Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. In relation to the freedom of the media, you rightly referred to the extreme harassment to which the media in Zimbabwe has been subjected. As you know, Geoff Nyarota, the editor of the only genuinely independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe, was arrested last month. There have been examples of the most outrageous harassment, and worse, of those who have sought to produce any form of critical comment on the government. When this Committee visited Belgrade, just before the last election, it had the opportunity of talking to the few representatives of independent media under the Milosevic regime, and learnt with considerable interest the efforts which the British Government had made during the Milosevic period to sustain the independent media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Can you tell us in general terms—and if you want to follow it up with anything on a private basis in writing, we would appreciate that—the steps that the British Government are taking, as it did in relation to the free media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to sustain and support those incredibly brave, courageous journalists and representatives of the media in Zimbabwe who are trying to uphold the freedom of the media in that country?
  (Baroness Amos) As I think I made clear to you at the meeting in December and earlier, we absolutely deplore the kind of harassment and intimidation that we have seen of the media in Zimbabwe. We continue to believe that a free press is absolutely critical to a flourishing democracy, and we will try to sustain and support and assist in any way that we can. One of the questions that I was asked in December was with respect to assisting members of the press who perhaps had to flee Zimbabwe quickly. We will continue to look at cases like that. With respect to what is behind the question, which is whether or not we, for example, give any particular financial support to the independent media in Zimbabwe, I am not aware that we do; but in general terms there are courses and other mechanisms which the British Council run, which media from all over the world have access to. If I can add anything to that answer, I will alert the Committee.

  81. I hope, Minister, you will take the opportunity to look very closely to see how the Government supported the independent media during the Milosovic regime in Yugoslavia.
  (Baroness Amos) I entirely agree.

Mr Chidgey

  82. You have set out a pretty comprehensive catalogue of the break-down of law and order and the complete and total power of President Mugabe's regime and just about all aspects of Zimbabwean life, the desperate need for humanitarian aid and so forth; and whilst I share your concerns, it seems to me from your responses that, frankly, this Government is powerless to have any effects on the way forward in Zimbabwe. You have talked at some length about the discussions and working together with others, but can you give this Committee one instance that would lead us to believe that progress is being made in restoring the sort of good governance, human rights and rule of law that one would hope for?
  (Baroness Amos) I am afraid I cannot give the Committee that kind of assurance. We are all deeply frustrated by the situation in Zimbabwe. This is a country which in previous years has been the bread basket, as it were, of southern Africa. This is a country which, in the past, has put respect for human rights and democratic principles at the centre of its agenda. We need to remember that Zimbabwe is an independent country, and where you have a government that appears to care very little for what is happening to its own citizens and is not really prepared to take on board the concerns of the international community; where you have international financial institutions that have made it absolutely clear that they cannot engage with Zimbabwe because the government of Zimbabwe is not prepared to put in place the kind of economic policies that are appropriate. There is a limit to what the international community can achieve—not just the British Government. We have to continue to try to find all the levers that we can to continue to put pressure on that government. We have to give support to the very brave people in Zimbabwe who turned out to vote in the face of some very, very difficult circumstances. We have to continue to support the NGOs and the work of the independent media. Sir John Stanley pressed me particularly on those areas. There are areas where we can work to give support, but if the government of Zimbabwe is not prepared to listen to its neighbours—and it is having an extremely detrimental effect on the economies of neighbouring countries—to SADC, to the Commonwealth or the UN, there is a limit to what the international community can do. That is very frustrating indeed.

