President Robert Mugabe and first lady Grace of Zimbabwe. Mugabe just celebrated his 83rd birthday earlier this year.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Itai Musengeyi
PRESIDENT Mugabe left Harare yesterday to attend the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, at the weekend as opposition to Zimbabwe’s inclusion on the agenda and condemnation of Britain’s boycott grew.
Cde Mugabe was accompanied by the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe and senior Government officials.
Vice President Joice Mujuru, several Cabinet ministers and service chiefs saw him off at Harare International Airport.
During Cde Mugabe’s absence, Vice President Joseph Msika will be the Acting President.
The summit gets underway tomorrow after African and European countries as well as Portugal stood their ground and blocked attempts by Britain and its allies to bar President Mugabe from attending.
Britain and its allies tried to have Cde Mugabe excluded or have Zimbabwe represented by officials other than the President.
After the plan failed, Britain, its allies and the opposition MDC shifted their focus to plotting to have Zimbabwe put on the agenda of the summit, again without success.
In a rebuke to Britain, the United States and opposition elements, European Commission president Mr José Manuel Barroso said:
"This is not — repeat, not — an EU-Zimbabwe summit, but an EU-Africa summit, with an ambitious agenda on issues as important as peace and security, climate change, development aid, migration and governance."
The position was buttressed by European and African foreign ministers at their meeting in Egypt to prepare for the summit when they rejected attempts to have Zimbabwe discussed.
Speaking on behalf of the ministers, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mr Ahmed Abu Gheit dismissed New York-based Human Rights Watch’s call to have Zimbabwe, Somalia and Sudan labelled human rights "flashpoints".
Mr Abu Gheit said only "the problem of Darfur would be included under the ‘peace and security’ clause and can be discussed within that framework".
In his 20th State of the Nation Address on Tuesday, the President noted that Britain’s machinations had disintegrated.
On Wednesday, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa blasted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s decision to boycott the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in protest against Cde Mugabe’s presence.
"I really would say that it would have been better for the British government, including the prime minister, to attend Lisbon to raise whatever issues they wanted with Zimbabwe," Mr Mwanawasa said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"So, I think this is definitely not a good thing," added President Mwanawasa, who chairs Sadc.
Last week, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade expressed disappointment at Mr Brown’s decision to boycott the two-day summit, which begins tomorrow and ends on Sunday.
In October, South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, attacked Mr Brown for his "holier-than-thou" attitude towards Africa, saying Britain could go ahead and snub the summit if it was against Cde Mugabe’s attendance.
ANC secretary-general Mr Kgalema Motlanthe said then if any country decided not to take part in the "critically important dialogue, to feed their celebration of their holiness", then so be it.
Canny Mugabe still a hero for many Africans
Johannesburg, South Africa
06 December 2007 08:25
Robert Mugabe, a largely unwelcome guest of the European Union at a summit this weekend, is a hero in the eyes of many Africans for daring to stand up to the West and seize land from white farmers.
Given that his country's economy is in tatters and has been plagued by political violence, many in Europe have been left scratching their heads over how Zimbabwe's president since independence in 1980 still commands respect.
But even at the age of 83, Africa's oldest leader retains many of the populist instincts which have served him so well over the years --trading blows with his former allies in the West and tapping into resentment over land.
"He's a great showman and the confrontation with the West is grist to his mill and builds up his persona," said Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based Africa Confidential journal.
“Back home the economy may be on its knees but [many feel] at least our man bestrides the world like a Colossus."
Mugabe -- normally banned from Europe for allegedly rigging his re-election in 2002 -- is likely to receive a frosty reception at this weekend's gathering of European Union and African leaders in Lisbon with the host Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado saying it would be "preferable" if he did not attend.
Yet at his last major summit, the Southern African Development Community's annual get-together in Lusaka in July, Mugabe received a standing ovation from delegates at the official opening who merely applauded other heads of state.
In the first two decades since independence, Mugabe's relations with the West were generally warm but that changed in 2000 when he embarked on a programme of land reforms in which thousands of farms were expropriated.
Mugabe claimed the programme was intended to redress the wrongs of the colonial era when the indigenous black population was often forced off their land by European settlers.
In reality however much of the land ended up in the hands of ruling party cronies and agriculture production -- once an economic mainstay -- collapsed.
But if outside observers see the expropriations as being an economic disaster, the idea remains popular in parts of the continent such as Kenya and South Africa where land still remains disproportionately in the hands of the descendants of European settlers.
