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Mr. Straw: What I would like to happen is clear. I would like President Mugabe to recognise the error of his ways and the disaster into which he has plunged Zimbabwe. I would like him to leave office, allow elections to take place immediately, stop interfering with humanitarian relief, get the farmers, whether they are white, Indian or black, back on to the land, respect the rule of law and allow this wonderfully prosperous country—[Interruption.] I am asked how that would happen, but that is the point. I say to Opposition Members that the issue for the international community is how we do this. That is the truth of it. I have not sought at any stage to pretend that there is some magic wand waiting to be used.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we in this House need to have some recognition of what influence we can have in this situation and accept that Britain's role, however active and vigorous, will not solve the problems on its own? The key players in making changes in southern Africa are the neighbours of Zimbabwe, and the Republic of South Africa in particular. Without the Republic of South Africa moving, there is very little that he and his colleagues can do.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend's observation is accurate. To suggest that we could take action without an alliance

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and coalition from Africa, and South Africa in particular, would be a pretence, as such action would bilateralise the dispute, make us ineffective and make any international coalition almost impossible to achieve.

One of the many things that we have done is to secure a situation whereby the decision on the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth was taken not by us, not by the Commonwealth ministerial action group, of which the United Kingdom is a member, but by a troika of the current chair of the Commonwealth, Prime Minister Howard of Australia, and two key members—President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Mbeki of South Africa. It is hugely to their credit that they made the decision that they did once the Commonwealth observers found that the elections had been neither free nor fair.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): As the Foreign Secretary knows, the G8 and NEPAD have a close relationship and there is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to raise this matter. What will he say to the G8 about bringing direct influence to bear on NEPAD to build the coalition to take the process forward?

Mr. Straw: The Prime Minister will discuss Zimbabwe with his colleagues in the G8 and with African leaders. Last week, I had a long meeting with Foreign Minister Zuma of South Africa. All the African leaders understand the disaster into which Mugabe is plunging the continent, especially the sub-continent. If the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria and all the other countries in southern African thought that there was a magic wand for saving not only Zimbabwe, but southern Africa, they would have followed that through. One of the tragedies of the situation is not only what Mugabe has done to the Zimbabwean economy—gross domestic product declined by 10 per cent. last year, unemployment is running at 70 per cent., inflation stands at 122 per cent. and the industrial sector is collapsing—but the damage that is being done to the rest of southern Africa, including, in particular, South Africa. The decline of the rand—although it has recently improved, it went down by 31 per cent. in the past year—is almost wholly attributable to the damage done by the Mugabe regime.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): The situation facing the wonderful people of that once prosperous country in central southern Africa is catastrophic. I receive daily e-mails and faxes about their suffering. Is it not time to consider different ways of tackling the problem? Earlier today, during Question Time, I floated an idea that was responded to, but not positively enough. Would not someone like the modern father of central southern Africa, Nelson Mandela, be a figure around whom a group of countries could bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe, and perhaps also on Libya, which continues to fund and to support Mugabe? If that were done, the international community, including Libya, could unite to bring about a change of Government in order to do something for the people of Zimbabwe, about whom I practically cry because of their suffering.

Mr. Straw: I am happy to discuss the hon. Gentleman's proposal regarding the involvement of

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President Mandela. My own sense, which is shared by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, is that if President Mandela felt that he had been able to act as a positive intermediary in the situation, he would have done so. It is a lamentable commentary on Mugabe and his isolation that none of the offers of intermediation has positively been taken up. President Mbeki and President Obasanjo said that they would help to broker a constructive dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC, but that offer has so far been refused. However, I am happy to pursue the idea and to have it drawn to President Mandela's attention.

