Former British army chief says soldiers should stand up against Mugabe


Former head of the British army, Francis Richard Dannatt, yesterday called on British trained Zimbabwean soldiers to stand up against President Robert Mugabe saying they knew there was a better way than his repressive dictatorship.

Speaking in the House of Lords on a debate about Zimbabwe sponsored by Lord Avebury, Dannatt asked:  “Will they, I wonder, find the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing? They know what that is; we taught them”.

He said decent people around the world were saying enough is enough. The regime of Mugabe has had more than its day.

“I often reflect that there must be a generation of Zimbabwean army officers who were trained by us in the 1980s and who know that there is a better way than that of the repressive dictatorship of Robert Mugabe,” he said.

The British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) trained members of the Zimbabwe National Army from 1980 to 2000 and only left after relations between the two countries soured because of the farm invasions by war veterans in 2000.

It was believed that the British were training the new soldiers to be loyal to the country and to become more professional. It is not clear therefore what the former general meant when he said they know the right thing, they know what it is, we taught them.

Although he just joined the House of Lords, Lord Dannatt is no small fry. He was tipped by British Prime Minister David Cameron as a future cabinet minister.

Here is the former chief’s full contribution to the house:


Lord Dannatt: My Lords, the great privilege of being invited to join your Lordships’ House has been exceeded in the past six weeks by the kindness and courtesy that everyone within this House has extended to me since 24 January, when I took my seat. My only sorrow is that my long-time friend and colleague, Lieutenant General Sir Freddie Viggers, was not able to lead me into your Lordships’ Chamber. I know that your Lordships have paid generous tributes to him for his time as Black Rod, which was curtailed only by his wretched illness. While I was the Chief of the General Staff, General Freddie was my No. 2 as the Adjutant General. Nothing would have given both of us greater pleasure than serving our nation together in your Lordships’ House; but it was not to be.

However, I thank my two, or really three, supporters who guided me in my early days, and I hope they will continue to do so, given that map-reading is not my strong suit. I am most grateful to my senior supporter, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He was the undoubted father of the modern British Army and I could have turned to no one else than he to stand beside me. Field-Marshal Dwin had won a Military Cross in battle five years before I was born. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has been a friend for many years. We share a common background in our military antecedents. As a Christian on the one hand and a Zoroastrian Parsi on the other, we share a common desire to do the very best for and with those around us. My third supporter, who was unavoidably detained elsewhere on the day of my introduction, was my former commanding officer and mentor, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Having been his adjutant and principal staff officer many years ago, I am delighted to be standing by his side in your Lordships’ House today.

Before entering your Lordships’ House, it was my privilege to serve for 40 years in the Regular Army—40 years that naturally divide into four decades, each with very different characteristics. Those decades resonate soundly with this afternoon’s timely and important debate secured by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, whom I thank for providing this opportunity. Perhaps noble Lords will permit me to reflect briefly on those decades to make the association with today’s debate.

For me, the 1970s were characterised by service in Northern Ireland; 1977 was the only year in that decade when I did not serve in the Province. The 1980s was the final decade of the Cold War, and of course included the Falklands conflict. The two are connected, because I believe it was not lost on the Kremlin that a democracy such as ours was prepared to send a task force 8,000 miles to fight for a principle. My third decade was that of the so-called new world order, when Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history—but we discovered the Balkans, East Timor and Sierra Leone, not to mention the deserts of Kuwait and southern Iraq in the first Gulf War. Then 9/11 ushered in my final decade as a soldier, propelling the Army, which it was my privilege to lead for three years from 2006 to 2009, back into Afghanistan and Iraq—countries well known to our grandfathers and great uncles, and those of previous generations.

The conflicts that I took part in, or which formed the backdrop to my professional career, were all about people: their rights, their hopes and their future. That is all that the people of Zimbabwe are asking for. Like the people of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the Falklands in the 1980s, the Balkans in the 1990s and Iraq and Afghanistan in this decade, all they want is to live free from intimidation in a secure environment that is conducive to freedom and prosperity. Is that too much to aspire to after the first decade of the 21st century?

It was as a schoolboy in 1965 that I heard that the then Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, had unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom. To a teenager at the time, it seemed preposterous that this should have happened, and therefore it was with some relief that one heard in 1979 that, after a vicious and bloody civil war, there was the prospect of peace, perhaps reconciliation, and a better future for Zimbabwe. In the years that followed, I visited Zimbabwe several times, noting with a degree of professional pride the staff college that the British Army had established in Harare to underpin the professional development of the post-UDI army. I often reflect that there must be a generation of Zimbabwean army officers who were trained by us in the 1980s and who know that there is a better way than that of the repressive dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. Will they, I wonder, find the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing? They know what that is; we taught them.

On my third day in your Lordships’ House, we had a debate on the military covenant. I was too much of a new boy to take part, but the debate highlighted what is really at the heart of the people issue that I am talking about today. In general terms, the covenant touches on the unwritten contract, or bond, between those who govern and those who are governed. In specific terms, it sets out the relationship between an elected Government, who decide what military operations are to be carried out, and those of their citizens in uniform, and their families, who are to carry out those operations. When the covenant is in balance, much can be achieved: when it is out of balance, the sparks fly. In a mature democracy such as ours we can debate these things, imbalances can be rectified and the scales brought into equilibrium: but in a brutish and nasty society such as Zimbabwe’s today, the imbalances are perpetuated, injustices go unchallenged and the poor get poorer while the rich get what passes in Zimbabwe for richer. It is therefore no surprise that decent people around the world say that enough is enough and that the regime of Robert Mugabe has more than had its day.

In closing, I pay tribute to those who, despite the repression and opposition, have continued to try to do what is right for the people of Zimbabwe. I declare an interest as a periodic contributor to the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for choosing the charity ZANE—or, to give it its full name, Zimbabwe A National Emergency—as one of the charities for its 2010 national Christmas appeal. The £350,000 raised will go a long way to making the lives of former service and civilian pensioners just that little bit more bearable. However, in a country such as Zimbabwe, rich with agricultural and mineral potential, it should not be like this. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a chance, just as the people of Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have deserved a chance—a chance given to them, or a chance being given to them, by our nation, as I have witnessed over the 40 years of my military service, but there is more to do. I am grateful to have been given the chance to continue to serve people here in your Lordships’ House.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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