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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 December 2007, 22:39 GMT
Tough issues dog ambitious summit
By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Lisbon

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
The row over Mr Mugabe followed a familiar pattern
The sun shone through bright December days on the Summit venue next to the Lisbon waterfront.

The phones worked, and the food supplied by the Portuguese hosts was decent and plentiful.

The security was annoying - as security always is for journalists who like to move around freely - but it wasn't oppressive.

I even had reliable sources inside the closed-door sessions.

It was a perfectly organised summit.

But what the Portuguese organisers couldn't control was the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Rights row

It's become a bit of a pattern. It goes something like this.

Africa, sensitive about its colonial past, insists that Europe can't dictate that Robert Mugabe, a one-time liberation hero, shouldn't attend an international meeting.

EU-Africa summit in Lisbon
The summit agreed an ambitious action plan

So Mr Mugabe turns up, the Europeans duly criticise him - and then he attacks them right back for being neo-colonialists.

This time he said, at a closed session of European and African leaders, that it was Africans who brought democracy to Africa - one man, one vote - not the colonial powers.

That's right, of course - except Mr Mugabe forgot to mention the bit where the Zimbabwean opposition and international observers said he had rigged elections.

The issue of Robert Mugabe's presence almost overshadowed the first Summit of African and European leaders for seven years.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown boycotted the meeting because of the Zimbabwean's presence - leaving it to the European Union to criticise Mr Mugabe's record on human rights and economic management.

So the Zimbabwean leader denounced Germany and other west European nations for being the "megaphones" of Britain.

Massive challenges

That spat over, the summit ended with a commitment to a joint European and African action plan which is hugely ambitious in scope. It covers ideas for ending armed conflict, increasing trade and respecting human rights.

Grand words and little substance
Spain's El Pais newspaper

But there are massive challenges in all these areas.

On the issue of peace, planned peacekeeping operations in Chad, Sudan and Somalia are behind schedule.

On trade, Africa has largely rejected European plans for more reductions in import taxes because it fears powerful Europe could flood Africa with industrial goods which could damage fragile African industries.

And on human rights, there was open conflict here between Europe and the President of Zimbabwe.

What most of the "Action Plan" of the adopted "EU-Africa Strategic Partnership" boils down to is better government in Africa.

President of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare
Mr Konare said Africa had to tackle its own governance problems
The current President of the African Union, the democratically-elected President of Ghana John Kufuor, didn't skirt the issue:

"We're not saying there's perfection on the continent on Africa. I don't think even in Europe there is perfection in this regard", said the Ghanaian leader.

"But the point is that with good governance we will attract the partnerships for development that we need.

"Investors would not come if they see impunity all over the place, if they see disregard of humanity all over the place, if they see human resources not being developed - because in that case, if you put your money there, the money will not grow. Africa knows this."

'Open and frank'

The president of the European Commission, Europe's top civil servant Jose Manuel Barroso, agreed that Africa was moving forward:

"Contrary to what is often said in Europe there is good reason for optimism about what's going on in Africa", said Mr Barroso.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade
Senegal's president led the rejection of proposed trade plans
"Governance is improving and many more countries in Africa now have democratic elections.

"There is indeed progress in this area. Of course we know there are still problems, and we have addressed those problems in a very open and frank manner."

But Mr Barroso couldn't resist another barely concealed jab at Mr Mugabe:

"We cannot understand that those who once fought for the freedom of their country now deny that freedom to their citizens."

One of the frankest comments came from the President of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare:

"Let's be honest", Mr Konare said, "there are problems of governance.

"But Africans themselves have to sort these out, to tackle them head on. Otherwise we won't be able to get beyond our difficulties".

Grand language

The Summit ended, as do most meetings of this sort, with smiling photocalls.

The Portuguese Prime Minister, Jose Socrates, gave an extraordinary closing speech which spoke about bridges being built, steps forward being taken, and visions being pursued.

He went off on such an oratorical flight, in fact, that I became mesmerised by the beauty of the Portuguese language and the elegance of his delivery.

I was so bewitched that I didn't register any concrete points in the speech at all.

Perhaps there weren't any. But it certainly sounded good.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
EU president enters the row on Zimbabwe



SEE ALSO
EU-Africa: The key issues
07 Dec 07 |  Europe
Q&A: EU-ACP trade deal
07 Dec 07 |  Business
PM to boycott talks over Mugabe
27 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Geldof unveils African trade plan
30 Nov 07 |  Business
Q&A: Mugabe's Zimbabwe
09 Jul 07 |  Africa

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