The 2014 EU – Africa summit boycotts

The EU – Africa summit has come and gone and is most likely forgotten of already. We can now review the Robert Mugabe boycott saga, the Jacob Zuma calculated withdrawal, and the invitation of Egypt (a country whose AU membership is currently suspended) to the meeting and the real beneficiaries of the meeting.

Experience from previous engagements between the two geopolitical regions teaches us that not much changes from these summits. African leaders will go back home and pursue their normal agenda of zero tolerance to citizen rights and scant attention to political elite criminality, including widespread corruption. The EU will continue with its 19thCentury policy of manipulating and managing Africa as opposed to 21stCentury empowering measures.

African states are poorly organisationed and structurally poor, too weak and too incompetent to hold balanced and effective discussions both within the continent and with the EU; the result is summits in which African delegates find themselves taking notes of EU lectures and forget to present their on worldview with conviction.

The many summits between Africa and Europe have failed to produce long-term practical solutions for African problems. The trade barriers imposed by the West remain a significant factor in the huge trade gap between the two continents and lack of economic growth. The West and not Africa controls ‘international’ trade markets hence the latter has little or no influence on the value of her products.

Politics is often fascinating and African politics can be even hilarious. We cannot deny the importance of family, but for Mr Mugabe to withdraw from a summit because his wife has been denied a visa is a disturbing intermix of work-family life.

Should national interests be hostage to the Mugabe family pride? We think not. If the president felt so strongly about the denial of a visa to his wife one would have thought the best way of saving both family face and serving the nation would have been for him to withdraw, but send his minister of international affairs.

It also brings to question the judgement of his office. The EU invited Zimbabwe and not Mrs Mugabe who is subject to smart sanctions; the derogation of the travel ban against her was neither guaranteed nor desirable. Surely the president’s office should have put feelers out before even lodging the visa application to save Mr and Mrs Mugabe blushes.

Mr Zuma’s argument that the EU must not dictate the composition of the African delegation, presumably referring to the invitation of Egypt (suspended by the AU in 2013) and Morocco (expelled from AU in 1984 for the illegal occupation of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) and the exclusion of Sudan, SADR and the denial of a visa to Mrs Mugabe, is a misplaced rant of convenience.

The fact remains that while it is a good gesture for leaders to be accompanied by their spouses when attending official duties, Mrs Mugabe had no justifiable official reason to be part of the delegation attending the summit and Egypt’s suspension from the AU is a red herring when Sudan, the CAR, Mali, Zimbabwe and other human rights abusers remain full members.

The truth is that the embattled South African president used the Mrs Mugabe and Omar al Bashi banishes and the Egypt and Morocco invitations as a convenient excuse to stay put in South Africa.  Mr Zuma is under immense domestic pressure; he did not go to the summit for self preservation than diplomatic reasons. If anything, Mr Zuma’s stance was symbolic; a high level South African delegation still attended the summit.

Arguably, the EU as hosts reserved the right to refuse entry to any individuals, groups and countries that are in breach of EU set standards. In the same token Africans had the right to reject the set conditions and/ or the summit altogether but they chose to attend, including Zuma’s South Africa. What should be of concern to most African citizens is the failure by African states to go to the summit with a common agenda set by Africans.

AU needs to transform itself into the 21stCentury before demanding 21st Century treatment from everyone else. There is a need to work together to tackle human rights abuses, poor governance and corruption associated with it as opposed to protecting the political elite within the continent. As long as Africa remains dysfunctional and continues to play subservient to Western interests, the relationship with EU will continue to save European interests and not those of African citizens.

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