  83. Thank you for that. On the last point you made in relation to the involvement of the Commonwealth and the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for 12 months, there is absolutely no indication as far as we can see that President Mugabe cared anything about what the Commonwealth does in respect of Zimbabwe. We have to ask whether a suspension for one year will make any difference. What conditions will Zimbabwe have to satisfy if its suspension is not renewed next year? What is the British Government doing to maintain Commonwealth momentum on this issue, and if necessary to gather support for a further period of suspension? What further sanctions, in that situation, can the Commonwealth take?
  (Baroness Amos) Will suspension make a difference? I think it is too soon to tell. As I have indicated to the Committee, it is certainly not clear now, in the middle of May, what impact that suspension has had. I have indicated to the Committee our concerns about the fact that the dialogue set up for yesterday did not happen. We have to wait and see what Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo decide with respect to next steps, because the Commonwealth troika decision and the ommuniquéé makes clear that one of the elements the Commonwealth wanted to see was the dialogue. With respect to the conditions against which Zimbabwe is being measured, the communiqué made it absolutely clear that Zimbabwe would be measured against the Harare principles, and I am aware that the Commonwealth Secretary General would like a Commonwealth team to visit Zimbabwe, to enable the Commonwealth to begin to gather information and evidence, so that the troika will have information and evidence available with which to make a decision. We continue to talk to our Commonwealth partners. I have spoken to the Secretary General. There is a CMAG Commonwealth ministerial action group meeting in Botswana, between 15 and 17 May. I have no doubt that Zimbabwe will be one of the big issues on the agenda of CMAG. Again, the Committee will be aware that Zimbabwe challenged the fact that the Commonwealth ministerial action group had discussed Zimbabwe on previous occasions. We continue to believe that that was entirely appropriate and that with the broadening of CMAG's mandate, which happened at the recent Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Coolum, there is absolutely no doubt that CMAG has the remit to discuss Zimbabwe.

  84. Taking it one step further, the Government made very clear its very strong support for NePAD, and you know that the Presidents of Nigeria and South Africa are two key players in that organisation. You also, of course, know that one of the critical and major objectives of NePAD is to agree codes and standards of economic and political governance, and a peer-review mechanism. Given that suspension from the Commonwealth seems to have had very little influence, and given that the talks and working together that you have discussed have had no influence, what specific discussions has the British Government had with the leaders of NePAD in trying to move forward to some solution for the problems in Zimbabwe? In that context, is there any indication that some within that community see President Mugabe as a hero rather than a villain; and what action is the British Government taking to address that?
  (Baroness Amos) There have been a number of discussions with officials in NePAD, as well as with the members of the NePAD implementation committee, which includes 15 heads of state.

  85. It does not include Zimbabwe.
  (Baroness Amos) No, it does not include Zimbabwe. The discussions have been about issues of political and economic governance. It would be true to say that there has been concern, and that concern has been on a number of different levels. First, there was a concern that Zimbabwe would be used as a kind of test for the entire NePAD process. There was a very strong feeling amongst the leaders that I have spoken to that one country should not be used to judge an entire continent. There is also a very strong feeling that NePAD is at the early stages of a process. This is a long-term development agenda for the entire continent. NePAD leaders see it as a minimum 20-year strategy. The NePAD secretariat has been working on these issues only since last year. They agreed at their meeting in Abuja in March the principles for economic and political governance codes, and the Economic Commission for Africa was asked to go away and work on the detail of those codes. I understand that that will then be put to the NePAD implementation committee members in the middle of June. There is serious work which is ongoing and certainly the President of NePAD,[1] who is one of five steering committee presidents, has made absolutely clear that he feels that the action that was taken around the elections in Zimbabwe was entirely inappropriate. The President of Ghana, who is closely associated with the NePAD process—although they are not on the implantation committee—has also made his views absolutely clear. With respect to the question about whether or not any within NePAD see President Mugabe as a hero, I am not aware of that, although in the discussions we had at Coolum, when we discussed Zimbabwe in the context of the Commonwealth, there were a number of African Commonwealth countries that not so much presented Robert Mugabe as a hero, but talked in terms of Zimbabwe's political history and its relationship to Britain, and felt that this was an issue which should be tackled within Africa.


