Monday, November 19, 2007

Africa-EU Summit: The Zimbabwe Factor

Africa-EU Summit: The Zim factor

By Dr Samuel Sibanda
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

THE second Africa-European Union Summit is scheduled to take place on December 8-9 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

History, politics behind the Africa-EU Summit

A summit can best be described as a meeting between the heads of two or more governments, a meeting or conference between and/or among presidents or prime ministers.

The Africa-European Union Summit is, therefore, purely a meeting between the heads of state and government of Africa and the European Union region, unless other heads of state and government decided to delegate their responsibilities of attendance. Such a decision has to be voluntary. There is no country or region with the power or responsibility to decide on behalf of another sovereign country on what level the country should attend.

In any event, the level of attendance was already decided since it is called Africa-EU Summit meaning that the meeting should take place between African and EU leaders.

The origins of this summit can be traced to 2000, when heads of state and government of African states and of the European Union as well as the president of the European Commission met from April 3-4 2000 in Cairo, Egypt. They met under the aegis of the Organisation of African Unity and the EU at the invitation of President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The summit was held under the co-presidency of the OAU chairman, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, and His Excellency Anthonio Guterres, the then president of the European Council.

The summit deliberated on various important issues affecting the two regions, including how to integrate Africa into the world economy, especially in terms of private sector development, investment, mobilisation of resources for development, external debt, research and technology, infrastructural problems, industrial base and other important sectors of the economy like human rights, democracy and rule of law, refugees, terrorism, conflict and peace in Africa and issues of development especially sustainable development, poverty eradication, food security, environment, education, health, drug abuse and trafficking.

The main goal, as explained at the end of the summit in what was dubbed the "Cairo Declaration", was "to give a new strategic dimension to the global partnership between Africa and Europe for the 21st century, in a spirit of equality, respect, alliance and co-operation between our regions" by strengthening the already existing links of political, economic and cultural understanding through the creation of an environment and an effective framework for promoting a constructive dialogue on economic, political, social and development issues". The summit also committed itself to the globally agreed target of poverty reduction by half by the year 2015.

To address these important issues the summit agreed on a follow-up mechanism to implement the Plan of Action. In this regard, the summit resolved to periodically hold the following meetings:

-Summit of heads of state and government, based on a principle of continuity;

-Meeting of ministers to be held in between the summits

-A bi-regional group at the senior officials level.

Most importantly, the summit agreed to hold the second summit in Europe in 2003 as a follow-up to the 2000 summit. However, this failed to materialise as the summit could not be held thereby rendering all the above important development issues redundant.

The summit could not be held because Britain and its European allies adopted a position not to attend the summit should His Excellency President Mugabe be allowed to attend. Britain and her allies created falsehoods about the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections, human rights situation in Zimbabwe and management of the economy, primarily the land question.

In 2001, Britain mobilised her allies in Europe to impose illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and took a conspiratory decision to boycott the summit if Zimbabwe was invited. Consequently, the second summit failed to take place as a result of these British machinations. The failure of the second summit to take place raises many questions on the seriousness of the EU’s claim that it is committed and prepared to support partnership between developed and developing countries. The collective decision of the whole of EU countries towards just one of the 53 countries, Zimbabwe, in Africa, is counter-productive and has destroyed the noble objectives of the Africa-EU Summit as outlined above.

The second summit failed to take place in 2003 and was postponed indefinitely after the imposition of illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe by the EU and due to Britain’s continued objection to the attendance of President Mugabe.

It is important to note that former British prime minister Tony Blair stayed away from the first summit in Cairo seven years ago because of President Mugabe’s presence. Britain has always maintained, despite sound advice from different stakeholders, that President Mugabe should not attend the summit while Africa and Zimbabwe maintained that Britain has no right to dictate who should or not attend.

Key stakeholders in the dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain have described it as bilateral and have tried to convince Britain to move away from its entrenched position. Recently, Mr Don McKinnon, the head of the Commonwealth and a critic of the Zimbabwean Government agreed that President Mugabe must be allowed to attend.

This position was also supported by the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, who is also a strong critic of the Zimbabwean Government. In October this year a delegation of the European Union MPs who visited the Pan-African Parliament also took a decision that the Africa-EU Summit should go on irrespective of President Mugabe’s attendance. African key stakeholders have also raised their voices on the dispute.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the African Union and Sadc have made it clear that Zimbabwe must be represented at the appropriate level at Africa-EU Summit. Sadc has even made it clear that all its members will not attend if President Mugabe is not invited. Most importantly, it is prudent to mention the unwavering position of the host country, Portugal.

Portugal has always maintained that the potential rewards of closer ties between Africa and the EU outweigh the antagonism between the leaders of Britain and Zimbabwe. As a result, Portugal has maintained that the second summit should go ahead in December during its presidency of the EU. Portugal’s position has received strong backing from the above key stakeholders within the EU and from Africa.

