Mugabe must shun sideshow

First Lady Grace Mugabe will not be accompanying the President to the EU-Africa Summit in Belgium next week because Brussels says she has no role to play there, if he goes.

The Zimbabwe Independent Editorial

President Robert Mugabe and Foreign Affairs officials have since the beginning of the week been trying to mobilise the African Union to boycott the summit unless Grace gets a visa to travel to Brussels. The Foreign Affairs ministry earlier this week took this bunfight to the AU where diplomats were expected to deliberate and advise on a way forward.

“The permanent representatives of member states are currently meeting in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) over the matter and as a country we will stand guided by its (AU) decision,” the ministry’s permanent secretary Joey Bimha said.

But the EU has stood its ground telling Zimbabwe that it would not change its position regarding the First Lady’s visa. The EU has invited delegates who have work to do at the summit and not spouses, it insisted. African First Ladies, who normally have their social shindigs on the sidelines of African summits, are not on the official programme. They have no official business in Brussels.

Yet the exchanges between the EU and Zimbabwe over Grace’s trip have cast a shadow over the import of the meeting, which raises fundamental questions about Mugabe’s seriousness on engagement with the West.

Two months ago Mugabe celebrated a “diplomatic victory” after he was invited to the summit on a special dispensation. The invitation followed another spirited campaign by Zimbabwean diplomats at the AU for African leaders to boycott the summit unless Mugabe was invited.

Zimbabwean officials were again this week threatening to derail the summit unless the First Lady was invited. In agitating for Grace to be invited to Brussels, Zimbabwean officials did not give a single convincing reason why she should travel to Europe other than that she is Mugabe’s wife as if other leaders’ spouses were invited.

Then there were reports to also suggest that the meeting should not take place unless all African countries were invited to the summit.

The EU then explained the summit is between Africa — not only AU countries — and itself, collapsing that argument.
So the discourse about the summit has been hijacked by political hawks whose narrow agendas should be rejected. A summit of this importance cannot be ruined by the tawdry little story of the First Lady’s invitation. For a whole continent to be bogged down in this silly quarrel is not only ridiculous, but demonstrates a lack of seriousness by our leaders on attending to real issues bedevilling Africa.

This is more so for Zimbabwe which is plagued by a myriad of problems stemming from bad governance and international isolation. Instead of re-engaging to fix an ailing economy, we have a government that elects to focus on a sideshow in which the First Lady’s trip to Europe is elevated to a national or even international crisis.
Mugabe and his African comrades must be reminded that for the AU to be taken seriously as a bloc, they must tackle real issues affecting the people, not waste time and energy on petty sideshows like this.