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Duddridge James NewJames Duddridge is the Member of Parliament for Rochford and Southend
East and previously worked in Africa prior to entering parliament in 2005. Follow James on Twitter.

For many, life in Africa is moving
forward.  Recent development indicators published by the World Bank show
that in Sub-Saharan Africa GDP has risen every year since 2000, averaging 5.8%
annual growth.  Those are quite remarkable figures given the turbulent
global economic environment of the last decade. The irony however
is that probably the richest and most heavily resourced country of all within
the region has benefited so few of its people and savaged so many. I am, of
course, talking about Zimbabwe.

In 2008 there was a palpable expectation from
the citizens of Zimbabwe that they were, finally, going to be able to vote for
change in their country and alleviate themselves from three decades of a
tyrannical regime. Unfortunately, Robert Mugabe and his party, ZANU PF, had
other plans.  Despite every indication that the Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won by a landslide, a run-off
was set with Robert Mugabe after the vote count conveniently recorded
Tsvangirai as falling just short of the 50% required to form a Government.
 Over the next two months Mugabe and his Zanu PF supporters unleashed a
campaign of terror and violence across the country, unparralled in its
brutality even by Mugabe’s standards. Many opposition supporters were killed,
and others – including Tsvangirai himself – were so savagely beaten they were
left unrecognisable.

In the end, Tsvangirai fell on his sword to
prevent any further killings of his supporters and Mugabe was once again
declared the victor and the power sharing Government of National Unity was
formed. Five years later, the Government of National Unity has certainly
improved the situation in Zimbabwe; there have been four years of steady
economic growth following 10 years of economic contraction, inflation has been
reduced from 231,000,000% to less than 4.5% and last month a new constitution –
which includes limited presidential terms – was approved. Much of these
achievements are down to the efforts of Tendai Biti, the Zimbabwean Finance
Minister.  With both parties now accepting that the Government of
National Unity has run its course, the country once again stands at cross
roads.

One longstanding MDC supporter recently said , "we really are on the edge here. We have an opportunity now to kick on from the
last five years work and get Zimbabwe back on its feet and back to
prosperity.  If we can once again become a viable destination for foreign
investment, and get business working again, then all Zimbabweans will benefit.
If we see what we saw in 2008, or a ZANU victory then God help us. We’ll be forgotten,
and end up like the DRC."  And it's because of this very real concern that
it is so important we, the British Government, and the wider international
community, particularly SADC and South African President, Jacob Zuma, do
everything we can to ensure the upcoming polls are bonafide and as the people
want.  This means international election observers are critical, as is
ensuring all political parties will be held accountable for their actions, as
Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire.

The recent passing of the new constitution in
Zimbabwe is reassuring, but it is right for the MDC leadership to demand
certain reforms are implemented prior to the country going to the polls, most
notably amongst the security sector where worrying signs have already started
to emerge that intimidation seen in 2008 is resurfacing.

Whilst there will be some who think Zimbabwe
should no longer be a priority for the UK’s foreign policy, particularly with
recent news of chemical weapons in being used in Syria, a nuclear North Korea and
the threat of Islamic rebels spreading across North Africa, that is to miss a
vital point.  Where do you think countries like Iran and North Korea are
turning to for uranium and other resource supplies? Where do you think the
millions of dollars of diamonds revenues are going?  We need to look
at the longer term and problems around the corner. 

The upcoming elections
do not just offer the people of Zimbabwe hope, they offer the UK a chance to
show it remains very much at the forefront of global foreign policy; with a
democratically elected Government in power, Zimbabwe can be a major strategic
ally to the west.  Let’s remember, after all, that the average Zimbabwean
is far more interested in a decent education, Manchester United and Nike
trainers than they are with religious extremism or the development of nuclear
arsenals.  It is important we ensure there are free and fair elections so
the people of Zimbabwe can decide.

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