Hot seat interview British Ambassador

andrew_pocockHOT SEAT: Journalist Violet Gonda presents this weeks Hot Seat where her guest is Andrew Pocock, the outgoing UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe. He gives the UKs position on the targeted sanctions issue, which he says has been over-used by ZANU PF to deflect blame from their failed domestic policy. (Pictured: Andrew Pocock)

Ambassador Pocock also says the accusation that Britain reneged on the Lancaster House agreement to fund land reform in Zimbabwe are not accurate, and is just one of the convenient myths that has dogged the British/Zimbabwean relationship.

Violet Gonda: My guest on the Hot Seat programme this week is Andrew Pocock, the outgoing UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe. Hallo Ambassador Pocock.

Andrew Pocock: Violet, how are you?

Gonda: Im OK. How are things going there in Zimbabwe?

Pocock: Well, we are in an interesting position. There are winds of change but theres still quite a long way to go.

Gonda: Right, has there been a significant shift though in the political situation in Zimbabwe?

Pocock: Yes I think there has. The new government itself has changed the politics of Zimbabwe and I think indeed the formation of that government reflects the political dead end that Zimbabwe had reached last year when the then regime had no ideas or solutions for the crisis they had themselves created. So this new government and its emergence is a shift and is significant but I think perhaps not quite yet decisive because there is a great deal more work to be done.

Gonda: Can you tell us a bit more about that what progress have you seen so far and what have been the failures of the coalition government?

Pocock: Progress and failure I think theyre two big issues. There has been progress to start with that on the micro-economic side, on micro-economic reforms, I think including the trimming of powers from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which as you know was once virtually a parallel government. Ironically it was the Reserve Bank governors printing to extinction of the Zimbabwe dollar that helped a bit, it killed hyper-inflation at a stroke, it allowed dollarisation and the use of real money and that has allowed some small economic recovery and the ability to buy and sell and save. And in the public sector a move to cash budgeting and better revenue rating thats helped with the budget and again new measures the abolition of price controls for instance thats helped the private sector so theres some good news here. The other element of good news is the beginnings of reconnection with the international financial institutions. Thats very important and Zimbabwes friends, including the UK, are helping with this.

But I think it is perhaps a little bit too early for full rejoicing theres a very long way to go on restoring trust and confidence. Theres still too much about the systems here that are not transparent or accountable and that leads us to areas where there hasnt been I think yet success or enough success and thats the politics. In almost all the areas that are traditional here human rights, the justice system, the media, land invasions, corruption theres still a great deal of work to be done. I think the new government is trying to address this but it is heavy sledding.

Gonda: What about in terms of the leadership itself do you think Robert Mugabe has relinquished sufficient powers?

Pocock: I dont think he has. I think the issue of the power balance in the new government is still very much a work in progress. The fact is that Zanu-PF has run this state for 29 years and it still controls the hard levers of power. I mean the army, the police, the courts, the official media and key elements of the civil service. They have no intention in the short term of relinquishing this. Its a question of the MDC slowly inserting itself into the processes of the state and I think theyre making progress on that but again theres work to do.

Gonda: What about some of the accusations that Robert Mugabe has made against western countries especially Britain where he believes that Britain is responsible for the crisis in Zimbabwe. What are your thoughts on this, do you think Mugabe really believes that Britain is responsible for the crisis or is it a matter of convenience to blame the old colonial master?

Well I think it is certainly a convenient thing to say. Its hard to know whether Zanu-PF really believe that the United Kingdom is responsible for the crisis or whether as you say it is a matter of convenience. Its probably a combination. If one repeats something long enough, enough people begin to believe it including oneself. The truth is, as we see it, that the crisis is as a direct consequence of very bad policy choices, of the unrestrained exercise of executive power and a pretty complete disregard for the impact of all this on Zimbabwes people and economy. Im being direct about it because I think it needs to be said. So what we do need to see is a change of mindset. Im quite happy to accept that it needs to be on more than one side, but a change of mindset is needed.

Gonda: On the issue of a change of mindset do you think that western countries are ever going to be able to trust a party like Zanu-PF?

Pocock: Well I think frankly there will have to be some evolution, some change in the way that Zanu-PF see the world, a change in their policies and a change in the way of doing business. I want to be clear about this Violet, this is not the UK dictating terms to Zanu-PF or anyone else, what Im saying is simply as we see it, a matter of reality. Certain forms of behaviour in the modern world have certain consequences. Zanu-PF need to look very carefully at how they approach the outside world and what they do then is up to them but its worth just making clear that people, including I think crucially Zimbabweans will then make their own judgement on how that process works and whether trust and confidence is fully possible.

