Europe, Africa seek to cement new bonds at rare summit
The Associated Press
December 7, 2007
Europe and Africa aim to set aside their postcolonial grievances at a milestone summit this weekend, hoping a new strategic alignment will bring rewards for both continents.Almost all the leaders from the 27-nation European Union and the 53-member African Union gather Saturday in Lisbon, Portugal for their first summit in seven years.Europe is mindful its influence is waning on a continent that is set to become one of the world's big new markets and wants to lock Africa into a closer relationship that will foster trade. Africa, meanwhile, intends to win greater European support to raise the continent's standard of living. Despite recent economic growth, around 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa still live on less than $1 (70 euro cents) a day."We need to consider this summit as a launch pad for a new era in the relationship between Europe and Africa," EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said this week.
Snags remain, though.
European countries have in recent years preferred to deepen their ties with developing nations such as India and Brazil as relations with Africa have become stuck on issues such as human rights, corruption and political instability. African countries resent what they perceive as finger-wagging lessons from their former colonial rulers now in the EU. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said Friday former colonial powers should provide restitution to Africa. The riches that were taken away must be given back somehow," Gadhafi said in a speech at Lisbon University. "If we don't face up to that truth, we'll have to pay the price one way or another — through terrorism, emigration or revenge."
Portugal, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency and the former colonial power of five African nations, has pushed hard in recent months to make a fresh start in the continents' relations. But human rights concerns in Africa have dogged preparations for the two-day meeting.The leader of one of Europe's most powerful economies, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is staying away because Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plans to attend. London is one of the sharpest European critics of Mugabe's regime. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also refused to attend the first EU-Africa summit in Cairo seven years ago because of Mugabe's presence.
Britain and other EU countries have accused Mugabe of economic mismanagement, failure to curb corruption and contempt for democracy.Zimbabwe is subject to EU sanctions, including a travel ban on Mugabe and other members of his regime. Mugabe arrived late Thursday in the Portuguese capital. In 2003 a planned EU-Africa summit in the Portuguese capital was called off when some African nations balked at the EU's refusal to invite Mugabe.Faced with South African President Thabo Mbeki's threat to skip this weekend's talks as well if Mugabe wasn't invited, the EU gave the Zimbabwean leader a temporary visa.
The Darfur crisis has also strained relations.
In that western region of Sudan, four years of bloodshed between ethnic African rebels and Arab militias allegedly backed by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum have left an estimated 200,000 dead and driven some 2.5 million from their homes.Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has hesitated over allowing non-Africans into a 26,000-strong U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force planned for Darfur. Senior envoys being sent to Lisbon by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hope to win Bashir's blessing for non-Africans to be included.Also, a planned EU force to protect refugees from the Darfur conflict is struggling to muster support.
Human rights groups and other activists, including Nobel laureate writers and parliamentarians, have scolded the summit organizers for failing to dedicate specific sessions to Darfur and Zimbabwe. They plan protests during the summit.Portuguese officials insist those issues will be raised."There will be no taboo subjects," Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Joao Gomes Cravinho said, adding that good governance and peace and security feature on the summit's agenda.
African economic growth averaged 5.4 percent over the past decade, powered by high commodity prices which have brought a boom in oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola, the World Bank said in a report last month. Some 25 African countries have growth rates of more than 3 percent.Africa is "becoming an exciting investment destination for global capital," the bank's vice president for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, said.African delegates want the EU to lend a hand in eradicating poverty in their countries, Gert Grobler, a senior civil servant in the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, said.