Blair: We Want Regime Change

Article excerpt

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja (5-8 December) resolved to "encourage and assist the process of national reconciliation" in Zimbabwe. But to the British prime minister, Tony Blair, (as he told parliament on 9 December on his return from Abuja), national reconciliation should lead to regime change in Zimbabwe. "It is in [the] interests [of Zimbabwe's neighbours] not to support Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime, but to facilitate national reconciliation in the interests of changing the regime," Blair said. On that one afternoon in parliament, Blair used "regime change in Zimbabwe" seven times. Here is an abridged version of the exchanges in the House of Commons (recorded by Hansard).

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Tony Blair (prime minister, Labour Party):

"The meeting [CHOGM] considered the situation in the two countries that have been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth: Pakistan and Zimbabwe ... Where Pakistan has moved forward since Commonwealth leaders last met, Zimbabwe has gone backwards. The country was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002, shortly after elections that the Commonwealth's own observers concluded were neither free nor fair.

"Since then, there has been yet more violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC party, against lawyers and human rights activists, and, indeed, against anyone speaking up against President Mugabe's oppressive policies. Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, has been closed down, despite court orders in its favour.

"Meanwhile ZANU-PF's ruinous economic policies are driving the country further and further into chaos. Inflation is now over 500%, and Zimbabwe's GDP has halved in five years. The IMF decided last week to begin procedures to expel Zimbabwe because of its appalling economic policies.

"Half the population now needs food aid--but it is worth saying that Britain remains the leading cash donor for the UN's humanitarian programmes in Zimbabwe. In the last two years, we have given $100m in food aid to the people of Zimbabwe.

"In those circumstances, I and others argued that it was inconceivable that Zimbabwe could be readmitted to the councils of the Commonwealth, and that, on the contrary, it should remain suspended until we saw concrete evidence of a return to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law--the very principles on which the Commonwealth is founded.

"I am glad to say that this approach was agreed ... This is the outcome that we wanted. It is also the outcome that Mr Mugabe worked assiduously to avoid. Incidentally, it gives the lie to his most outrageous claims that the Commonwealth's approach to Zimbabwe is a white conspiracy led by the UK against black Africa.

"The fact is that every single Commonwealth country signed up to the Abuja statement on Zimbabwe, including the other 19 African members of the Commonwealth, despite the strongly held doubts of some of those countries. Nor did any African member of the Commonwealth take up Mr Mugabe's invitation to boycott the summit meeting. The outcome in Abuja was hard-fought, but in the end it was a victory for Commonwealth values.

"Mr Mugabe's reaction--to withdraw Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth--shows clearly that he does not accept Commonwealth principles. It was a decision taken without regard to the wishes or well-being of the Zimbabwean people. ZANU-PF's isolation will be increased, but the strong bonds that exist between the Zimbabwean people and the rest of the Commonwealth remain. There will always be a place for a democratic Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth ..."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Michael Howard (leader of the opposition, Conservative Party):

"The Harare Declaration of 1991 reaffirmed the Commonwealth's values--the protection of human rights; equal opportunities for all regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief; equality for women; democracy; the rule of law; and the independence of the judiciary. …