to your Lordships’ House.
About three weeks ago, I was asked by my Chief Whip to attend the sixth Consultative Assembly of Parliamentarians for the International Criminal Court and the Rule of Law, which was held in Uganda. I chaired and spoke in the session where the main speaker was the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. We discussed the situation in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda.
I am a businessman who cares greatly about humanitarian issues. As a nation, Zimbabwe has fallen short of expectations since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. Zimbabwe was once a prosperous state. However, civil unrest, which still hinders the nation’s progress, has largely contributed to its unfortunate descent. Democracy and the rule of law have been overlooked in favour of tyranny. The penal system does not always function fairly and there have been many incidences where justice has been lacking. Farms belonging to white citizens have been seized and are being seized as I speak. This brings back memories of the situation when General Amin seized the assets of us, the Asians, in the early 1970s, and there was mayhem in the country until he was removed.
In Zimbabwe, prisons are overcrowded, prisoners are severely undernourished and the lack of adequate sanitation contributes to the spread of disease among inmates. The recent arrest and alleged torture of gay rights activists is wholly unacceptable. The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has described same-gender couples as “lower than dogs and pigs”. Last December, I raised this issue in your Lordships’ House when I referred to a Private Member’s Bill in Uganda that seeks to criminalise same-gender couples. There has also been a well documented case of a couple in Malawi who were sanctioned for that reason. The rampant homophobia in certain African nations is a huge concern for us. Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to address this issue in African countries that are members of the Commonwealth?
Although there are many areas where Zimbabwe needs to make swift improvements, it is important to recognise the recent progress made by that nation. The acquittal of Roy Bennett, the treasurer-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, is a testament to developments in the Zimbabwean judicial system. The decision to remove the ban on independent newspapers is a momentous step forward for Zimbabwe: the media have a right to exist without fear of intimidation. This development is all the more significant, as it was made by the new media licensing authority formed by the coalition Government. Following a High Court ruling, the South African Government has been asked to release a report on the disputed 2002 Zimbabwe elections. I welcome this decision, as there were widespread allegations of intimidation and irregularities. It is in the best interests of both nations to address the discrepancies in the statement made by the international observers and the then South African Government.
Zimbabwe‘s mineral wealth has the potential to make a significant contribution to the nation’s economic recovery. However, there have been many deaths and human rights abuses at Marange diamond field in particular and at others in the east of the country. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to investigate the widespread allegations that profits from the diamond trade are fuelling hostilities in Zimbabwe? In Sierra Leone, the international community witnessed the use of precious minerals in the pursuit of power to devastating effect.
We have a moral duty to ensure that Zimbabwe does not follow this path and be certified by the Kimberley Process to sell diamonds. It has seen a marked recovery in manufacturing, mining, agriculture and tourism. Its economic growth suggests that it is meeting the requirement of the Southern African Development Community to work towards achieving economic liberation, as stated in the Lusaka declaration. It achieved a gross domestic product of 5.9 per cent in 2009, which strongly suggests that the economy is started to show signs of long-term recovery. I welcome the African Union’s efforts to enforce good governance with proposals to sanction heads of state who engage in unconstitutional behaviour. Greater interaction among African nations could contribute to stability and economic growth on the continent.
The result of studies published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union reveals that trade among African nations accounts for just a maximum of 12 per cent. The African Union has a greater role to play in fostering better regional integration. South Africa, as the largest investor on the continent, can play a leading role in ensuring that this becomes a reality.
The Commonwealth, too, can play a prominent role to encourage trade among the member states. I would like plans to be put in place to ensure that this becomes a reality and that active trade is generated between the various countries. It is estimated that every day close to 300 Zimbabwean migrants cross the Limpopo River into South Africa seeking asylum, and there are close to 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa as a result of the dire social and political situation in Zimbabwe. The high number of Zimbabwean migrants has exerted great pressure on South Africa, which in turn has created social problems that have resulted in violence and death. Constructive dialogue is needed between the Governments of South Africa and Zimbabwe to address this mass migration.
The terms of the global political agreement include requirements that Zimbabwe must produce a new constitution and has a duty to hold democratic elections by next year. It can be argued that this latter requirement can be met only if international observers are allowed to carry out their duties in the absence of bribery or coercion. Although I would like Zimbabwe to gain readmission to the Commonwealth, this should be granted only on the proviso that the ruling coalition can meet the terms of the global political agreement.
Commonwealth countries can be more actively involved in conflict resolution in member states. We all appreciate that the Commonwealth is a unique organisation that values equality, and that the spirit of commandership can be utilised to settle disputes. At present, the Zimbabwean healthcare system is underresourced and underequipped. HIV and AIDS are endemic. Zimbabwe has become one of the most affected countries in the world. Commentators have attributed this to a number of reasons, including a lack of resources and community awareness. The Zimbabwean Government have not shown adequate leadership in addressing prevention and care in tackling the HIV epidemic. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to assist Zimbabwe to combat this deadly affliction? The Zimbabwean people have suffered violence and degradation for far too long. It is the duty of regional partners and the international community to ensure that these abuses and impunity for the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to an end.
The battle against apartheid in South Africa and the support of neighbouring states given to those involved in the internal struggle for justice was paramount to achieving freedom against oppression. The people of Zimbabwe deserve the same consideration in their quest to lead their lives free from intimidation and oppression. The social and political changes which face this country can be resolved with combined efforts from a democratic Zimbabwean Government and other countries, most notably with help from South Africa. We have historic ties with Zimbabwe and we can play a vital role in achieving the objectives.