Observers say Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s determination to attend this weekend’s European Union - Africa Summit in Lisbon, Portugal could derail high-priority discussions about peacekeeping missions in Chad and Darfur and other serious issues on the EU - African agenda. But from an African perspective, they say Mugabe’s attendance is justified, despite an EU travel visa ban against him, since nations do not like being told that other states have the authority to exclude them from participating in continent-wide gatherings. University of Zimbabwe economist Tony Hawkins claims the flap over Zimbabwe’s attendance in Lisbon could prove to be a major distraction.
“The big concern must be the danger that the meeting could become preoccupied with issues particularly like Zimbabwe rather than Darfur and divert attention from all the other items on the agenda, which the Europeans and most of the other African leaders want to talk about,” he said.
On the other hand, participants note the Harare government is facing international sanctions for violating humanitarian concerns, oppressing its citizens, and redistributing farmland to its own financial detriment. Most do not believe Zimbabwe can gain the leverage in Lisbon needed to secure foreign economic relief for its downward spiraling financial and agricultural affairs. Nevertheless, Professor Hawkins says President Mugabe has a lot to lose by not attending.
“I think that it would be an enormous setback for Robert Mugabe if he were not to go because he’s made a big issue of it in terms of propaganda and said that the fact that I’ve been invited and the British are refusing to go, is a victory for the Zimbabwe people,” he notes.
Spain Tuesday joined Britain in requesting that the Zimbabwean president stay away from Lisbon for the summit. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned he will boycott the summit if Mugabe attends, citing the Mugabe government for stifling its political opposition and causing Zimbabwe’s economy to unravel. Nevertheless, President Mugabe told Zimbabwe’s parliament Tuesday in his annual State of the Union address that he appreciates the support various European and African nations have given his plans to attend the December 8th and 9th summit.
On Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer announced that Washington will impose travel sanctions on an additional 38 Zimbabwean officials and their adult children studying in the United States because of President Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF government.
Also on Tuesday, a group of prominent European and African writers including Nobel Prize winners Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass and Vaclav Havel accused European leaders of “political cowardice” for giving the Zimbabwe and Darfur issues low priority on the Lisbon summit agenda. Economist Hawkins says he does not think the criticism, however valid, will affect whether or not President Mugabe will be welcomed in Lisbon.
“I think that the criticism is well-founded, but I do think that the writers are right, that the European leaders in particular are remarkably coward about it. They just want to get on with their own agenda and they would rather not have the distractions of Darfur or Zimbabwe. They would like to pretend that those things don’t exist,” he said.