Friday, 21 September 2007

EU-Africa Summit: Portugal blasts British premier Brown

EU-Africa Summit: Portugal blasts British premier Brown

Bulawayo Bureau

PORTUGAL yesterday blasted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his "double standards and hypocrisy", as Lisbon sent a clear message that any attempts to bar President Mugabe from attending the forthcoming Euro-Africa Summit would be strongly opposed.

The Southern African Development Community also weighed in, warning that African leaders would boycott the summit in solidarity with Zimbabwe if the European Union barred Cde Mugabe from attending.

Mr Paolo Casaca, a Portuguese Member of the European Parliament, dismissed as a cheap stunt Mr Brown’s threat to boycott the summit if President Mugabe was invited.

"It is absolutely double standards," said Mr Casaca, criticising the British leader for levelling accusations of human rights violations at countries such as Zimbabwe while turning a blind eye to countries where gross violations are openly occurring on a daily basis.

Mr Casaca’s blistering remarks came in the wake of Mr Brown’s assertion in an opinion piece published by the London Independent that Cde Mugabe’s presence would deflect the summit from its agenda.

"I believe that President Mugabe’s presence would undermine the summit, diverting attention from the important issues that need to be resolved. In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate."

As pressure mounted on Mr Brown, it also emerged yesterday that Sadc has thrown its full weight behind Zimbabwe.

According to news agency reports, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who is the current chairman of Sadc, vowed to boycott the Euro-Africa Summit if President Mugabe was not invited and said other African leaders could do so too.

"I will not go to Portugal if (President) Mugabe is not allowed. I don’t know how many of us (African leaders) will be prepared to go to Portugal without (President) Mugabe," he said.

Political analysts said the British premier’s grand plan to isolate and demonise Zimbabwe ahead of the Euro-Africa Summit lay in tatters.

Last week, the government of Ghana, which holds the rotating chair of the African Union, said President Mugabe should be invited to the summit, set for December in Lisbon, like any other African leader.

Ghanaian Foreign Minister Mr Akwasi Osei Adjei emphasised: "I believe we are coming with all the members of the African Union, the heads of state of the African Union. So, definitely the invitation will be issued (to President Mugabe).’’ He also urged

London to find a diplomatic solution to its bilateral dispute with Zimbabwe, which stems from Harare’s adoption of land reforms meant to correct a racially skewed land ownership pattern that was a legacy of the British colonial system.

Diplomatic sources said the Euro-Africa Summit would go ahead even if Mr Brown carries out his threat to boycott the gathering.

Desperate to keep his anti-Zimbabwe campaign going in the face of international condemnation, Mr Brown yesterday announced that he would lobby for further illegal sanctions against the country.

However, no EU member has backed his call. In fact, a Portuguese diplomatic source close to the EU presidency was quoted as saying Europe’s relationship with Africa "cannot remain hostage" to the Zimbabwe issue and suggested the meeting could go ahead without the British Prime Minister.

"It will be very hard not to invite (President) Mugabe. Some African leaders in the African Union might not be willing to come if he is not invited," said the Portuguese source.

"He is the oldest leader in the AU and is seen by many as a freedom fighter," he said, noting President Mugabe had spent 11 years in jail for opposing white minority rule.

"This is not an EU-Zimbabwe summit. It’s an EU-African summit with a lot of strategic issues at stake," he continued, citing climate change, security, economic governance and migration.

"It is likely that if (President) Mugabe comes, Brown will not be in a political position to attend the summit. The question is whether Britain will be represented at a lower level," said the source.

This December’s EU-AU Summit would be the first in seven years. Plans for a new set of talks have stumbled in the past because ex-colonial power Britain refused to invite President Mugabe, prompting fellow Africans to stay away in solidarity with Zimbabwe.

Portugal, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has indicated before that that it has no intention of discriminating against President Mugabe in relation to the summit.

"It is not up to Portugal, current head of the EU, to invite some people rather than others,’’ Portuguese Deputy Foreign Minister Joao Gomes Cravihno was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the Sadc Summit in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, last month.

