Sunday, October 07, 2007

Zimbabwe News Update: Africans Defend Mugabe; ACP/EU Support Regional Solution, etc.

Africans defend Mugabe

By Emmanuel Goujon,
AFP Published:Oct 06, 2007

ADDIS ABABA - African diplomats presented a united front today to support Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s presence at an upcoming EU-Africa summit despite strong European reservations.

"The African Union wants all African countries to take part" in the summit in Lisbon in December, an official from the pan-African body’s headquarters in Addis Ababa told AFP.

The official, who requested to remain anonymous, contradicted comments by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who claimed the African Union had offered to talk Mugabe out of travelling to Portugal.

The 83-year-old firebrand Zimbabwean leader has come under a barrage of international criticism for violating political and human rights in his country and plunging it into a disastrous economic crisis.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made it clear Mugabe was not welcome at the summit but Mugabe has brushed away criticism from his country’s former colonial power and shown no sign of backing down.

"Zimbabwe, in spite of the crisis, is an African country and we are defending principles here. We have asked Mugabe to talk to his opposition but the AU respects the principle of non-interference," said one official from the African Union’s Peace and Security Committee.

"We resort to interference only in extreme cases of violence or genocide."

"It is not the only country not to respect democracy, look at Togo, Niger... Zimbabwe’s problem is mainly with London, it’s a bilateral issue and is none of our business. If the Europeans really insist on this point, the summit risks falling through," the official added.

Originally planned to take place in April 2003, the summit was repeatedly postponed due to the adamant refusal of several European countries to host Mugabe over his rights record.

Britain and other European powerhouses have urged the African Union to use its leverage and convince Mugabe to let his country be represented at the summit by another official, so far in vain.

"On this file, the AU’s position is clear and resolute: all member countries should take part in the Lisbon summit. As Zimbabwe head of state, Robert Mugabe should take part," another high-ranking AU official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and the current president of the organisation, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, had reaffirmed their position to visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We want the next EU-Africa summit to be a success and herald a new partnership. All Africans should be invited, this is the basis of this new partnership," Konare said.

Merkel, who is now in South Africa, where she was expected to urge President Thabo Mbeki to use his influence on Mugabe, lamented the plight of Zimbabweans but stopped short of backing Brown’s tough line.

"The situation is a very difficult one. It’s a disastrous one, which I very clearly stated in our conversation," she said yesterday.

She said African countries themselves should be left to decide who attends the talks in Portugal.

ACP, EU countries endorse Zim talks

News Editor Farai Dzirutwe

THE African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU) have expressed confidence that the ongoing Sadc-initiated talks on Zimbabwe will bear positive results while the African Union yesterday reiterated its support for President Mugabe’s participation at the forthcoming EU/Africa summit in Portugal.

Reports from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday said African diplomats re-affirmed the continent’s support for President Mugabe’s presence at the EU-Africa summit scheduled for December despite strong European reservations.

This came amid revelations that ACP and EU countries have thrown their weight behind the Sadc talks after they jointly agreed at a meeting last month to block British-led attempts to tighten sanctions against Zimbabwe by making the country ineligible for assistance under the two blocs’ aid and trade agreements.

"The African Union wants all African countries to take part in the summit in Lisbon in December," an official from the pan-African body’s headquarters in Addis Ababa told AFP yesterday.

The official, who requested to remain anonymous, contradicted comments by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who claimed that the AU had offered to persuade Cde Mugabe not to travel to Portugal.

"Zimbabwe, in spite of its crisis, is an African country and we are defending principles here. We have asked (Cde) Mugabe to talk to his opposition but the AU respects the principle of non-interference. We resort to interference only in extreme cases of violence or genocide.

"Zimbabwe’s problem is mainly with London, it’s a bilateral issue and is none of our business. If the Europeans really insist on this point, the summit risks falling through," one official from the African Union’s Peace and Security Committee told the French news agency.

AU Commission chair Mr Alpha Oumar Konare and current president, Ghanaian leader Mr John Kufuor had on Thursday reaffirmed this position to German Chancellor Ms Angela Merkel who was on a tour of Africa.

"We want the next EU-Africa summit to be a success and herald a new partnership. All Africans should be invited. This is the basis of this new partnership," Mr Konare was quoted as having said.

The stance maintained by the African lobby is a blow to British Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown who is insisting on President Mugabe being barred from the Lisbon summit.

Britain’s attempt to have Zimbabwe ostracised from the international community hit a brickwall three weeks ago when participants to the ACP/EU joint parliamentary meeting held in Brussels, Belgium from September 10-15 resolved not to debate Zimbabwe’s alleged human rights abuses.

The British government had worked hard to put the country on the agenda of the meeting saying there was need for the alleged bad governance and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe to come under the spotlight.

It had also been suggested that a fact-finding mission be sent to Zimbabwe to prove claims in the international media that there were rampant human rights abuses in the country.

A four-man Zimbabwean parliamentary delegation led by Senator Forbes Magadu, however, managed to convince the two blocs not to debate the alleged rights abuses saying assertions by Britain and the negative reports in the international media were largely untrue.

They also revealed that talks were progressing well between the ruling Zanu-PF party and the main opposition MDC party on solutions to the country’s economic challenges.

The Zimbabwean delegation, in which the opposition was represented by MDC legislator Mr Nelson Chamisa, convinced the ACP and EU countries that all was largely well in the country and this effectively thwarted attempts by Britain to have Zimbabwe punished.

Had the issue been debated and Zimbabwe found guilty of violating the two groups’ principles, the country could have been suspended from receiving financial aid under co-operation agreements signed between the ACP and the EU.

