HC Deb 04 March 1992 vol 205 cc296-8
2. Mr. Dickens

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the prospects for increased democracy in Africa.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

The prospects for democracy in Africa are probably better now than at any time in the post-colonial era. Although there are some countries where little progress has been made, most African nations now have, or are moving towards, multi-party political systems.

Mr. Dickens

Bearing in mind that encouraging answer, may I ask whether the Minister considers that the worsening drought in southern Africa may have implications for the process of democracy in Africa?

Mrs. Chalker

Yes, indeed I do. We are deeply concerned about the dreadful effects of the drought in southern Africa. That is why, as a first step today, I have approved £2.5 million each to Zambia and Zimbabwe in balance of payments aid to ease the difficulties that will be caused by the need to import food. We have also agreed on a further £3.9 million worth of food aid to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Mozambiquan refugees in Malawi.

Sir David Steel

Following the welcome change in Kenya's constitution towards a multi-party democracy, and in view of the unhappy news from Kenya yesterday of the repression of demonstrations in Nairobi, will the Minister not only advise that country on the international standards of multi-party democracy, which she has ennunciated from the Dispatch Box before, but suggest that, in order to disarm such demonstrations, it is time that the Government start a dialogue with the Opposition on both the timing and ground rules for an election?

Mrs. Chalker

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we shall encourage dialogue wherever it is needed to promote a democratic system. The incidents in Nairobi are regrettable, but we deplore all use of violence and provocation, whether from protesters, the Opposition or Government forces. The way to resolve political differences is through debate, dialogue and the ballot box, not on the streets. That is why we urge all Kenyan political leaders to open up a constructive dialogue on free and fair elections.

Mr. Lord

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best method for underpinning democracy is through economic stability? Has she seen the great efforts being made this year to obtain private inward investment into southern Africa in the form of conferences and other initiatives? Will she give all such initiatives her fullest support?

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend is right: economic stability is the only foundation for the sound development of democracy. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that open market systems are developed, subsidy is abolished and there is a proper market economy in all parts of southern Africa. That is one reason why we are putting so much effort as a nation into helping countries in southern Africa to achieve just that.

Mr. Kaufman

On the question of democracy in the republic of South Africa, does the right hon. Lady agree that our objective should be to ensure that the white electorate fully appreciates that South Africa will face unprecedented international isolation should there be a "No" vote in this month's referendum? Should not we support the negotiating process now under way through the Conference for a Democratic South Africa, and so secure the maintenance of international pressure for rapid progress towards a new, genuinely democratic constitutional order? Will those be the objectives of this Government this month, as they will he the objectives of the Labour Government next month?

Mrs. Chalker

Through the whole of their period in office, the Government have supported efforts to do away with apartheid and to ensure that when change came with President de Klerk, there would be a start towards a new constitution and the transitional arrangements that are now being discussed within the Conference for a Democratic South Africa.

We have always sought to maintain contact with all the parties and we have urged them to build on the fundamental principles already agreed. Through our influence, we shall do all that we can to ensure that there is a "Yes" vote in the referendum, because that is the only way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous, successful and democratic South Africa.