  86. Baroness Amos, the Prime Minister has appointed you as his personal representative to develop a G8 action plan in respect of NePAD. You know that contact with Africa delivers good governance and that in response the developed world will seek to build up the economy. Knowing how difficult it is in any event to attract private investment into Africa, how damaging do you believe the actions of the government of Zimbabwe have been to the aims of NePAD?
  (Baroness Amos) I would like to answer that question in two parts, if I may. It is very important to say what the core of the G8 action plan is intended to be. The G8 action plan is intended to identify those areas where the G8, as the G8, can add value to the NePAD process. It is not a response to the entire NePAD document, and we have made that absolutely clear to our NePAD partners. The second thing in relation to that general point that I would like to make clear is that the G8 are absolutely clear that this is about identifying those countries in Africa with commitment to reform that are willing to probe all development, so that they will then be in a position to move into an enhanced development partnership with G8 member countries and others. At its core, lies the notion of selectivity. We are also absolutely clear that issues to do with economic growth and investment need to be central to the G8 Africa Action Plan because we all know that development resources are helpful and useful, but will not provide the kind of engine for growth in Africa which is needed if we are to meet the millennium development goals. On average, we need 7 per cent growth in Africa, and the majority of countries are nowhere near that. That means that not only do we have to attract foreign direct investment to those countries, but we also have to retain capital within countries, because up to 40 per cent of savings, for example, leaves African countries, which could well be invested within those countries and make a difference. The attraction of foreign direct investment is absolutely crucial. In the discussions that I have had with businesses that are currently investing in different countries in Africa or are thinking about investing in Africa, there is absolutely no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe has really damaged the perception that businesses have of the continent as a whole, and makes companies much more wary about investing in Africa. We have already seen the knock-on economic impact that the situation in Zimbabwe has had in southern African countries. It means that that situation will be much more long-term than perhaps those countries had anticipated. That means that in the NePAD context, what African leaders are trying to achieve in terms of turning the continent around, will be much harder to deliver.

Mr Maples

  87. Minister, what is your assessment of the effect on President Mugabe of the suspension from the Commonwealth? We know what he has said publicly, but what is your assessment of his private views and the effect it has had on him?
  (Baroness Amos) It is very hard to know. The Committee will understand that I am probably the last person, or one of the last people, who could speak in terms of what Robert Mugabe might be thinking or feeling, but what I will say is that we know that the Commonwealth is one of the few international institutions that Robert Mugabe holds dear. I would be very surprised indeed if he had not been shocked by the decision of the Commonwealth troika.

  88. Having suspended him in March, there is not much more the Commonwealth can do, short of expelling Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, which I would have thought perhaps was something that is not on the agenda—or maybe it is. Are there any more shots left in the Commonwealth's locker, in terms of bringing pressure or making threats, or raising the price?
  (Baroness Amos) The troika undertook to review their decision a year after it was made, so of course a number of options will then be open to the troika, depending on the progress that Zimbabwe has made, against the areas which the troika identified in their communiqué, including adherence to the Harare principles.

  89. The European Union sanctions seem to me to be quite cleverly framed: they were aimed at the regime rather than on the people who live in the country. What is your assessment of the effect that those have? Are they causing real inconvenience to the regime?
  (Baroness Amos) They are causing some degree of inconvenience. The Committee will know that Robert Mugabe recently went to New York to attend the UN session on children. Because it was a UN meeting, he was able to go to New York because there are special circumstances for heads of government and heads of state attending UN meetings; he was limited to being within 22 miles of the UN whilst in the United States, because the United States has a travel ban. He had to transit through Paris and had to remain at the airport in Paris rather than being able to go into France, precisely because of the EU travel ban. It is causing some inconvenience. It is too soon to judge the long-term impact.

  90. It is inconvenience; and you have outlined other inconveniences; and these things are largely trivial. Do you think there are any higher prices he or his colleagues are having to pay?
  (Baroness Amos) There is a travel ban which is inconvenient, but there is also the assets freeze as part of the European Union sanctions, which is targeted at 20 members of the regime. The Committee will understand that I am not able to go into any details with respect to that.

