Boycott Mugabe at EU-AU Summit?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/10/2007 04:11:00 PM
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former UK minister of state for Africa from 1983-86 and foreign secretary from 1995-97 (in the Major government) recently wrote a stern editorial in the Financial Times on why Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, should not be allowed by the EU to attend the upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Portugal. He urges a UK boycott of the event if Mugabe goes:
Today, politics in Zimbabwe is a grimmer business. The country has gone from being a breadbasket to a basket case. Inflation is more than 6,000 per cent a year, most whites have left and Robert Mugabe’s thugs beat up political rivals while plundering the nation’s assets.

There is little the rest of the world can do to hasten Mr Mugabe’s downfall. South Africa is the only country that has real clout but President Thabo Mbeki, to his shame, refuses to act. This is a real tragedy. It was South Africa’s withdrawal of support, under P.W. Botha, that eventually forced Mr Smith to abandon UDI.

But Britain and Europe can still make an impact. Mr Mugabe and his henchmen are, currently, banned from visiting all European Union countries. But that ban is under threat from the proposed EU-African Union summit due to be held in Lisbon later this year. The Portuguese are desperate for the summit to go ahead. They know Mr Mugabe should not attend but fear an African Union boycott if he is excluded.

There are already signs of this becoming an embarrassing political fudge. José Sócrates, Portugal’s prime minister, has declared that “appropriate diplomatic formulae will be found”. An unnamed British official has said that “the issue of whether he is there or not should not detract from the substance or overshadow the summit”.

There has now been the absurd suggestion that Mr Mugabe might remain banned from Europe as president of Zimbabwe but be allowed to attend the summit as a member of the African Union delegation. Such an outcome would be a humiliation for the EU and should be unequivocally ruled out.

In the UK, Gordon Brown, prime minister, has tried to give the impression that Africa matters to him, while David Miliband, foreign secretary, has declared that human rights are a priority. So far both have been ambivalent and ambiguous on this issue. They have said they do not wish Mr Mugabe to attend, but are vague as to what should happen if the Portuguese or the African Union disagree.

This is not good enough. They should declare that if Mr Mugabe is allowed into Portugal, to strut around the proceedings, Britain will not attend. Neither the prime minister, nor foreign secretary nor any British diplomat should be present. We should do everything in our power to persuade other EU members to take the same line.

The issues at stake are considerable, for Europe and Africa as well as Zimbabwe. For Europeans there is an understandable desire for the summit to go ahead after a gap of seven years. The EU is nervous of the impact China is making in Africa and wants to remind Africans of the great potential that exists for trade with Europe. Southern Europeans, especially the French, Spanish and Italians, are worried about massive further migration from north Africa if poverty persists there.

But Africa still needs Europe more than the reverse. China can offer capital investment and turn a blind eye to human rights abuses but its roots in Africa are superficial and its interests purely resource-driven. Africa and Europe, in comparison, are geographical neighbours with much common history, sharing geopolitical concerns in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The EU must hold its nerve. It must explain that while Zimbabwe can be represented, Mr Mugabe cannot attend. Diplomats should focus on devising a formula that will keep him away, not one that will enable him to attend.

There is one further, not insignificant, consideration. If the EU fudges this we not only betray the brave people of Zimbabwe; we say goodbye to any prospect of a meaningful European foreign policy. That should concentrate minds in Brussels wonderfully.

Rifkind also fields some FT readers' questions. Here are some of them:

Allowing Mugabe to join a meeting with the international community would validate his fraudulent government. Isn’t it better to let the opposition gain some grounds as the people of Zimbabawe see that the international community do not endorse Mugabe’s multiple crimes?
Monique Amaudry, France
Malcolm Rifkind:
I very much agree. The Zimbabwe opposition deserve all the support we can give them. If Mugabe attends the Lisbon Summit Zimbabwe’s state controlled TV and newspapers will present this as a great triumph for him which will be another blow for those who are pressing for reform and the rule of law

I think it is crucial that Mugabe is denied entry to Portugal, if only to demonstrate to Zimbabweans that their plight is not being totally ignored. Unfortunately, we have already stood by too long and the humanitarian catastrophe has been allowed to snowball. Why has the EU not put more pressure on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, namely South Africa, whose inaction has effectively condoned Mugabe’s brutality? Fred Kooij
Malcolm Rifkind:
I understand your point but it is difficult to see what the EU should have done against South Africa. While we can disagree with Mbeki’s policy on this issue, he is a democratically elected president after fair and free elections, South Africa does have a free media and the rule of law applies.