Yesterday, Harare immediately scoffed at the boycott threat by Mr Brown as a "waste of time’’ and insisted that Cde Mugabe would attend the summit as the legitimate head of sovereign Zimbabwe.

"President Mugabe was invited and he is going to Lisbon as Zimbabwe’s representative whether Gordon Brown attends or not," Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity Cde Bright Matonga told AFP.

"Brown is wasting his time."

Last week, the Minister of Information and Publicity, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, made it clear that the AU would back Zimbabwe.

"It is not debatable whether Zimbabwe will attend or not. When the West starts making noise about that, we are not worried because the AU is united. We are sick and tired of external forces instigating African states to go against us. The summit is for the EU and AU and President Mugabe will attend as our Head of State,’’ said Dr Ndlovu.

Cde Matonga described Mr Brown’s move as ill-informed.

"Brown has never been to Zimbabwe and he has never engaged Zimbabwe so he is not the best person to talk about our situation.

"He and his peers in the EU must remove the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe, which are hurting our economy,’’ Cde Matonga told AFP.

Mr Brown’s stance is seen as an attempt to bully Lisbon into buying into Britain’s campaign aimed at achieving a "splendid isolation’’ of Zimbabwe in Africa.

The move is out of sync with international diplomacy as the meeting is between the whole of the AU and the whole of the EU and not certain cherry-picked members of the two bodies.

Said a political analyst yesterday: "We accept that Mr Brown is new in office, but the move is either a reflection of his racist arrogance or diplomatic naivety of the highest order.

"Will he boycott the United Nations meeting next week, because President Mugabe will definitely be there? Mr Brown is being childish. His behaviour is the kind that one expects to find at kindergarten playgrounds.’’

There have been suggestions from racist opponents of Zimbabwe led by Britain that a compromise be struck where a senior Government official other than President Mugabe would represent the country at the summit.

However, in terms of diplomatic norms, the EU only extended a blanket invitation to the AU which, in turn, has the prerogative of sending individual invitations to its member states.

Ironically, even sworn critics of President Mugabe such as Commonwealth Secretary-General Mr Don McKinnon, who was at the forefront of the demonisation of Harare, which prompted Zimbabwe to pull out of the racist Club of former British colonies, are conceding that President Mugabe should be allowed to attend the meeting.

"It’s useful to have him (President Mugabe) there for the dialogue to go on. Africa’s relations with the EU are very important. If the dialogue gets cancelled because Africa refused to get on with the request (to veto him), it would be a bigger problem.

"The EU makes it very difficult for Africans,’’ said Mr McKinnon, adding he had visited a number of countries across Africa where "(President) Mugabe is still very much a hero’’.

Britain’s attempts to isolate Zimbabwe in the region have also hit a snag as Sadc has continuously reaffirmed its solidarity with Harare and maintained that Zimbabwe is a sovereign nation whose economy is being undermined by unjustified Western sanctions.

This week while in Zambia, Sadc Executive Secretary Dr Tomaz Salamao quashed media reports of divisions within the regional body over Zimbabwe during the recent Lusaka summit.

He stressed that Sadc would not allow itself to be ‘‘dictated to by the West’’ on how to relate with Zimbabwe.

"I don’t see where members were divided on the issue of Zimbabwe. It was a collective approach. There is no way somebody from elsewhere can come . . . and try to dictate on Zimbabwe. Sadc knows exactly how to deal with the situation and we are within the right path,’’ Dr Salamao said in an interview on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Television on Wednesday evening.

Sadc is on record as calling on Britain and its allies in the campaign against Zimbabwe to drop illegal sanctions against its member state.

Even rabid critics of Government and Trojan horses of Western imperialism such as the International Crisis Group are now admitting that the demonisation of Zimbabwe is not paying dividends.

In its latest report on Zimbabwe, the ICG said "general condemnations’’ of Zimbabwe by Britain and the US were "counter-productive".

The Herald.

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