  91. Do you think that that has caused real difficulties for those members of the regime; or did most of them manage to get their assets somewhere where—
  (Baroness Amos) That is certainly the area that has potential for very real difficulty for members of the regime.

  92. I am trying to go through the various pressures that might be brought. I completely understand that there is a relatively limited role that the United Kingdom can play as an ex-colonial power. The Commonwealth seems to have fired the only shot that was in its locker. The European Union has caused inconvenience, but he seems to be able to live with that. Do you think that if there is a solution to this problem, it is with South Africa? When Thabo Mbeki came here last year, well before the elections, and addressed a public meeting in a room just along the corridor, he was invited to be critical of President Mugabe, but declined to do so. Maybe he just did not think this was the right place for him to be critical of another African leader. Do you think that privately he is prepared to twist President Mugabe's arm sufficiently hard to have some effect, or again he has been trying to do that for some months and nothing much seems to have resulted from it?
  (Baroness Amos) If there is a solution, it has to come from within the leadership within Africa. We have made clear that the people who Robert Mugabe might listen to and take seriously are his peers. That is why SADC have a very important role to play here. There have been a number of discussions and debates, which are ongoing. Many of those discussions we do not know the conclusions of. I cannot speak, obviously, for the President of South Africa or other leaders in the region, but I am aware that there is a great deal of concern about the current economic impact on the region and also the long-term economic impact. If anything is going to make a difference, it will be the recognition of that, and the fact that those leaders feel strongly that something will have to be done. Clearly, I cannot speak on behalf of those leaders.

Mr Pope

  93. Baroness Amos, there is a widespread frustration here about the bind that the UK Government finds itself in. If the UK Government does not speak out, there are plenty of people in the House of Commons and the British media who will attack the UK Government; when it does speak out, it plays directly into Mugabe's hands and appears as though we are playing being the colonial power, and so we will look to other institutions like the Commonwealth and the EU. There is widespread frustration, particularly with the EU. I cannot really see what difference the sanctions are making. They might stop Mrs Mugabe shopping at Harrods, but what else? On 15 April, the EU announced some measures and said that they would consider taking further measures in May. Is the British Government pressing the EU to take further sanctions against Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) The next GAC meeting is on 17 June. The European Union has made it clear that that is the point at which they will look again at the situation in Zimbabwe. We have all been looking at the dialogue process, which is being mediated between South Africa and Nigeria. I think what we clearly now have to do in the light of the failure of those talks yesterday, is to talk to our partners, and in particular talk to South Africa and Nigeria about the next steps. The GAC will come to a conclusion on 17 June, and there are a number of different factors that we will have to look at that point.

  94. I wonder sometimes whether the actions of the EU can be counter-productive. Every leading member of the European Union was once a colonial power, and actions taken by the EU could have the effect of bolstering Mugabe, certainly within domestic Zimbabwean opinion. Linked to that, and again linked to something that Mr Maples was saying, what is the position of Mbeki? I am deeply frustrated that South Africa and Nigeria to a lesser extent have not been tougher on Zimbabwe. Is that because they are reluctant to attack a neighbouring country, a fellow African country that has been through a terrible colonial past? Do you think they have a different dialogue with Mugabe in private? Is there more that they could do?
  (Baroness Amos) It would be important first of all to make absolutely clear that the Scandinavians were not colonialists, and would be concerned if we thought that they were. You have pointed to the real complexity of the situation that we are dealing with here. Of course, there is a history that many African countries share when they look at the situation in Zimbabwe. There is also what happened during the various fights for freedom in different African countries, and it is very important that we do not forget what happened then, in terms of the different front-line states, for example, giving sanctuary to those who were fighting for freedom. There are other complexities too. I sometimes think that it is important for us to remember that in our own relationship, for example with the European Union, to our partner governments, or with the United States or other allies, that what we say in public does not always match what we say in private. We are dealing very often with complex diplomatic issues. We are always weighing up the extent to which something which is said privately might have a lot more impact than something which is said publicly. There are degrees of influence exercised through the diplomatic process. I see that every day in the work that I do, and I have absolutely no doubt that that is happening the whole time, in terms of the relationships that different African leaders and African governments have with each other. They have to take on board the history but they also have to take on board the reality of their influence and how that might best be exercised. Whilst there is no doubt that there has been some disappointment about the lack of public statements from some African countries, it would be wrong for us to assume that there are not robust and difficult discussions going on behind the scenes.

