Brown, Mugabe And the Lisbon Summit

Daily Trust (Abuja)

December 17, 2007

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood out on a limb at the first EU-Africa summit in seven years held in Lisbon, Portugal on December 8-9. His European Union (EU) colleagues were content to leave him stranded, having been swayed by political realism or economic self-interest to ignore his misguided threat to boycott the summit, if Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe were invited to attend it.

He had claimed that President Mugabe's presence in Lisbon "will undermine the summit by diverting attention from the important issues to be discussed." The Zimbabwean president's spokesman was however quick to ridicule the British prime minister for "fearing a handshake."

Pressed by rising competition from China, India and other emerging economies for Africa's immense material resources, the EU was evidently determined to solidify its position at the Lisbon summit as Africa's largest trading partner. Accordingly the Portuguese hosts of the summit, fearing that African leaders might stay away if President Mugabe were excluded, decided to waive an EU visa ban in order to enable the Zimbabwean delegation to travel to Portugal. In spite of Britain's misgivings, no EU member state seriously objected to the Portuguese rotational EU presidency's decision, not even the Czech prime minister who was widely expected to join Gordon Brown's boycott. The prime ministers of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, who had hitherto been ambivalent about their attendance, were present at the summit. Having previously agreed to send a "clear and tough message" to President Mugabe on human rights at the Lisbon summit, an EU plan to dispatch a special envoy to "study the situation in Zimbabwe" was conveniently postponed until after the summit "to avoid any risk of undermining efforts by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to broker a deal between President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean opposition parties on holding free elections in 2008."

Those who might wonder why Britain, the quintessential advocate of contact and dialogue with South Africa's apartheid regime, should be so obsessed with isolating President Mugabe as to wage a relentless and vicious campaign against his government may wish to reflect on the influence of economic interest on foreign policy. Britain had no qualms about the ravenous profits scooped up by British firms from the toils of expropriated and virtually-enslaved Africans under the apartheid regime, but hates the guts of President Mugabe who led Zimbabwe's liberation struggle against British colonialism and has striven to dismantle the power base of British proxies since his country regained its independence. Britain accuses Mugabe of "wrecking the Zimbabwean economy," but the Zimbabwean leader denies that his policy of recovering and redistributing to indigenous Zimbabweans land which was unfairly appropriated by European settlers during the colonial era is the primary cause of his country's economic woes. He blames British-inspired economic pressures for the country's raging hyperinflation and economic meltdown.

It suffices to recall that when US President Richard Nixon learnt of Salvador Allende's election as president of Chile, he famously ordered the CIA to "make the economy scream." Chile was then confronted with a contrived economic collapse to compel a reconsideration of Allende's nationalisations. The US not only blocked loans to Chile, but persuaded many others to do likewise. It also restricted US imports from Chile and starved the country of foreign exchange. The British will deny any involvement in such machinations against Mugabe's Zimbabwe of course, but no one will believe them. With regard to Gordon Brown's "concern" about "widespread human rights violations, election rigging and violent suppression of political opposition" in Zimbabwe, one truly marvels at the hypocrisy and effrontery of Britain's current attitude to Zimbabwe, having opposed the imposition of any sanction against South Africa's apartheid regime until the eleventh hour.

Robert Mugabe certainly has his faults, and Zimbabweans may judge his stewardship as they please. We caution them however to beware lest they become unwittingly entangled in a grandiose project of the British rulers, easily the world's foremost shape-shifters, to reclaim lost terrain by brazen means. Africa's independence is priceless and must be defended at all costs, even in the face of economic collapse. We are satisfied however that when the history of the Lisbon EU-Africa summit is finally written, Gordon Brown's raucous protest about President Mugabe's presence will struggle to be recorded even as a footnote.

Email: zimbabwecrisis@yahoo.com

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