Africa's Relations with the West. (Lest We Forget)

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The first joint summit to be held by the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) is scheduled to take place in Lisbon on 3 April (see NA Sept 2002). It is now in jeopardy because of politics over Zimbabwe.

The Greek foreign minister, George Papandreou, the current holder of the EU presidency, has warned that the Lisbon summit might not go ahead. Britain and five other EU members have said they won't attend if Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, was invited. In response, several African countries have vowed not to attend if Mugabe was not invited, It promises to be a baffle royal that will benefit nobody.

The background to this Portuguese diplomatic initiative, with the co-operation of Greece, in their tenure of the EU presidency, is very revealing of modern Africa's relations with the West. Already France, in its eagerness to steal the limelight of EU-Africa diplomacy, has managed to overshadow, or even scupper, the Lisbon summit by calling its own France-Africa summit (20-21 Feb) in Paris, barely two months ahead of the Lisbon summit.

All in all, against the background of European division over the US war on Iraq for oil and over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the British obsession with Zimbabwe has not only put in jeopardy the EUAfrican dialogue, but also EU-AcP relations and probably the cohesion of the commonwealth, particularly in what refers to African member-countries.

The joint Portuguese-Greek co-operation on the Lisbon summit is based upon a concept that is particularly pertinent to EU-African relations. Unlike the United States, both the EU and AU are not monolithic political blocs. They are, and should be, associations of nations with flexibility to accommodate their diversity of inherited national interests. If Blair's Britain and Bush's America join in sanctions against Zimbabwe (as they have already done), that is their imperialist business, not Europe's.

On the contrary, the joint Greek-Portuguese co-operation, at a time when the EU has just been enlarged, was conceived to show to Africans that not all Europe was, or is, imperialist. Greece, itself, had a century-long period of oppression under the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, while modern Portugal is not only a reformed colonialist but like Greece, shares an aversion to imperialism (despite its current centrist government).

Ireland, for example, was itself colonised by the English, and the Polish never knew which of its stronger neighbours, Germany or Russia, would pass by and overstay. The Scandinavians, and honourably Sweden, or the former USSR and other Eastern European countries, some of which are now in the EU, actually aided Africans in their anti-colonialist and antiapartheid struggles. To cut a long list short, only half a dozen Western European countries, notably Britain, France and Portugal, were mainly involved in the colonisation of Africa -- if, for no other reason, because they made sure that nobody else would.

Curiously enough, France's monopolist zeal in Africa, came in for criticism at the recent US-sponsored AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) Third Forum held in Mauritius in mid-January. The 21 January edition of Afr/ca News Report issued from the US embassy in Paris, quotes the US trade representative, Robert Zoellick in critical comments: "Part of what we need to do is to get the message from the developing world to countries like France that says 'the age of colonialism is over, thank you'. It is good for Africa to have relations with Europe, the US, India or China."

The Report also contains an impressive statement by congressman Jim McDermott, the founder of AGOA, objectively critical of the criteria whereby both the US and the EU, while campaigning for free trade, retain subsidies to agriculture that are detrimental to Africans.

He qualified the impressive sums of US-African trade, by reminding the Forum that the US trade is concentrated in a handful of oil and gas producing countries. …