  95. I take on board the point that you make about the different histories of the relationships, and that may have some effect, as the GAC was more closely linked with South Africa than Zimbabwe. You seem to be arriving at some consensus that the Commonwealth is doing what it can, as is the EU, but it is not quite achieving what we all want, which is to see a huge improvement in human rights and the economy of Zimbabwe. Perhaps the best country to effect that kind of help is South Africa. Is there more that we can do with our friends in South Africa to effect that kind of change and put more pressure on Mbeki and the South African administration?
  (Baroness Amos) I think it is important that all the channels that are available to us, in terms of working with our South African partners, are utilised. We continue to use our government-to-government contacts. There are parliamentary contacts, NGO contacts, business contacts and trade union contacts, which are important for a variety of reasons. It is very, very important indeed that our African partners really understand the reality of the position. When I was last in South Africa, for example, I did one of these radio telephone programmes and people were surprised to hear that since independence the British Government has given the government of Zimbabwe over £500 million in bilateral development assistance. The British Government continues in the work it is doing with HIV/AIDS, which impacts on the poor, and is the biggest bilateral donor to Zimbabwe. Other donors have pulled out. This is work that we are doing with NGOs and others because it has a direct impact on what is happening to the poor. We set up complementary feeding programmes in Zimbabwe last year, long before the government of Zimbabwe even admitted that they had problems. These are things that not only the people of Zimbabwe do not know, but the people in South Arica, in Malawi and associated countries do not know and do not understand, and they absolutely cut across the kind of propaganda that the government of Zimbabwe is trying to use about the British position. We have also made it absolutely clear that we support land reform in Zimbabwe, which is absolutely critical to development. We gave money post independence to land reform. In fact, some of it was returned by the government of Zimbabwe. So in all the ways that we can, through our parliamentary and government contacts, and through NGOs and so on, we should be making those messages absolutely clear so that the British position is understood.

Andrew Mackinlay

  96. Minister, in a league table of countries in the Commonwealth that have a democratic deficiency, where does Zimbabwe come? It begs the question: we are all exercised about Zimbabwe; presumably, everything else is above that line. In terms of African countries that have democratic deficiencies, where does Zimbabwe come?
  (Baroness Amos) It is very, very difficult to answer that question in those terms, and can I say why? You have not only in Africa but also in the developing world more generally, a country that is doing well on some criteria and bad on others. But the situation also changes over time, so you can have a country that may have been doing well two years ago, which, today, for a variety of reasons, is not doing so well. We have to look at a complex set of issues, and this is what NePAD is currently grappling with. At the last count, they had come up with something like 86 indicators that would measure a country's achievement on democratic and political governance standards. You can have a country that is doing well on 80, but the absolutely critical ones in terms of human rights and rule of law are not being met. That is why it is so difficult to answer the question. However, I would say that if we look at issues related to economic reform, for example, we have a country where the IFIs are refusing to engage, and where the majority of donors have pulled out, in terms of bilateral assistance, and will only give humanitarian aid. On the absolutely key political governance indicators, we have a country where we have seen interference with the judiciary and the media; we have seen human rights abuses and we have seen a deeply flawed election. All of that gives us deep cause for concern, but it is very difficult to have a league table in that way without going into detail of the kind of standards that NePAD are currently looking at.

