EU-AU Summit: Of Money, Mugabe, China

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/08/2007 02:58:00 PM
The EU-AU summit currently underway in Lisbon, Portugal has already attracted a huge amount of attention for understandable reasons. It has toxic leaders like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir in attendance. (As a result of Mugabe's presence, the UK PM Gordon Brown has boycotted the summit as promised, as have a number of other EU leaders.) There is also a lot of trade at stake as the EU aims to maintain its status as Africa's largest trading partner despite growing Chinese presence in the region. While it may seem that China now drives much economic activity in the region in order to secure the raw materials needed by the Chinese industrial machine, Europe has had a long head start owing to the continent's colonial past.

Let us begin with the Economist analyzing why this summit is taking place despite all the controversy. It says that the summit is driven primarily by economic reasons--the EU doesn't want China to muscle in on its "turf." However, it also says that the enticements offered by the EU are not very attractive and do not justify the damage inflicted to the EU's image by inviting odious characters like Mugabe and Bashir:
The Portuguese, who hold the EU presidency, see this first EU-Africa summit since 2000 as the capstone of their six-month tenure. They accept that the summit carries a “political price”: the one-man-against-the-rest EU split caused by the refusal of Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, to attend, in protest against the presence of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. But, the Portuguese say, China and others have forced their hand.

For the Europeans are worried that they are losing both trade and clout on a continent that they used to regard as their own backyard. Over the past five years resource-hungry China has swept across a grateful continent, buying oil and minerals. African-Chinese trade has increased five-fold over that time to more than $50 billion last year. Europe's long-standing links mean that it is still Africa's biggest trading partner, but the Chinese are catching up. For example in October the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China paid $5.6 billion for a 20% stake in Standard Bank of South Africa.

India, too, has been buying oil and mineral concessions in countries such as Sudan and Nigeria. America has revived its interest in Africa: it wants to take 25% of its oil imports from there to decrease its dependence on the Middle East...

Europeans complain that China damages Africa by not linking its loans and investments to improvements in government and human rights. [Yes, well, don't invite Mugabe and Bashir to an EU-AU summit, then.] But Africans are dismissive: as one official says, “Europe is jealous. They say we have gotten a new colonial master, but our old one wasn't so good.”

The Lisbon summit will thus be an explicit counterpoint to the China-Africa summit of November 2006, when China cemented its new relationship with a promise of yet more money. Now the Europeans will try to woo the bride back from Beijing, using concessions and inducements.

The main concession is to be less critical of regimes that are a bit light-fingered, or disdainful of human-rights. João Cravinho, the Portuguese minister responsible for the summit, contends that the Europeans have been “excessively simplistic” in insisting on European models of government for Africa. Instead, Europe will “focus on the essence of government [and be] less hung-up on particular forms of decision-making.” Getting into the spirit, Europe overturned its own travel ban on Mr Mugabe, a stranger to decent behaviour, to allow him to attend the summit. Mr Mugabe will be lectured—and is then free to join in the cuddly group photographs. Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, will also be at the summit, but there are no plans to nag him about brutality in Darfur.

Of the new inducements, trade deals called Economic Partnership Agreements are the ones Europe thinks will help Africa most. The EU argues that these are good for development, offering African countries full access to the European market while allowing them to keep about 20% of their own markets closed to protect fragile domestic industries. But some African countries, such as South Africa and Nigeria, argue that they are being bullied into making agreements by the end of the year. The Europeans argue that the deals are designed to encourage regional integration in Africa. The Africans retort that by making separate deals with different countries they are doing exactly the opposite.

Europe's new insouciance about human rights will worry many, especially those suffering atrocities in Zimbabwe and Darfur, while the inducements hardly look tempting. Europe needs to do much better than this if it is to win the bride.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has more on the political maneuvering going on, with a reference to China' role in the region:

``The current situation in Zimbabwe damages the image of the new Africa,'' German Chancellor Angela Merkel told representatives from 80 EU and African states in a keynote speech at the meeting attended by Mugabe. ``Nothing can justify the intimidation of those holding different views and hindering freedom of the press.''

Mugabe's presence came close to wrecking the summit, the first such gathering since 2000. The Zimbabwean leader, who's banned from the 27-nation EU, received a visa from the Portuguese government only after African leaders said they wouldn't come if he were barred. This prompted a boycott by some European leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who says Mugabe is responsible for ``the collapse of Zimbabwe's society and economy.''

In addition to the U.K., Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Cyprus didn't send heads of state or government to the summit, according to a list of participants from the Portuguese foreign ministry...

``Europe wanted this summit to end 50 years of uneasy post- colonial relations. But the meeting is attended by a leader who exploits the colonial past and uses it as an excuse for his human- rights violations and endemic corruption at home,'' Fredrik Erixon, director of the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy, said in an interview. Several of the EU countries at the summit are former African colonial powers including the U.K., France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal. ``This summit is a summit of equals,'' said Socrates. ``There are no minor cultures; there are no superior civilizations.''

Aside from human rights, migration and security, EU leaders are using the two-day summit as a bid to counter growing Chinese influence in Africa as competition for the continent's energy and mineral resources grows. ``The EU hasn't missed the boat, but they've certainly lost a lot of ground,'' John Kotsopoulos, an Africa expert at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre research institute, said in a telephone interview.

China is providing $8 billion in loans and investment to Africa and attaches no political demands to aid -- in contrast to Europe, which often links aid to governance and human rights. ``China's approach, also based on their own experiences and values, has forsworn conditions with the exception of the diplomatic recognition of Taiwan,'' said Christopher Alden, an Africa expert at the London School of Economics and author of the book ``China in Africa.'' China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Retired South African bishop Desmond Tutu urges action on the part of the EU in dealing with Mugabe, though not much seems to be forthcoming aside from Merkel's largely symbolic swipe. From Africasia:

Meanwhile, South Africa’s retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu on Friday said European Union (EU) leaders must confront Mugabe over his human rights abuses at the EU-Africa summit that begins in Lisbon, Portugal today, saying silence could be seen as condoning the abuses in the southern African country. “I would expect that they (EU leaders) would criticise any regime that violates human rights because if you don't, you are condoning those violations. The violators will think you are on their side," Tutu told Renascenca radio station. Tutu, who said he was deeply saddened with what has happened in Zimbabwe, has over the past seven years been among the few African leaders to publicly criticize Mugabe whom he once described as a “caricature of an African leader.” He said he expected EU leaders to “speak without any euphemism on human rights which are being violated so blatantly in Zimbabwe.”