Prime minister Gordon Brown of England refused to attend the Euro-African summit in Lisbon last weekend because President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would be in attendance. Recognizing the grave human rights abuses committed by Mugabe’s regime, Mr. Brown wanted nothing to do with a summit that invited such leaders to the party. Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan and leader of the genocide in Darfur, was also present. At the summit itself, a Sudanese Bishop announced the need for human rights and human dignity before economic development – a concept that encourages Africa’s trading partners to think twice about the human face behind financial aid and trade.
In fact, a central theme of the summit was “democracy and human rights,” alongside “peace and security,” “infrastructure and development,” “trade,” “migration and energy,” and “climate change.” But perhaps one of the biggest reasons for convening the meeting was not to discuss human rights in Africa, but to boost Europe’s presence on the African trading scene. Over the past several years, Europe has been feeling that, for once, it is missing out on Africa. China’s growing influence and position as primary trading partner have put Europe behind on acquisition of African resources.
China has often been blamed by Europe and the rest of the developed world for supporting dictators and regimes that committ severe human rights abuses for the sake of economic advancement. But what example does Europe set by inviting such governments to the Euro-African summit to discuss trade and development? Where are troops for protecting Darfur? The EU has imposed sanctions against Mugabe’s government, so why invite him to Lisbon?
According to Bishop Danwok of Sudan, “One has to know if the sides really want to negotiate, because it would be a waste of energy to speak of economic development for Sudan, when its people groan in oppression, screaming for freedom and security.”
By continuing to blame China for backing genocide in Darfur or for ignoring malicious dictators, Europe and the United States exclude themselves from responsibility. The United States has an obligation to protect the people of Darfur, and yet it continues to point fingers at China. The European Union must also realize that the hungry and the abused of Zimbabwe and Sudan need a champion of human rights, not a resource-hungry trading partner. Gordon Brown did the right thing – it would behoove the rest of the developed world to follow suit.