The 79 ACP member countries have been co-operating with the European bloc for over 32 years and the two parties in 2000 signed the Cotonou Agreement, a comprehensive 20-year aid and trade pact under which ACP countries receive financial support from Europe while also benefiting from preferential trade terms.

Under the agreement, ACP countries will receive over 25 billion euros in aid by 2010 under the European Development Fund. However, member countries accused of corruption, bad governance, failure to respect human rights, failure to observe the rule of law and failure to stick to democratic principles can be suspended from receiving aid for violating the two parties’ set of core values.

Apparently, Britain had hoped to use the trumped up claims of rights abuses in Zimbabwe to have the country excluded from aid and trade packages.

In an interview on Friday, Senator Magadu said the move to have Zimbabwe put on the agenda of the September meeting had been crafted at another meeting in the German city of Wiesbaden in July where the country was not represented after the local delegation was denied visas.

Sen Magadu said his team had, however, made intensive preparations for last month’s meeting and had successfully asked the ACP and EU countries to ignore the Zimbabwe issue.

"Britain and other unfriendly countries wanted Zimbabwe to be placed on the agenda of the ACP-EU joint parliamentary meeting for alleged bad governance, human and property rights abuses allegedly stemming from the Land Reform Programme.

"They even wanted a fact-finding mission to be dispatched to Zimbabwe to prove their claims, but we worked very hard before the meeting to convince the ACP countries to support us, which they did. Eventually, Zimbabwe was struck off the agenda of the meeting and we were very happy.

"The initial moves to have Zimbabwe debated started at another meeting in Germany and the British and their allies had a field day because we did not attend," said Sen Magadu whose team also comprised Senator Clarice Muchengeti (Zanu-PF) and Dr G. Chipare.

Cde Magadu said the two blocs had wished Zimbabwe and the rest of the Sadc region the best of luck in the ongoing talks adding that they had asked for a progress report to be tabled at another meeting scheduled for November in Kigali, Rwanda.

"We also highlighted to the ACP countries before the meeting that Zimbabwe was one of the safest countries in Africa where people could even move safely at night without guns.

"We also pointed out that Zimbabweans were the best people to solve their own problems. The countries requested that we liaise with the negotiating teams from Zanu-PF and MDC together with the Sadc chairman and President Mbeki in the preparation of the progress report on talks.

"They said this would enable us to give a balanced report at the Kigali meeting. This was the agreed position and there was no dissension," said Sen Magadu.

The ACP-EU countries had accepted the point that the Zimbabwe-UK dispute was bilateral and that London had reneged on its promise to finance the Land Reform Programme.

"We are grateful to Sadc and the ACP countries for standing solidly behind Zimbabwe during the meeting.

"At the end, Zimbabwe was not discussed as even the EU countries were convinced that Zanu-PF and MDC were working in a mature and constructive way to solve problems and this was buttressed by the passing by parliament, of the Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 18," said Sen Magadu.

He expressed optimism that the country would avoid any form of sanctions from the two blocs even after the Kigali meeting.

For over 32 years, ACP countries and their European partners have been working jointly to determine development principles, strategies and models of their economies and societies while co-operation programmes under such treaties as the Cotonou Agreement have also been crafted during this period.

Other areas of interest include the strengthening of peace and international justice, the fight against international crime and terrorism and the fight against HIV and other poverty related diseases.

Western negative publicity campaign fails

By Grace Shamhu

THE increased negative publicity campaign by the Western media ahead of the just-ended UN Summit has failed to hamper preparations for this year’s Travel Expo running from Thursday to Sunday with 500 buyers expected to attend the international event.

The main objective of the travel show is to market Zimbabwe as a tourist destination.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) marketing and communications director Mr Givemore Chidzidzi yesterday said the ZTA is not only preparing to take on new markets like Asia and the Pacific but also to recapture traditional markets like the United Kingdom and the United States.

Workshops have been lined up to prepare local players to make an impact on foreign exhibitors and this could go a long way in boosting the tourism sector and eventually the economy.

"We have recorded an increase in the number of exhibitors from new markets like Russia, which is bringing a fairly large delegation this year, while Angola is exhibiting for the first time.

ZTA information technology manager Mr Job Gandiwa revealed that this year’s edition will feature three workshops from Thursday until Friday aimed at boosting the expo’s popularity.

"The first workshop is for country authorities like our own ZTA to market their destinations, attractions and services, and targets basically everyone who attends the event.

"Experts in the industry will present their needs and expectations in the second workshop and share ideas on preparing for the markets," he said.

"Hunting and safari players could benefit from the customers from the traditional markets who are interested in that.

"The final workshop offers local authorities from Nyanga, Masvingo, Kariba, Gweru and the National Parks a chance to present investment opportunities to potential investors," said Mr Gandiwa.

Safari operations have the potential to attract a lot of tourists.

Mr Chidzidzi said tourism players from France have also expressed desire to enter into safari adventure deals with local safari operators.

Participants from France, China, the US, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, Austria and the Middle East are already in the country for the travel show with some of them taking part in pre-expo tours to various resort destinations.

A major highlight of the expo is the Africa Tourism Night Show that features the South African groups Mafikizolo and Bongo Muffin backed by public demand for the second year running.

These giants will share the stage with rhumba outfit Extra Musica and Botswana’s Vee of the Taku Taku fame.

Local artistes Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Cephas Mashakada, Tongai Moyo and other cultural groups will keep the audience on their feet.

"The importance of the show is not just on providing entertainment but educating the audience as well, thus the inclusion of cultural, sport and tourism commercials throughout the show," said Mr Chidzidzi.

Other highlights of the expo include the opening ceremony on Thursday afternoon followed by a media and buyers’ cocktail in the evening.

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