Saturday, December 08, 2007

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Attends EU-Africa Summit in Portugal

EU-Africa summit

From Itai Musengeyi in LISBON, Portugal
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

THE second EU-Africa summit began here yesterday with President Mugabe joining 66 other European and African leaders at the meeting, which could not be held for seven years because Britain wanted Zimbabwe barred.

Opening the summit, Portuguese Prime Minister Mr Jose Socrates said although the Zimbabwean issue had prevented the summit from being held, he "believed that dialogue" was crucial in resolving differences.

"With joint efforts we could be able to achieve better results. This (dialogue) is our agenda, it is our agenda which looks to the future," said Mr Socrates whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU.

He also called on the two continents to treat each other as equals, a principle Zimbabwe has pushed for at many international forums that nations should relate on the basis of mutual respect and equality.

AU chairman and Ghanaian President Mr John Kufuour said it was unfortunate the summit had failed to take place for seven years after the first one in Egypt but commended Portugal, the EU and AU Commissions for ensuring the meeting was held. The AU and EU commissions insisted that Zimbabwe should attend the summit and left Britain with no choice leading Prime Minister Gordon Brown to boycott.

"The real significance of the summit must be to lay the ground for the new foundation of a new partnership of mutual respect," said Mr Kufuour.

His call for mutual respect and for Africa to be treated as an equal partner was echoed by AU Commission chairman Mr Alpha Konare. "Africa intends to draw up its own agenda and take responsibility of its own future rather than run behind others," he said.

President Mugabe stole the show at the summit as hordes of journalists mobbed him. They continued to take him pictures as he sat in the auditorium where the meeting was being held just before the opening ceremony.

Security personnel had to be called in to disperse the journalists who ironically had their backs to British representative, former junior minister Valerie Amos.

Close to the summit venue a group of Zimbabwean youths held demonstrations in support of President Mugabe and the Government and clearly outnumbered opposition groups comprising student leaders and MDC youths.

The Zimbabwean youths were joined by Pan Africanists from some European countries who hailed President Mugabe for empowering his people through the land reform programme and standing up to imperialism.

The summit, which ends today will adopt the Lisbon Declaration which spells out the two continents’ co-operation in trade, investment, peace and security among other issues.

Meanwhile wire news reported that while the EU wants the summit to open a new chapter in relations, they are struggling to escape the burden of history with Libya’s leader Muammar Gadaffi calling on Friday for compensation for the colonial era.

The trade debate dominated headlines, with Europe failing to persuade many African countries to sign up to new pacts once existing agreements expire at the year’s end.

AU commission president Alpha Oumar Konare said Africa would "no longer be merely exporters of raw materials or accept being a mere import market", adding: "It’s important we avoid patterns of thinking that belong to a different era."

Europe still remains the major market for African goods, but China’s presence in the resource-rich continent is growing by the day as it seeks to fuel its economic growth.

"Chinese soft loans, which rarely come with strings attached, have gratefully been received by African countries often frustrated by the conditions that accompany European aid packages.

President turns tables on UK

From Munyaradzi Huni in LISBON, Portugal

THE scoreline reads: Gordon Brown (0) President Mugabe (1). Let’s not forget that this was in the belly of the beast in Europe and the British Prime Minister Mr Brown was at home, but he still lost. This was the first round and judging by the way Mr Brown is displaying his political immaturity, it looks like there would be many such defeats for the British premier in future.

The overall winners were Africa and Europe, that refused to be bullied by Britain and conducted business at the EU-Africa Summit here as if Britain was a non-existent country. Too bad for Mr Brown!

President Mugabe arrived here on Thursday night and instantly became "the man of the moment" as journalists jostled to show the world that indeed, he was in Europe and there was nothing Mr Brown could do about it. Mr Brown was holed somewhere in his cold country, obviously wondering why he had put himself in such an embarrassing situation.

"It’s either him or me," Mr Brown told the world when he was asked some months ago what he would do if President Mugabe was to be invited to the meeting. Indeed, Mr Brown was not here but now the whole world knows where the problem between Zimbabwe and Britain lies — it’s the miscalculated arrogance of the British leadership.

And the European Commission president Mr Jose Manuel Barroso showed that Britain is not Europe and Europe is not Britain.

Last week he told the world that:"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." True to his words, the summit stuck to the issues on the agenda, much to the chagrin of Mr Brown.

Even as the summit started, Mr Barroso showed that Europe was not missing Mr Brown.

"If you are an international leader then you are going to have to be prepared to meet some people your mother would not like you to meet. That is what we have to do from time to time," he said. A free lesson for Mr Brown on international relations!

Even the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, said: "The presence of one person is a fact, but the relations between Africa and Europe are more important than the presence of this person."

By refusing to play to Britain’s tune, the EU has made a bold statement to Mr Brown — that the time for bullies is over.

To add to his embarrassment, Mr Brown chose Baroness Valerie Amos to represent him at the summit and this caused an uproar in Britain, as he was accused of settling for her because she is black.

