Zimbabwe’s lobby to have African countries boycott the EU-Africa summit ensured that meeting will be off to a farcical start.
Zimbabwe has in the last 10 years had a testy relationship with the EU and President Robert Mugabe’s attendance to the summit was always going to be a political and publicity nightmare for Europe. So the EU decided not to issue a visa for Mugabe’s wife and as fate will have it Mugabe boycotted.
At the face value, the EU got what it wanted, Mugabe’s non-attendance, without getting its hands dirty. While on the other hand, if Zimbabwe was serious about attending the summit, instead of making it about personalities, it would have been represented at a lesser level, by the vice president or a minister.
Zimbabwe’s argument is that the EU cannot choose delegates for African nations and instead should have granted visas to everyone on the delegation list. I have argued somewhere that at 90, Mugabe is no spring chicken and needs someone close to him to take care of his most personal needs and for that reason alone, his wife should be allowed to go everywhere with him.
It is disingenuous for the EU to say there will be no programme for first ladies and so Grace Mugabe was not welcome, assistants always travel with their bosses and there is never a programme for them. The Mugabes are under a travel ban and need a special dispensation to travel to Europe, since they had agreed to President Mugabe travelling, I don’t think his wife’s presence in Belgium would have caused any much more harm.
For the ideologues, Mugabe stood up to the big might of the west and his boycotting the summit is being seen as symbolic of Africa’s new strength of standing up to the western bullies.
But on the other hand, in the court of public opinion, Mugabe could be seen as someone who threw out his toys because the EU would not allow him and his wife to go on a shopping jaunt. The Mugabes, whether rightly or wrongly, have a reputation of lavish spending and some may think the passion with which they pushed for the first lady’s attendance, was driven by a desire beyond the summit, namely shopping.
But while we get lost in the farcical, we lose sight of the bigger picture and that is relations between EU and Africa. The African Union voiced concerns at the attendance of Egypt and Morocco. Egypt was suspended from the AU because a coup took place in its country, whereas Morocco is not a member of the AU.
The European Union insists the summit is not between the EU and the African Union but rather the EU and Africa. Another disingenuous, but convenient argument. If the EU is serious about engaging Africa as a continent, then they should do so through the African Union and not through individual states.
In future Africa, although not a generic continent, should insist on meeting the EU on an equal basis; the EU meets the AU, not individual states as this undermines Africa’s ability to negotiate. The presence of Egypt and Morocco in the summit also undermines the AU in the sense that the AU’s disciplinary measures are being subverted by the EU and the two countries have no incentive to reform.
Just as much as Europe does not want the Sudanese leader al-Bashir on its territory, Africa, in future, should also refuse a seat for countries that it has censured for lack of democracy.
It is hypocritical for the EU to demand good governance and democracy from most African countries, yet be willing to share a table with countries that Africa censures for not following those very same tenants.