Gonda: I was going to ask that for the sake of progress should Zimbabwe and western countries forget the past.

Pocock: No I dont think we should forget the past. I mean forgetting the past usually condemns us to repeat it. I think we must learn from the past and try jointly to move on. Learning from the past means a genuine recognition on all sides of mistakes; mistakes in policy, mistakes in analysis, mistakes in implementation. And to begin the process of moving on I think we need a genuine dialogue and that hasnt fully started yet and of course there are elements of the inclusive government we talk to very freely. There are other elements we dont yet do but that process is beginning and the joint visit to London last week, which included the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister I think is a potentially important first step in sitting down and looking very carefully at the balance of accounts. But this is not a question of forgetting the past as I say, its a question of learning from it.

Gonda: What do you think should be done to people who are guilty of human rights violations?

Pocock: I think thats a question very much for Zimbabweans themselves to decide. Theres no question that the charge sheet in Zimbabwe is long and grim but there are many models in Southern Africa for dealing with this, for national healing and there are Ministers in Zimbabwe now for precisely that, to truth and justice commissions on to a full judicial process. But I think very much, and so does the British government, that this is a matter for Zimbabweans to decide for themselves.

Gonda: But as an observer? You wouldnt have any views on this?

Pocock: Well I think its very difficult for the nation to move on without some accounting for what has happened and it goes back to the 1980s in Matabeleland as well, not just recent history, so there does need to be an accounting. How thats done, what mechanisms are chosen, what process is used is as I say very much for Zimbabweans, it is not something that either the United Kingdom or indeed Zimbabwes western friends would wish to insert themselves into. Thats for people here to decide.

Gonda: Right. Lets talk a bit about the land issue. You mentioned earlier on that that the invasions are carrying on, but just a bit of background, Mugabe has always accused the British of reneging on provisions of the Lancaster House agreement – on the issue of compensating white commercial farmers. Is this accurate in your view?

Pocock: I think when I go to my grave Violet, Lancaster House will be found tattooed on my liver, but let me just say very plainly, and Im glad you asked the question accusations of Britain reneging on Lancaster House are simply not accurate. Its one of the convenient myths that have unfortunately dogged our relationship. We fulfilled all our Lancaster House obligations. And let me say by the way in passing, that Lancaster House was a treaty that worked. It ended a civil war, it transferred sovereignty to the new Zimbabwean government, it helped unite warring factions into a single security force and it still, ironically, provides Zimbabwe with its only working constitution 29 years after it was framed.

But we did meet our obligations. During the period of the 1980s the UK spent 44 million pounds on land reform which was a substantial sum at the time. We did it on a willing seller, willing buyer basis as had been agreed and we only stopped funds for land when it was clear that land was not being passed to the poor and the landless. That is not reneging, that is simply pointing to the evidence and its also resisting the proposition that has crept in that the UK somehow has unlimited liability forever and a day to fund land reform in Zimbabwe. The Lancaster House never said anything like that. What Lancaster House said and what we undertook then was (a) to do everything we could to help with land reform (b) to contribute substantially ourselves and (c) to seek support from others in the international community. Now we did all that so this is really again another urban or rural myth that we need at some early stage to lay to rest.

Gonda: But I understand that (former) Minister Claire Short actually wrote a letter and I think it was in 1997 saying that Britain no longer has any obligation. Now do you think that letter could have, to some extent, influenced the events which resulted in the land invasions?

Pocock: I think what was unfortunate was that it was a two page letter which the government here seems to have read only the first half. It made comments about how Britain looked at its obligations under land reform and Lancaster House but what it then very clearly stated at length and in terms was that Britain had no intention of ceasing its development relationship with Zimbabwe but what it wished to do was to find a different way of doing it. To move from where we were to a relationship that dealt more with helping the poor, relieving poverty and on the basis of that, what was asked of the Zimbabwean government was a dialogue on the best means of moving that forward. Sadly that dialogue never emerged. What happened was a powerful reaction from Harare that accused us of reneging on treaty obligations when that was never stated in the letter nor was it intended or implied. What was being sought was a different kind of development relationship.

So one of the misunderstandings to put it no more strongly of the past, one which weve tried to revisit on occasions and not had the political contacts in which to do it. So again, something that needs to be looked at in its proper context and moved on from.

Gonda: Is this something that the two governments have started working on?

Pocock: Yes it is. Not solely on issues of land, theyre important but theyre not the only issue on the agenda – but in terms of looking at how we might begin reconstructing a relationship. Zimbabwes important to the UK and vice versa. So although were at a very early stage we have begun that process and that is a good thing.

