BBC Radio 5 interview with John Makumbe and British Ambassador

TRANSCRIPT – The following is an edited transcript of discussion with John Makumbe and Mark Canning, British Ambassador to Zimbabwe on BBC Radio 5Live.

Speaker: Mark Canning

Victoria Derbyshire: Let me introduce you to Professor John Makumbe who’s from the University of Zimbabwe. He’s a political scientist. Hello to you.

Professor John Makumbe (Political Scientist, University of Zimbabwe): Hi Victoria.

Victoria Derbyshire: What is a political scientist?

John Makumbe: Oh he’s a political animal, he studies politics as a science, how countries are governed, how power relations are manipulated.

Victoria Derbyshire: And also here we’ve got the British Ambassador to Harare, Mark Canning. Good morning.

Mark Canning: Good morning.

Victoria Derbyshire: I don’t believe you two have met before …

John Makumbe: No.

Victoria Derbyshire: … but John this is Mark; Mark this is John. Okay.
And you haven’t been here very long Mark Canning have you? How many months?

Mark Canning: Six months.

Victoria Derbyshire: Right, okay. John Makumbe, is what we see in the capital city the real Zimbabwe?

John Makumbe: No Victoria this is really far from the real Zimbabwe, the real Zimbabwe’s out there, it’s out in the rural areas, it’s not in the CBD area. It’s, you know, ninety nine per cent of Zimbabwe is the real Zimbabwe. What you are seeing is very much like London, complete with the weather and the wetness and the grey skies, that, this is not Zimbabwe. The poverty’s out there. The pain, the suffering, is out there, the lack of money. The dollarization of the economy is not all that good news for people who are not in employment, who are not in urban areas, you know, who struggle to find anything to sell so that they can get a, a dollar in order to buy, you know, vegetables for them to eat and share with their children. This is not the real Zimbabwe.

Victoria Derbyshire: And so has the Government made much difference at all to people in rural areas?

John Makumbe: Very little. The little is that some schools are now open. They hardly have any text books, they hardly have any ball pens. I have seen schools where three kids share a ball pen, and whenever I’ve had the occasion to go to the UK I have raided some places where I know there are free ball pens and brought them, don’t tell the British, but …

Victoria Derbyshire: Well is that where all the BBC pens have gone then?

John Makumbe: That’s right. But there are a few things which are better. The violence has deescalated and there are a few more health centres that are open which have a few drugs, and as I said there’s some schools are now open although the teachers are very unhappy. But those are the few things that have changed for the better; the rest is still very much the same as 2008.

Victoria Derbyshire: Mark Canning what’s your assessment having been here for a few months now?

Mark Canning: I would agree with much of what the Professor said but I think what hasn’t come across is the depth of the hole that Zimbabwe found itself in this time last year. If you go back to November 2008 the rate of inflation was the second highest in history, prices were doubling every twenty four and a half hours, and the rate of inflation itself was in the billions of per cent. Schools, hospital, clinics were open. Violence was widespread.

This, today, inflation is down to single figures, the economy is going to grow for the first time since 1997, schools, clinics, hospitals are open. All the things that your listeners have said and the Professor have said about the scale of the need are true, but it’s been in economic terms a, a pretty remarkable transformation. What has not been good has been, you know, continued instances of land invasions, politically inspired violence. The overall level of violence has I think been down as, as the professor said, but these things do need to be fixed.

Victoria Derbyshire: Okay. I understand. I absolutely understand.

I mean Mark Canning you heard the interview with the, the two politicians earlier and they talked about relations with Britain as being strained and you know pretty desperate. Britain does give aid to Zimbabwe, sixty million so far this year, sixty million pounds. What, what else does Zimbabwe need and should Britain be helping?

Mark Canning: I think the, the Coalition Government that came in in February is a real opportunity to dig Zimbabwe out of the, the hole in which it’s found itself. And as you say we’re doing a lot, we’re doing it in health, education, water and sanitation. We’re running a fantastic project to restore text books to all five thousand three hundred primary schools throughout the country. And as the Professor knows the ratio of kids to school books at the moment is twenty kids to one book. By the end of this project we’ll bring it back.

So as this suggests we want this experiment to work because there is no Plan B, and in order for this experiment to work there’s not only got to be economic stabilisation of the sort that we see happening now, but the political elements of the agreement that brought the two parties together have got to be fulfilled.

Victoria Derbyshire: How long do you think that might take? I mean they, they don’t seem to agree on very much at all.

Mark Canning: I’m not sure that’s true, I mean they, they are a long way apart but this history has, the, this story has been festering for a long time and I think there were naïve expectations that somehow you would conclude this agreement in February of this year and a few months later it would be fixed. It’s not going to be like that, it’s going to be a long, difficult, protracted road. But you can see around you the fruits of that. You can see it in the economic stabilisation.

But the, as I say the scale of the challenge is massive and it’s going to take quite a long time to resolve it. There’s a South African team of negotiators here at the moment. South Africa is playing a, a very important and a very welcome role in trying to bridge these divides but it, it’s going to take time.

Victoria Derbyshire: I know our listeners will want to know, in terms of the, the, the British aid, that, it’s, it’s important to tell them, to let them know, that that does not go directly to the Government of this country does it? It, nor does it go to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, it goes, it avoids those two and it goes directly to the NGOs.

Mark Canning: Absolutely not, it goes via the UN, it goes via the NGOs. We are not yet in a position to give what’s called budget support which is when it does go in to (indistinct) central bank. We hope that point will be reached in the not too distant future, but no, at the moment it’s going direct to the people who use it.

Victoria Derbyshire: Right, okay. Do you think there is genuine power sharing John?

John Makumbe: No. No there isn’t. That’s why the Government of National Unity’s stuck in the mud. The GPA, the Global Political Agreement, you know, designed or devised by Mr Mbeki, the former President of South Africa, was so flawed it was defective in that it didn’t have the mechanisms for power sharing. And so the inauguration of the inclusive Government which occurred in February immediately faced problems of how do we allocate Ministries, how do we allocate embassies, you know, in thirty eight countries throughout the world and so forth.

The levers of power were not in fact handled properly in terms of who gets what power and how do they use that power. And so the power sharing, you know, process is very defective and faulty.

Victoria Derbyshire: But it, it may not always be like that. I mean this is a, a fledgling Government isn’t it?

John Makumbe: Yes what we are seeing now with the negotiations going on now is essentially a review of the GPA …

Victoria Derbyshire: Okay.

John Makumbe: … and I think it might result in a new GPA.

Victoria Derbyshire: A new agreement …

John Makumbe: Yes.

Victoria Derbyshire: … okay. Well it’s very good to have you on the programme, both of you, thank you very much …

Mark Canning: It’s a pleasure.

Victoria Derbyshire: … Mark Canning the British Ambassador to Harare and Professor John Makumbe from the University of Zimbabwe. He’s a political scientist. Thank you. Good to meet you.

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