Libya's route back into the international community partly depends on its showing a responsible attitude towards Zimbabwe and in respect of Sierra Leone. We are aware of that, and it is a point that has repeatedly been made to Libya in the dialogue that is taking place.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall therefore shortly draw my remarks to a close. One of the excuses that Mugabe has used in respect of Zimbabwe is to blame the current famine entirely on drought. It is true that drought has played a significant part in the failure of the maize harvest, but there is no doubt that policy failures—not least the mismanagement of the exchange rate and the chaotic land reform programme—have greatly exacerbated the situation. That is illustrated by the following figures. The United Nations estimates that Zambia and Malawi, which have suffered similar droughts, have lost one quarter of their food production capacity, but that figure rises to three quarters in respect of Zimbabwe. The UN declares that

to a resolution of the crisis. The UN World Food Programme estimates that as a result almost half the population—up to 6 million people—will be unable to meet their minimum food requirements in the next 12 months.

The tragedy is that a year ago Zimbabwe still had a chance to return to the path of sustainable development. When I became Foreign Secretary a year ago, some of my first contacts were with my South African and Nigerian counterparts. At that time, we agreed there was still a prospect that Zimbabwe could rehabilitate itself. So last September at Abuja, Commonwealth Ministers, including myself, set out, with Mr. Mugabe's agreement, a clear road map for Zimbabwe—via the Harare principles—back to prosperity and international respect. Tragically, ZANU-PF did not grasp that opportunity. In the run-up to the presidential election, the regime pressed ahead with its land reform programme, intimidated and even killed members of the Opposition, and implemented further measures to curb freedom of speech. That culminated in a stolen presidential election, which compounded the country's isolation. Since then, the regime's actions—ranging from further restrictions on the media and harassment of the legal profession to further violence against the Opposition and intimidation of those who work in the farming sector—suggest that it has no plans to change course.

That is why we have to continue, with international agreement where appropriate, to strengthen the measures taken against Zimbabwe. I say to the right hon. Member for Devizes, who asks me to advertise a long list, in advance of international agreement, of the measures that

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could perhaps be taken, that the only people who would be comforted by such a pre-emptive list would be members of the Mugabe regime—especially if it transpired, for various reasons, that it was not possible to ensure that each of the measures was implemented in full. I promise the House that we are aware of the continuing need to ensure that the existing measures that have been taken are made as effective as possible and that they are strengthened where appropriate.

This debate takes place as world leaders in the G8 are gathering to agree, we hope and believe, a new partnership for African development—an area in which my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister have been in the lead for some time.

As far as the rest of Africa is concerned, it is worth noting that on the whole the story has been one of much better news than in Zimbabwe. Africa has huge problems—poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities, hunger and low life expectancy are still the fate of many in African countries—but there are signs that democracy is taking root. In 1975, Africa had only three elected leaders—today there are more than 30—and there are no military governments in sub-Saharan Africa. Ten years ago few people—least of all those in the Conservative party—believed that South Africa would emerge from the shadow of apartheid with a tolerant, multi-racial government. Thanks to British intervention, last month the people of Sierra Leone were able to vote in an election free from the threat of violence and intimidation. Had we turned a blind eye, as some suggested, to the plight of that country, its people would now be suffering a fate worse than that of Zimbabwe.

There has been a breakthrough in the world's largest conflict in the Great Lakes. The Democratic Republic of Congo ceasefire has held for nearly 18 months. There is further to go, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will visit the region between the end of July and the beginning of August. Prompt action by the Government prevented an outbreak of hostilities between Uganda and Rwanda last November. There are promising signs of economic growth throughout Africa. More than 20 African countries achieved a growth rate of 4 per cent. last year. Zimbabwe's decline stands in stark contrast to that better news.

Within the limits of our influence, we shall do all that we can to promote efforts by the international community, especially leaders of other Governments in the region, to return stability to Zimbabwe. That has been our goal since the beginning of the country's slide into chaos three years ago. Thanks to our diplomacy in the past 12 months, the involvement of the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United States, we have been able to show that the issue is of international concern.

Human rights abuses and violations of the rule of law have made Zimbabwe an outcast in the region and the wider world, thus belying Mr. Mugabe's claim that his country is a colonial victim. I am confident that the international community will continue to unite in condemning what has happened and working together to ensure that the true voice of the Zimbabwean people is heard and that there is a pathway back to peace and prosperity for that benighted land.

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