Africans Rally Around Mugabe

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"President Mugabe has a sovereign right to attend and the bigger issues affecting Africa should take precedence over a bilateral quarrel," Chidyausiku said.

[Africa News Update]

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is leading a revolt by African leaders over UK attempts to prevent President Robert Mugabe from attending a key European Union-Africa summit.

Mwanawasa, who currently chairs the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional trade bloc, said he would not attend the summit if Mugabe was barred, a threat which has cast a dark shadow over the December 8-9 summit in Portugal.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, willed on by saturation publicity in the UK media, said this week that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe was invited.

Brown's hard-line stance came in the same week that a SADC initiative to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis appeared to be gaining momentum, with Zimbabwe's major political players uniting behind new constitutional reforms.

A report by the International Crisis Group out this week was also critical of Britain and America's abrasive diplomatic stand-off with  Mugabe. Brown's intervention also puzzled Zimbabwean opposition politicians and commentators because of an emerging international consensus that the only viable policy is to fall behind SADC-initiated diplomatic efforts to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis led by Thabo Mbeki, the South African President.

Trevor Ncube, a Zimbabwean publisher and a critic of Mugabe based in South Africa, told the Financial Times that in attempting to isolate Mugabe at this stage, and by urging the EU to extend arms sanctions and travel bans against Zanu PF members, Brown was diverting attention from the real issues behind the crisis.

"It's a position that the rest of the world expects from the British but that is not what those seeking a solution in Zimbabwe are looking for now. We need pragmatic and bold leadership," he said.

"This plays into Mugabe's hands. He wants to paint the situation as a battle between the British and Zimbabweans." A senior member of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), quoted by the Times, said that while he sympathized with
the idea of stopping Mugabe from "strutting on the international stage", Brown's statement was not "clever or intuitive".

"Ratcheting up the pressure from Britain does very little," he said. "We advised Britain some time ago that Mugabe should be allowed to attend on condition that Zimbabwe would be debated in open plenary session," he added, referring to the EU Africa summit in Lisbon.
The EU's Portuguese presidency insists that the summit, which would unite more than 70 heads of state and government, will take place as planned but preparations are going slowly, to say the least.

"The invitations haven't been sent. We're talking," Portugal's European Affairs Minister Manuel Lobo Antunes said recently. In fact, through no fault of its own, Portugal is confronted with the same obstacle that caused what would have been only the second EU-Africa summit to be postponed indefinitely in 2003.

Echoing Mwanawasa's threat to boycott the summit -- thought to be the common position of most African states -- the current chair of the African Union, Ghana, said the summit will take place "with all members of the African Union". Akwasi Asei-Adjei, the Foreign Minister of Ghana said Wednesday: "It's time that Europe tried to understand Africa."

The Europeans are tempted to try for a compromise "Myanmar-style", by proposing that Zimbabwe be represented at a lower level, as happens with Myanmar at EU-Asia summits, because leaders of the junta are banned.

But this has been ruled out by the Africans. Mwanawasa said Thursday: "I will not go to Portugal if Mugabe is not allowed. I don't know how many of us will be prepared to go to Portugal without Mugabe."

In an article published in Britain's Independent newspaper on Thursday, Brown said it would be inappropriate for him to attend if Mugabe was present because the Zimbabwean leader would divert attention from important summit issues.

The British leader also accused Mugabe of leaving his people in an "appalling and tragic situation". Zimbabwe's envoy to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, said Brown had "no right to dictate" who should take part in the summit. He accused the Prime Minister of seeking to "multilateralize" an argument between Britain and Zimbabwe.

"President Mugabe has a sovereign right to attend and the bigger issues affecting Africa should take precedence over a bilateral quarrel," Chidyausiku said. Zimbabwe is going through an unprecedented economic crisis, which Mugabe blames on western sanctions and drought. However, his opponents say the crisis is a result of his misrule and rampant corruption.

Mugabe insists the crisis is a product of a bilateral problem between Zimbabwe and Britain, mainly over the seizure of white commercial farms, but Britain refuses to engage the 83-year-old Zimbabwean leader.

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