"Mugabe's argument is that we may have got the independence but we didn't get the land. That enables him to avoid all the awkward questions about what he's been doing for the last 20 years," said Smith.
According to David Monyae, a lecturer in international relations at Johannesburg's Wits University, Mugabe had been largely successful in portraying the land issue as a bilateral dispute between Harare and London.
Many Africans shared Mugabe's resentment about the "holier than thou" attitude from former colonial powers such as Britain and Belgium, said Monyae.
"Africans are saying don't define us and lecture us ... we don't accept that it is about human rights, full stop," he added.
Mugabe has been particularly adept at responding to accusations by tapping into resentment about Western double standards.
When United States President George Bush branded him a tyrant at this year's United Nations General Assembly, Mugabe replied that the US president has "very little to lecture us on".
"He kills in Iraq. He kills in Afghanistan. And this is supposed to be our master on human rights?"
Not everyone in Africa is convinced, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, awarded the Nobel P Prize for his role in the fight against apartheid, calling Mugabe the caricature of an African dictator.
And in Zimbabwe itself, analysts say his grip on power has much more to do with his control of the state machinery rather than popularity.
"His popularity within the party and the country is very questionable," said Harare-based commentator Takura Zhangazha.
"He is a coercive leader, intimidates opponents, uses food aid as political weapon. Some people are given jobs because of their political affiliation." - AFP
Europe squeezed by China's scramble for Africa
06 December 2007 09:35
As Portugal prepares to host a bonding summit of African and European leaders, the frenetic construction in its ex-colony Angola bears testimony to China's growing influence on the resource-rich continent.
In all weather and on every day of the week, an army of Chinese construction workers is rapidly transforming the skyline of the Angolan capital Luanda in an alliance which has put the squeeze on traditional European partners.
"Human Rights, good governance, accountability are difficult questions that African governments hate and the Chinese don't ask any of them," says Justino Pinto de Andrade, a professor of economics at Luanda's Catholic University, as he contemplates the transformation of the capital.
"I think if we are not careful, if we keep on depending on them financially and economically, China will gain so much influence over our government officials that there will also be a political dependency."
Chinese leaders, desperate for raw materials to fuel their economic growth, have gone out of their way to insist their relationship with Africa should benefit both sides and have rejected any suggestion of neo-colonialism.
This weekend's summit in Portugal, the current holders of the European Union presidency, is seen as a belated recognition on behalf of European governments that they need to work harder to cultivate their relationship with Africa.
But according to Chris Alden, author of a new book on China's influence in Africa, many governments on the world's poorest continent are more inclined to hook up with a partner that can provide the finance for construction projects quickly and without asking too many questions.
"Whether it be a railroad or a dam, by all accounts they provide finance very quickly [at a speed] which neither the World Bank or Europe, the traditional donors, can match," said Alden.
"They have a very light touch when it comes to bureaucracy, while the EU is the master of bureaucracy.
"And in Europe there's a pretty high level of oversight from Parliament and China does not suffer from such concerns."
For the government of Angola, a country devastated by a 27-year civil war which began soon after independence from Portugal in 1975, China appears the perfect partner in the process of rebuilding the country.
As Chinese soft loans and workers help with the construction of everything from a vital rail link to office blocks, Angola in turn supplies China with some two million tonnes of crude oil each month.
Jose Severino, chairperson of the Angolan Industrial Association, said the Chinese involvement was beneficial in many ways, but worried that much of raw materials used in construction was of inferior quality.
"For example, they use cement bricks instead of oven-fired bricks which is the best thing," said Severino.
"It's good they're rebuilding our infrastructure, roads, and factories etc, but it has to be quality."
Complaints about the cutting of corners are echoed in other parts of the continent, whether it be over safety standards at Chinese-owned mines in Zambia or cheap clothing that undercuts the price of locally-made garments.
In Zambia for example, Chinese President Hu Jintao had to scrap plans in February to visit a Chinese-run copper mine where several workers died in a blast after unions threatened to stage protests.
De Andrade warned that China's push into Africa was often at the expense of local producers.
"We have the Chinese lending us money, bringing in expertise and promoting their own products which leaves little room for the growth of domestic industry," he said.
If local producers cannot compete with the low-cost Chinese, European businesses are also finding the same problem.
"They are finding that they are losing contracts to these new competitors," said Alden. "They will have to devise some form of approach that takes into account the lower costs of China. - Sapa-AFP