Gonda: Now the white commercial farmers want compensation and theyre demanding US$5 billion from the Zimbabwean government. What are your thoughts on that?

Pocock: Well I think their requirement for compensation from the Zimbabwean government is probably the right legal process. Whether it has any practical impact is another matter. Compensation is a very tangled issue. In the fairly recent past, the Zimbabwean government has said that compensation rests with the United Kingdom. Well it does not either legally or morally. In Lancaster House, sovereignty was transferred to the new Zimbabwean government. The disruption on the farms was not caused by anything to do with the United Kingdom, it was driven by Zimbabwean government policy therefore we have no legal obligation for compensation. Weve never accepted that and we wont. But people have been, as the SADC tribunal has recently reiterated, unlawfully and unconstitutionally displaced from their personal property.

And I think and I hope as we move into the future, as we reach a situation where the restoration of commercial agriculture is possible, it wont be on the old paternalistic basis, it will be on some new foundation but when we reach that point, as part of the natural justice, as part of building confidence for future investors, some element of compensation for people unconstitutionally displaced might be considered. I think we haven’t got anywhere near the mechanisms and we certainly haven’t decided who would pay for that compensation or indeed how much it would be but I think in natural justice, some form of address to this should be considered and I hope in due course will.

Gonda: Thats what I was going to ask is it possible to ever see the United Kingdom actually providing compensation directly to the white commercial farmers for land that had been taken by the Zimbabwe government – so its not completely or totally off the table, it is possible that the UK could provide compensation directly to the white farmers?

Pocock: No I dont think in the way you suggest Violet, not at all. What Im trying to say is that if we get to the issue of compensation it will be in the context of some broad land commission or other institutional assessment of what might be done to re-revive commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe. Thats a very broad issue. Compensation is one part of it. If we do reach closure on the broader issue and compensation can be addressed, Im sure the United Kingdom would wish to be part of that but it is not something that we will take on singly and solely, it is not something we feel we have legal or moral obligations to. But we do recognise there is a case in natural justice to compensate people illegally deprived of their property. So it is a rather more, rather broader context than youre suggesting. It is not a bilateral obligation, this is something that we think needs to be addressed in a much wider context.

Gonda: And of course the Prime Minister is denying the severity of farm invasions, but the commercial farmers say the invasions are continuing. Now is it of concern to the diplomatic community when they hear Mr Tsvangirai saying the reports of farm invasions have been overblown?

Pocock: Well Ive said that farm invasions certainly are continuing. They accelerated indeed and I think not without coincidence from the actual formation of the inclusive government in February. And farm invasions include by the way, pressure on the last remaining wildlife conservancies in the south of Zimbabwe which are not only a biological asset but could and should be a trigger to improve, resume tourism to this country. So thats worrying in itself – but I think this programme is intended to put pressure on the Prime Minister and on the MDC, but it is also extremely damaging to Zimbabwes image, to its economy and to its potential for recovery. It discourages investment and it hurts people so I think it does remain a major issue that will have to be grappled with. Frankly there is no avoiding this.

Gonda: But does it concern the diplomatic community that its the Prime Minister whos also saying the situation is not as bad as it sounds and there are no fresh farm invasions that are happening right now?

Pocock: Well what I would say is were continuing to talk to the Prime Minister and his office and the MDC generally about our concerns in this. Not may I add from the hysterical, stereotypical point of a background of a British ambassador complaining constantly about land, this is a very broad concern within the international community for the reasons Ive mentioned it damages the economy and the countrys image but we are in constant contact with the Prime Minister and his office on this.

Gonda: And what is his response?

Pocock: Well his response is concern. I think what hes said in public that his response is concern as it should be so this is an issue that we will continue to discuss

Gonda: What is the UKs position on lifting restrictive measures that have an economic impact?

Pocock: Well let me first say there are no restrictive measures that have an economic impact. This is again one of these myths that has been convenient in the past. Let me put on record for the umpteenth time there are no economic sanctions from the European Union or the United Kingdom which is a part of the EU and there never have been. The only restrictive measures are a visa ban, an asset freeze on 243 individuals and an arms embargo – full stop. There is no other measure so the alleged economic impact I think is another effort to lay off blame for domestic policy failure.

And in the international financial institutions for instance where theres recently been publicity that the UK has raised its ban on IFI lending well we never had a ban so we couldnt raise it. The reason why there is no lending from the international financial institutions is because of Zimbabwes arrears. If a country fails to pay its debts to the international financial institutions they stop lending and Im afraid Zimbabwe owes 1.2 billion dollars or thereabouts, mostly in arrears.

