Mugabe shuns EU-Africa talks after wife denied visa
By Fanuel Jongwe
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will boycott next week's mammoth EU-Africa summit after his wife was denied a visa to enter Europe, a foreign ministry official said on Friday. "We are no longer going to the EU-Africa. We disagreed on the composition of our delegation," said a source at the ministry, who asked not to be named.
Harare had earlier on Friday urged the African Union to shun the summit for failing to invite all the Africa bloc's leaders and lift a ban on Zimbabwe's first lady.
But diplomats in Brussels were unfazed by the call for a boycott by a country that is in the line to chair the African Union next year.
"We see no risk" of a boycott of the April 2-3 summit, which gathers 90 nations from both continents, including 65 heads of state and government, said a senior official speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Harare, foreign ministry spokesman Joey Bimha said the European Union had not invited Sudan and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which does not have international recognition, while Egypt, which has been suspended from the AU, had been given the nod.
Another concern is "the issue of our first lady who was denied a visa," Bimha told AFP, referring to Mugabe's wife, Grace.
Mugabe and his wife remain targeted by an EU travel ban but the restriction can be suspended temporarily to allow the head of state to attend international forums.
"We have been discussing this for some time. We have reached agreement and Zimbabwe has been invited but no spouses have been invited," the EU official said.
The EU ambassador to Harare, Aldo Dell'Ariccia, said when Zimbabwe asked for a visa for Mugabe's wife "they were told she should apply through the normal channels".
"The EU is just following it's legal framework and there can't be any movement from that position," said Dell'Ariccia.
Mugabe's spokesman on Tuesday said the EU's decision was "very strange".
"What God has put together the EU is trying to separate," said George Charamba in the state controlled daily, The Herald. "Do they expect the President to respect the EU and disrespect his own marriage?"
Rushweat Mukundu of the political think-tank Zimbabwe Democracy Institute said the row is just "a symptom of poisoned relations" between Zimbabwe and the EU, "and old wounds that are proving difficult to heal."
Both sides should have taken "a sober approach" to resolving their long standing differences, suggested Mukundu.
The EU has also refused to invite Sudan, although the Brussels official said the African Union was free to invite its president, Omar al-Bashir.
Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Mugabe was in January elected one of the two deputy chairmen of the African Union, and he will automatically chair the organisation next year