Former international development secretary, Ms Clare Short had no kind words for her former boss. "I don’t see any reason to send a pseudo minister and I think that it’s not right to send her because she’s black. I don’t see any other reason for sending her," said Ms Short.

For obvious reasons, Ms Short is not one of the closet friends of Zimbabwe, but here she was speaking sense. The only problem is that Mr Brown would not listen because when it comes to Zimbabwe, he seems to have taken the miscalculated stance that it’s supposed to be a "black against black issue".

The British Foreign Secretary, Mr David Miliband, tried dismally to defend his boss’s decision to send Baroness Amos saying: "I think it’s a bit insulting. She is a former secretary of state for international development, she is a former leader of the House of Lords, she has a lot of knowledge about Africa as a whole, not just Zimbabwe.

"I think she will be a very good advocate for the UK and also for the sort of relationship between the EU and Africa that we very much want to see."

Yes, Mr Milliband is right. It’s very insulting, but it is only insulting to Baroness Amos because she was roped into this fight simply because she is black. Is there any other better way of showing how deep-rooted racism is in Britain?

Even the anti-Zimbabwe demonstrators failed to make any meaningful impact as they were largely ignored by the international media.

The demonstrators tried in vain to attract the attention of the world’s Press but the media was quick to ignore them.

It was clear that whoever was sponsoring them had not given them enough resources as they looked like a desperate bunch of jokers. Their act was so pathetic that it was easily swallowed by the peaceful demonstrations by a pro-Zimbabwe group that had big banners screaming support for President Mugabe.

"Mugabe is right," one of the banners boldly declared. "Land is the issue. Lift your illegal sanctions," the other banner screamed. Several of the pro-Zimbabwe demonstrators, most of whom were adults compared to the rented anti-Zimbabwe youths, wore T-shirts boldly written: "Long live Mugabe! Long live Zimbabwe!"

Mr Brown must have developed goose pimples realising that President Mugabe had so much support even in Europe.

As the summit started yesterday, it was clear that the British premier had made a big blunder by boycotting the gathering. While Mr Brown seems to have a "big brother" mentality, the rest of Europe was seeing the meeting as a "gathering of equals".

The Portuguese prime minister in his opening remarks at the summit said this was a "summit of equals".

He said: "We are equal in our human dignity . . . but also equal in terms of political responsibility."

While Mr Brown can’t shake off the colonial mentality, Africa is moving forward and the leader of the African Union, President John Kufuor from Ghana, said:

"For almost 500 years, the relationship between our two continents had not been a happy one. It is to correct this historic injustice and inhumanity that this new relationship between Africa and the European Union is now necessary."

EU, Africa wrap up summit after faultlines appear

December 9, 2007 - 1:22PM

European and African leaders were to wrap up a two-day summit on Sunday, seeking to find more common ground after rows over Zimbabwe and trade exposed the faultlines of relations between the continents.

The gathering of leaders in Lisbon -- only the second ever such meeting -- has been billed as an opportunity to forge a relationship of genuine equals.

But the first day of talks on Saturday saw starkly different viewpoints emerge over issues such as human rights and immigration with the shadow of colonialism preventing the display of any real warmth.

In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's upbraiding of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe illustrated quite how big a gap they still have to bridge half a century after African countries finally began to break free of the yoke of European colonialism.

After Merkel had accused Mugabe of "harming the image of the new Africa", South African President Thabo Mbeki -- who has been the prime champion of a so-called African Renaissance -- reframed the debate.

"We continue to face challenges relating to governance in Africa, as this is the case with other regions of the world," Mbeki said.

"However, to put the matter frankly, by far the biggest challenge we face in terms of implementing our programmes on good governance and human rights is the issue of resources."

An African diplomat present at the meeting said that Mbeki then departed from his script and accused Merkel of being out of touch with the political situation in the former British colony where the South African has been tasked to mediate between the ruling party and opposition.

Wary of China's growing push into Africa, the EU has been keen to nail down new trade agreements after the expiration of existing deals at year's end.

But while the message from Europe was that no one would be pressured into agreement, African Union commission president Alpha Oumar Konare warned EU negotiators to "avoid playing certain African regions off against each other."

"It's important we avoid patterns of thinking that belong to a different era," he said. "No one will make us believe we don't have the right to protect our economic fabric."

Despite the tension on display, summit hosts Portugal have been largely happy with progress.

"Most of the goals that we set out to achieve at this summit have been largely achieved," Joao Gomes Cravinho, Portugal's secretary of state for cooperation and development, said in a briefing on Saturday evening.

He said the summit should not be seen as a venue for problem-solving but rather as a forum to more generally redefine relations and encourage dialogue, seven years on from the first EU-Africa summit.

"This is not a summit to solve any particular issue, we should not have any illusions about that. Rather it is to define a new framework for our relationship."

He said the issue of Zimbabwe had been "marginal", although Mugabe's presence did prompt the former colonial power Britain to keep its ministers away from the summit.

A new series of round-table talks was due to take place on Sunday morning before a closing ceremony and press conference where the leaders are expected to issue a joint communique.

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