So there is no block, it is simply a question of Zimbabwean debt which is a complicated one. But let me say the UK and indeed our international friends are helping Zimbabwe and the new financial minister to re-engage with the IFIs which is a lengthy process but a crucial one. The IFIs are responding. They are sending teams, the IMF has sent Article Four mission, the World Bank has a mission here at the moment and they are also contributing technical assistance. But there will be no new resource until the debt issue is addressed but continued engagement will continue even though that is subject to sustained policy change. But as I said earlier, were seeing policy change on the micro economic side so there is some progress here.

Gonda: Has the UK been trading with Zimbabwe in the last few years?

Pocock: The UK has never ceased trading with Zimbabwe. In fact until fairly recently until the virtual complete collapse of the Zimbabwe economy in 2007, Zimbabwe actually had a trade surplus with the United Kingdom. We bought minerals and other things from Zimbabwe and exported very little because Zimbabwe couldnt pay for it. So the idea that we never traded with Zimbabwe is again not true. There is no economic impediment to that and we have done so, we continue to do so and we hope, if we move in the right direction, that trade can resume again.

Gonda: But there have been reports saying that the British government has been putting pressure on UK companies, for example those that buy produce from farms that were taken over from white farmers. Is this the policy of the British government?

Pocock: My impression was it was very much a policy of supermarkets and other people who felt they had a responsibility to trade fairly and who didnt therefore wish to be taking produce from farms in Zimbabwe that you say had been illegally seized. But let me put the picture in perspective. Part of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirais visit to the UK included a very important investment conference which was chaired jointly by Lord Branson of Virgin and the Foreign Secretary. To that conference was invited potential and actual investors in Zimbabwe to allow the Prime Minister to set out his view of why he thought Zimbabwe could again be a reasonable and attractive investment destination and for investors to put to him their concerns about protection for private property and the judicial system and respect for the rule of law. This is evidence of a mutual wish to help the Zimbabwean economy. Now clearly theres got to be sensible conditions on the ground before investors will commit money but it is strong and active evidence of a genuine wish on both sides to move this process forward.

So far from looking at sanctions, which as I say economically have never existed, we are looking at ways in which we can incentivise reform in Zimbabwe and indeed reward it. So the debate about sanctions, certainly from the Zimbabwean end, has always been misleading and an attempt to defer, deflect blame for domestic policy. It is an old-fashioned debate, we really need to move on from it for the sake of Zimbabwes recovery.

Gonda: Why was the Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu denied a visa to attend these investment conferences in the UK with the Prime Minister?

Because he is on our banned list and the person that the investment conference really wanted to hear from was the Prime Minister which they did. He made the keynote speech and that is the way I think probably was best outcome to this. So it was as simple as that. As you know, we had granted visas to the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Tourism so I dont think there can be an accusation that somehow the United Kingdom wasnt being flexible but we didnt think that on the mining issue it was appropriate to issue a visa.

Gonda: The Herald newspaper this week claims that the decline in food production in Zimbabwe was due to global warming. What do you think about this?

Pocock: I think the decline in food production in Zimbabwe is due to farm seizures and a catastrophic economic and agricultural policy. Global warming may have a marginal impact but what you are really saying is this is the old excuse about drought. Well Zimbabwe has had some very major droughts in its recent history in the 80s and 90s which didnt affect by and large its ability to produce food, indeed to export agricultural produce. What has affected that is the disruption of commercial agriculture, the decline of inputs, the loss of asset value, the general implosion of the economy and the scattering of skills and capital which has been freely distributed to other countries in Southern Africa but also elsewhere. So Zimbabwes ironically, its greatest value added export in the last decade has been its skilled people. That is the reason for food production decline.

Gonda: And of course, sticking with the Herald, there was an outcry when the paper published a story saying that sanctions hit local British pensioners and that the UK had started to airlift its citizens from Zimbabwe to the UK. What is the position of your government on this?

Pocock: Well the Herald is a great reservoir of fantasy. First of all, there are no economic sanctions, as I say what has destroyed pensioners ability to sustain their livelihoods here has been the policies of the previous regime, not sanctions. What the United Kingdom is doing is not airlifting our people, what we recognized was that the elderly and vulnerable here have found it increasingly difficult, indeed as have everybody else, but those categories particularly, to sustain life. And so as a responsible government we offered our citizens, on a wholly voluntary basis, the opportunity to apply for repatriation to the United Kingdom if they met certain criteria and those criteria are to do with vulnerability and with the inability to sustain themselves economically and medically in Zimbabwe. So far from it being an airlift, there is still a substantial residual British population in Zimbabwe, it is a wholly humanitarian programme on a voluntary basis aimed at a particular category of British nationals. No more and no less.

