EU policy on Zim unwise, says SA ambassador
The European Union's ambassador to South Africa is blunt about his organisation's Zimbabwe policy: it is unwise, says Lodewijk Briët.
The EU's policy of smart sanctions is unwise, he explains, because it has not improved the lot of ordinary Zimbabweans and because it has blocked Europe and Africa from conducting relations at the highest political level.
Because of Zimbabwe, a summit of the leaders of both continents which was supposed to take place in Lisbon in April 2003 has been postponed indefinitely.
The EU's ban on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants visiting any of their member states means he could not attend the planned summit. And the African leaders will not attend if Mugabe cannot.
But Briët's frank criticism is one indication that the EU is re-thinking its Zimbabwe policy. And President Mbeki said at the Franco-African summit in Mali this past weekend that there was a willingness to resolve the summit issue.
It makes no sense that the whole of Europe and Africa cannot meet merely because of Zimbabwe he said.
And Portugal's deputy foreign minister Professor Joao Cravinho, on a trip to SA in November, said there had been a change of mood in Europe about Africa over the previous few weeks.
It sometimes takes a tragedy to change a situation, he said, referring to the deaths of so many African migrants trying to enter Europe and clashing against its fortified border in Spain's enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. This tragedy had been splashed across the front pages of Europe's press.
This has concentrated the minds of Europeans about the need for a dialogue with Africa. If we really want to discuss this problem we have to go beyond conversations among police departments about how to stop migrants coming in.
We need to look at the problems behind and if so, then we must inevitably look at development and a wide range of political questions which can only be addressed by political leaders.
As the intended host of the postponed Africa-Europe summit - which is still to be held in Lisbon if it ever happens - Portugal has been working hardest to ensure it does.
For the eight-month-old socialist government which Cravinho represents, holding the summit would be a major coup in its efforts to re-establish Portugal's standing as a major player in Africa.
I can't give a date but it's going to happen, Cravinho said.
He too deplored the fact that the Zimbabwe issue was blocking a summit which was much wider in its scope and objectives.
It's a mistake to allow a problem in a small number of countries to block the dialogue of 78 countries. Relations will never be perfect between all pairs of 78 countries.
He made a comparison with China, saying that Beijing had a problem with some African countries which recognised Taiwan.
Yet this very complicated problem has not been an impediment to dialogue. We really need to be more creative and say that, despite those problems, we still need a dialogue.
And in Zimbabwe itself, he said, There has not been the progress we'd all like to have seen the last few years. The climate of economic degradation is very worrying for the region and wider afield.
So we have to ask ourselves if policies are producing the intended effects. We have to seek more creative ways to help Zimbabweans.
But neither Briët nor Cravinho proposed that the EU should simply drop its ban on Mugabe attending the summit. Briët said Mugabe would undoubtedly exploit the opportunity to attack the EU from the podium at the summit.
Cravinho said: We have not got to that point of inviting Mugabe.
Briët talked about the possibility of Zimbabwe being invited to attend the summit at a lower level.
A South African official said some way needed to be found to avoid humiliating Mugabe.
Cravinho acknowledged that there was no appetite in the EU for easing sanctions against Zimbabwe unless there was a clear indication that that would a positive effect. There had been no such indication.
An EU official in Brussels said that, to the contrary, Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina, his drastic cleanout of slums, had dashed whatever hopes there might have been of relaxing sanctions.
Mugabe had even rebuffed the African Union's efforts to intercede, through former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, in the aftermath of Murambatsvina.
This official suggested that as a result the African side might need to make the first concession towards holding the summit.
Cravinho suggested that both sides needed to re-think their Zimbabwe stance.
I'm hearing from the African side a similar frustration and a need to find a way forward.
We have great respect for the discipline of the AU but we also know Africa is not homogeneous. There are different positions on many issues including Zimbabwe.
Everyone seems to agree that, despite a yearning to hold the summit, no-one has a magic trick up their sleeve to make it happen.
Cravinho predicted nonetheless that the summit would happen within a year. He said that although the countries in the region, especially South Africa, had the greatest stake in the future of Zimbabwe and therefore the greatest role, Portugal also had a role.
We think we can play a role as facilitator between different parties of Africa and Europe. It's all of our responsibility.
Portugal had close links not only with Angola and Mozambique but also Nigeria, Senegal and Morocco.
We have historical relations to build bridges with Lusophone countries and attach a lot of importance to Africa and its relations with Europe.