The political mood within the 27-nation EU is to recover the ground they lost in Africa over recent years, especially to China, whose influence has soared. Africa may be the world’s poorest continent but it still offers plenty of business potential in tourism, mining, information technology, agriculture and other development areas. In this regard, Europe and Africa agree that there is need to inject new dynamism into their relations yet Britain insists that the summit should be sacrificed over its bilateral dispute with Zimbabwe.

Instead Britain is opting to internationalise its bilateral dispute with Zimbabwe using the weapons of mass deception — the international media. Britain has been using the BBC, Sky News, CNN and other willing international media outlets to terrorise Zimbabwe through portraying it as the problem yet Britain is the major obstacle.

The BBC has been involved in stage-managing stories and documentaries on Zimbabwe to illustrate their falsehoods about the alleged abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. The story of the alleged beheaded woman in front of her children comes to mind.

At times these international media outlets use footage from countries other than Zimbabwe, just to tarnish the country. Blair boycotted the first summit in Cairo over President Mugabe’s attendance and his successor, Mr Gordon Brown, is threatening to boycott the Lisbon summit if President Mugabe is invited. This position clearly illustrates who the real problem is, that is the British government and its House of Lords, the current architects of the British foreign policy on Zimbabwe.

According to the House of Lords, the majority of whom used to own land in this country, Zimbabwe and its President committed an unforgiveable sin by acquiring land from them and their kith and kin during the fast track land reform programme.

The compulsory acquisition follows the refusal by Britain to honour her commitment to pay for the land for resettlement purposes under the willing buyer-willing-seller concept cobbled at the Lancaster House talks. Despite overwhelming support for the land reform programme from EU members and Africa, Zimbabwe cannot be forgiven for taking land from the white minority who used to own more than 85 percent of the arable land in Zimbabwe. This position by Britain explains why it maintains that the second summit should be sacrificed for Zimbabwe despite the potential mutual rewards likely to be achieved from Africa-EU partnership.

At this point, it is important to refer to the EU report on Zimbabwe to clearly locate the locus of the problem with regards to the holding of the Africa-EU Summit.

The report on evaluating coherence and co-ordination of the EU in the application of Article 96 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement reveals that Britain played a major role by compelling other EU members to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe without following proper procedure.

The report clearly stated that Zimbabwe was targeted for sanctions for violation of the Cotonou Agreement despite the fact that there was more freedom in Zimbabwe "than an average ACP country". The reason given for such targeting was to influence the outcome of an election in Zimbabwe, that is, regime change.

To achieve this goal, the report makes it clear that the EU flouted the ACP procedures whereby the EU decided to commence with Article 96 (imposition of sanctions) before effective dialogue had taken place under Article 8, hence sanctions against Zimbabwe were decided before Zimbabwe was given the opportunity to respond. The report also acknowledged that the EU policy on Zimbabwe is not working and should not have been adopted in the first place.

Paradoxically, the EU, on the insistence of Britain, is not willing to change its policy. Given this position, Britain’s stance over the Africa-EU Summit is not surprising. But what needs to be done to make sure that the Africa-EU Summit is not jeopardised by selfish interests of some of its members as shown above?

The way forward

First and foremost, it is important to realise that the issue of land, which is at the centre of the dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain, was resolved once and for all. There is need to move forward bearing in mind that the potential benefits of closer ties between Africa and the EU outweigh the bilateral antagonism between the leadership of Britain and Zimbabwe.

There is need for bridge-building between the antagonists. The second Africa-EU Summit scheduled for December in Portugal provides such an opportunity for bridge-building. The UK and its leadership should be advised to take the summit seriously bearing in mind that the cardinal rationale for the summit is development.

All the stakeholders must understand that the current problems in Zimbabwe are principally caused by Britain. President Mugabe has only been reacting to British attitudinal policies towards Zimbabwe since the Lancaster House Agreement. Africa and other progressive EU members must take a position to find a common ground during the summit in light of the situational reality of the colonially-induced problems in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is ready to assist Britain through dialogue during the upcoming summit so that a win-win situation can be found. Avenues such as the Sadc talks between the ruling Zanu-PF and MDC are other areas which the EU and Britain can make use of in resolving the impasse.

Dialogue in Zimbabwe is a clear testimony that the country is a democratic country. In any case, Zimbabwe has been timeously holding its elections since independence in 1980. There is need to respect its sovereignty. The Mbeki-mediated talks have also identified the need to respect Zimbabwe’s sovereignty. President Mbeki has unequivocally stated that the problems in Zimbabwe can only be solved by Zimbabweans without external interference.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s position to boycott the summit is a clear indication of his fear of humiliation over Britain’s unjustified action towards Zimbabwe. Britain also risks being exposed for its hypocrisy in appealing to all European countries not to invest in Zimbabwe while more than 400 of its companies are carrying out operations in Zimbabwe with no calls for them to pull out.

As a long-term solution to this problem, Africa must demand that future Africa-EU summits be held as an AU-EU meeting, making sure that the invitations to these meetings are done on the basis of equality. Invitations for these summits should be extended to the African Union and the European Union, and these organisations alone should decide who should attend these summits.

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