Gonda: And the paper went on to say that the repatriation showed shocking double standards as it showed that London was acknowledging the ruinous nature of the sanctions yet it was keen to maintain them against black Zimbabweans.

Pocock: Well Violet you simply mustnt believe everything you read in the Herald, and of course they would say that, wouldnt they? They base their premise on the wholly erroneous proposition that Zimbabwes economy has been ruined by sanctions. As I have said repeatedly, it hasnt. That was domestic policy driven. And secondly, its not as if we are ignoring black Zimbabweans, the United Kingdom is now going to put $100 million of assistance into Zimbabwe this year. When you combine it with the money that we have put in at least since 2000, weve probably put in almost half a billion dollars in humanitarian and now transitional support assistance for Zimbabwe. That is to tackle everything from food insecurity created again by domestic policy, to HIV, to orphans and vulnerable children. Were now moving on to a range of infrastructural areas including education.

If we and our international partners had not done that then I fear a great many more Zimbabweans would either have died or left this country than the three or four million who have already done so. So the Herald is full of agitprop but none of it makes sense and no responsible adult believes it.

Gonda: So do you feel that the diplomatic community in Harare has been effective during the last eight years of the crisis?

Pocock: Well broadly I think yes. There are obviously many areas in which we havent been able to be particularly helpful. One of them is in combating the kind of stories youve just mentioned and continue to be produced but overall we have managed to maintain humanitarian assistance and in March this year we were feeding seven million people. Weve helped with the areas Ive mentioned HIV and orphans and vulnerable children, weve supported human rights defenders and indeed weve kept Zimbabwe a global issue and I think it was important that we did these things because without them, there was a risk that Zimbabwes plight would have slipped beneath the radar. It hasnt and the world has stayed remarkably focussed on what has been happening here and I think that is a good thing.

Gonda: And of course you have concluded your term. What do you think you have achieved and do you have any regrets?

Pocock: Well diplomacy is a trade where theres very seldom an easily quantifiable outcome but I think while Ive been here I have seen a movement from desperate times 2008 last year was the worst year in Zimbabwes independent history to the beginnings of change. We have a new government, we have a start to re-engagement with the international community, we have over 700 million dollars a year of donor inputs coming in with much greater flexibility on how it is spent in response to Zimbabwean priorities and I think its not too strong to say that we have had the rebirth of an element of hope here and the beginning of the end of Zimbabwes self-imposed isolation.

And Ive also been lucky here to meet many very brave and patriotic Zimbabweans who are dedicated to the revival of their country and to have worked with friends and colleagues including, may I say, a very dedicated and professional British Embassy team. So Ive not contributed to any of it in a particular way but Im very happy to have been associated with it and oh by the way, weve just, the British Embassy moved to a new building which is a symbol of long term commitment here. So Ive been glad to have been associated with that.

But regrets as the song says, Ive had a few. Ive regretted the unnecessary suffering of so many and the treatment of human rights defenders and frankly the impoverishment of a nation. None of that has been pretty. Im not sure if there was a great deal we could realistically have done about that other than supporting the people in the way Ive described but I leave here with a degree of optimism and looking forward I hope to a new Zimbabwe.

Gonda: Has you replacement been named yet?

Pocock: Yes, his name is Mark Canning, he is coming from Rangoon and he arrives on the 2nd of July.

Gonda: Hes coming from Burma.

Pocock: He is.

Gonda: Quite interesting

Pocock: Very interesting.

: And a final word Ambassador.

Pocock: Well it has been a pleasure talking to you and going over these issues. I think that the winds of change are stirring in Zimbabwe, its important that they be given all the help they can and the point I would make just to end is the international community is helping. We hear a great deal of criticism about conditionalities and about waiting and seeing. Of course there will be some conditionalities, we would be unreasonable to expect there to be none but we are already as an international group, putting as I say $700 million a year into Zimbabwe. We are taking risks, we are trying to be innovative, we are trying to support change and fundamental reform. So we are not sitting on our haunches, we are not letting the reforming elements of the new government twist in the wind, were doing the opposite. The reason that we havent sailed straightforwardly to success is because things still are very difficult and there are many impediments and 30 years of under-investment and political difficulty are not solved overnight but were addressing it and were on the case.

Gonda: And where are you going from here?

Pocock: Back to London, to serve my time for my sins I think.

Gonda: Well Ambassador Andrew Pocock, we wish you well and thank you very much for talking to us.

Pocock: Violet, a great pleasure, thank you.

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