PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s flawed decision to boycott this week’s EU-Africa summit in Brussels, Belgium, should rank as one of the most costly diplomatic bungles, detrimental to Zimbabwe’s national interest, in recent years.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
Although the national interest is notoriously difficult to decipher, in this case its clear Mugabe’s move badly damaged Zimbabwe’s diplomatic and economic interests.
Despite being a non-event his boycott — which has triggered clashes between Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and his deputy Chris Mutsvangwa — over some ill-defined issues on Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Morocco and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, was rather ill-advised.
Zimbabwe had more to lose by not attending the summit, citing African Union (AU) leaders’ nebulous resolutions.
While there might have been a case to be made, Mugabe ought to have been pragmatic. For it was clear, the rest of African leaders would not allow themselves to be held to ransom by him, especially because of a trivial squabble about his wife Grace’s travel visa.
Instead of allowing ideological and personal issues to cloud their thinking, Mugabe and his officials should have been guided by the national interest — the need to end the country’s international isolation and to seize economic opportunities at the summit.
Instead of sulking and staying away, many African leaders attended to promote their countries as good investment and safe tourist destinations, while Mugabe and his authorities, who in this case imposed sanctions on themselves, wallowed in self-pity and self-delusion.
As Mutsvangwa said, the visa quarrel was petty and unnecessary. It exposed Mumbengegwi and his permanent secretary Joey Bimha’s misguided foreign policy approach, while damaging Mugabe’s reputation big time.
Seeking comfort in South African President Jacob Zuma’s remarks and absence was unhelpful because he did not go for different reasons, and in any case, South Africa has its own arrangement with the EU. Harare’s position was untenable; it was based on self-serving misrepresentations, lies and personal considerations.
Egypt was invited to Brussels despite being suspended from the AU because it is critical to the EU on security matters. Eritrea was, in fact, invited.
Sudan was also invited although the EU warned its President Omar al-Bashir would be arrested if he set foot on Brussels since he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Morocco, not an AU member anymore, has always been invited ever since the summits started in 2000. Sahrawi was not invited even if it’s an AU affiliate because it’s not recognised as a sovereign country internationally; it’s not a UN member.
Besides, the summit was between the EU and Africa, not necessarily the AU.
Grace was not given a visa because she remains on targeted EU travel bans.
Above and beyond this, all spouses were not invited.
Under the theme “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, participants to the summit discussed peace, security, investment, climate change and migration. Previous summits took place in Cairo (2000), Lisbon (2007) and Tripoli (2010).
As is well-known, figures don’t lie, people do: trade between the EU and Africa has been booming. Statistics in our story on Page 3 prove this.
Trade between Zimbabwe and EU, for instance, doubled between 2009 and 2012, reaching US$800 million, with the terms of trade being US$200 million in Harare’s favour.
Zimbabwe’s boycott was thus naïve and misguided, especially considering relations between Brussels and Harare were now getting on a normal footing.
The EU has already indicated it is likely to lift in November Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement under which sanctions were imposed on Mugabe and his cronies in 2002.
Attended by over 40 African and 20 European leaders, the summit was a boon for serious countries, but Zimbabwe lost out because of Mugabe’s futile ego trip and sideshow.