We must hope that South Africans themselves press their government to change as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have done

Why hasn’t the African Union taken this opportunity to affirm its credibility, instead of hiding behind colonial guilt? We punish those who commit crimes even if they were abused as children. Patriotism, brotherhood, the last bastions of scoundrels. Isn’t it embarrassing enough that Zimbabwe leads the UN on sustainable development? Now there’s an oxymoron.
Jonathan Lloyd, London
Malcolm Rifkind:
You are quite right. The sadness is not just that other African states have not put pressure on Mugabe. They treat him as if he is some kind of hero despite the terrible things he is still doing to his fellow countrymen

Ignoring the irony of having Thabo Mbeki lean on Mugabe, is it not hypocritical for the European Union (whilst acting as host to the African Union and where independent decision making and accountability is surely the end game?) to set preconditions as to who may or may not attend? If we are truly able to get over the legacy of colonial intervention, surely we must allow this continent to find its feet. The issue is not whether we think what Mugabe has done is right or wrong it is the democratic principal of allowing Africa to take responsibility for its own. Refusing entry to the longest standing (SS) leader undermines not only the AU, but our ability to deal with them as a peer. It is a choice of lesser evils. Will Potts
Malcolm Rifkind:
I strongly disagree. It is for African states to decide whether they wish to welcome Mugabe to their capitals. It is for European states to reach their decisions as regards Europe.

Europe has already got a policy of banning Mugabe. This has been widely welcomed by Zimbabweans. If the AU does not like this it would be better to postpone the Summit until Mugabe is no longer around

Why is South Africa the country with the most influence over Mugabe? Does this influence lie mainly in trade, and if so, are those trade links the reason why South Africa stands by and does nothing? Laura Spinney, UK
Malcolm Rifkind:
South Africa’s influence is because it shares a border with Zimbabwe and has been its major economic partner.

Zimbabwe is landlocked and South Africa is the natural point of entry and departure. Ian Smith was forced to abandon UDI when PW Botha withdrew support from Rhodesia. South Africa’s reluctance to act is not because of trade but because of Mbeki’s political support for Mugabe as a fellow Nationalist

Could Mugabe be arrested in Portugal under international law for crimes against humanity?
John Ray, Yorkshire
Malcolm Rifkind:
That would, probably, require a warrant for his arrest to have been issued by the International Criminal Court or some other competent international body. While there has been some discussion on this, no such warrant has yet been issued. There would be disagreement as to whether Mugabe’s misdeeds would constitute ”crimes against humanity”.

It is the opinion of most Zimbabweans at home and in diaspora that if you invite Mugabe to this summit, you care not for plight of the people of Zimbabwe. The EU observer mission was kicked out of Zimbabwe at election-time a few years ago. Prior to that, in a previous election the EU determined that the it was not free and not fair. On the basis that most Zimbabweans consider the regime of Robert Mugabe as illegitimate, your appeasement sickens us to the core. My question is, does the EU have backbone to stand up for what is right and is EU happy to blackmailed by Africa’s threat not to attend if Mugabe is not invited? Pat Mangwende, Harare
Malcolm Rifkind:
You make powerful points. This is a test case for the European Union. The EU has a policy banning Mugabe from Europe.

It would be pathetic if that was abandoned to save the Summit. The EU’s future credibility on a much wider range of issues, such as Iran’s nuclear plans, would be in tatters

Keeping Mugabe out of sight is not going to make the Zimbabwe crisis go away. The crisis has to be engaged with and that can only be done by engaging with Mugabe. It is time to talk. We talk to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and other countries that respect human rights no more than Zimbabwe under Mugabe, nor have we banned the likes of Pervez Musharraf from coming here. Isn’t it time to engage Mugabe, dangle carrots and broker a dignified exit?
Miles Tendi, Oxford University
Malcolm Rifkind:
I have no problem about talking with Mugabe if he is prepared to discuss his human rights violations and his destruction of the Zimbabwean economy. What we must not do is allow him to attend the EU-AU Summit which he will pretend is a sign of his international respectability. He does not deserve a dignified exit but I agree he should be offered one if that enables Zimbabweans to be rid of him earlier than otherwise.