  97. When it comes to entering the European Union, you have the Copenhagen criteria. You can audit commerce—market economy and democratic deficiencies. I want to press you on this. I do not accept that you cannot at least give some guidance as to where Zimbabwe falls. I think that the British Government has very limited room for manoeuvre, and I support the British Government's position basically; but I cannot help feeling that there is a beating of breasts here because we feel guilty of the way we screwed things up before 1981.Going right back to the UDI and Lord Malvern, 1923-81. Yet we are not seeing the broader picture of serious human rights abuses in Commonwealth countries, and in other countries in Africa. Whilst I wholly deprecate and would do anything I could to frustrate any human rights abuse in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, I do think sometimes we ought to be a bit more candid with ourselves. Why we are having these hearings is, firstly, guilt, and secondly, a large European population there which does not exist in some of these other countries.
  (Baroness Amos) Let me try and answer the different elements in that question. First of all, as the Minister responsible for the British Government's policy in Zimbabwe, can I say I certainly do not feel guilty.

  98. The wider body politic does.
  (Baroness Amos) I think there is a history which we have to acknowledge. I think we have to acknowledge the failure of some of our policy in Zimbabwe; and we have to be absolutely clear about what we want to achieve, and we have been: which is that we want to restore the rule of law; we want democracy to be implemented, and part of that is in elections; we want to see development; and we want the poor of Zimbabwe to have the opportunity to exercise their rights and their choices. That is what drives British Government policy. I have been pressed on many occasions about the fact that there is a large British community which is the thing driving our policy in Zimbabwe—that is absolutely not true. Clearly, we also have a responsibility to the British community of Zimbabwe, but they want precisely the same things that ordinary black Zimbabweans want. They want a free press. They want the rule of law to be adhered to. They want to have the right to be able to eat. They want security. They want economic stability. I think all Zimbabweans want pretty much the same thing. On your question about how do we assess a country—you are absolutely right—NePAD are working on a series of codes of standards to look at economic and political governance. We also do that in a number of different ways. We do it partly in terms of development agenda. One of the standards we have, for example, is the nature of the elections process. There are a number of areas in which that process was flawed. We have the facts that absolutely tell us that. What I am resisting doing is saying that Zimbabwe comes ten out of ten because, firstly, I do not think it is helpful to do that; but, secondly, the situation is more complicated than that. I think just the kind of list that says a country comes towards the bottom or in the middle is not necessarily helpful without additional information to tell us exactly what that means. I hope in my answer to your question you did not feel we did not have a criteria against which we look at countries; we absolutely do. We will continue to refine those; but also to work with our African partners on ways of making those more concrete and more applicable to the African situation. Within a Commonwealth context that is why we have CMAG. That is why the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's role was enhanced at Coolum: because there was a recognition that the Commonwealth also had a role to play; that it had principles that it expected Commonwealth countries to adhere to; and that there needed to be a process against which we could measure that adherence.

  99. If there is any misunderstanding, let me make it clear—I actually think the British Government has pitched it correctly, and also what they can and cannot do. The other question I wanted to ask you is, President Mugabe is about 80 years of age, actuarially there is likely to be a change in the next decade, perhaps even sooner, or it might be longer. What is your analysis of the body politic under Mugabe? I am told there is no obvious successor. I wonder whether we have done any contingency planning, either HMG or the Commonwealth, as to, firstly, look at who is likely to succeed and, secondly, and it will happen because it happens to us all, we are going to pass on one day, whether or not there can be some swift engagement with any successors? It seems to me you need to have that kind of contingency planning. Can you amplify on that?
  (Baroness Amos) Of course, as part of our policy planning and our thinking, we are constantly looking at different possibilities and different kinds of scenario. That is something we do in all of the countries in which we work. One small thing changes, and opportunities are created. We know that there are some members of the Government of Zimbabwe who are more reform-minded than others, for example. We will continue that kind of analysis, which we will feed into our policymaking and policy contingency processes. It would be difficult to say more than that.

1   Note by Witness: President Wade of Senegal. Back

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