Close on the heels of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's rejection of a bid by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to mend the diplomatic rift between Harare and London, the British government announced Thursday that a former development secretary will represent it at the European-African summit opening Dec. 8.
Downing Street said no cabinet-level official will be present in Lisbon, consistent with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's longstanding threat to effectively boycott the summit if President Mugabe were to be invited to attend. Portugal, summit host by virtue of holding the European Union presidency, has invited Mr. Mugabe under pressure from African and European leaders who argued for his inclusion.
Britain is to be represented at the summit by Baroness Valerie Amos, who served as secretary of state for international development from May to October 2003 after Clare Short resigned over Britain’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The Zimbabwean government, meanwhile, said it is “more than capable” of defending itself against criticism at the summit, Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwe told journalists in Harare after meeting with African envoys posted to the capital. He said Zimbabwe has “an excellent case to present” in response to any detractors.
Senegalese President Wade left Harare on Thursday following Mr. Mugabe’s rejection Wednesday of his plan to recruit five African leaders to smooth over relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. Mr. Mugabe showed little interest in such an initiative, referring at a state dinner for Wade to “unhelpful parallel initiatives” by unnamed enemies who were bent on sabotaging the the South African mediated Zimbabwe crisis talks.
Mr. Mugabe said, though, that he wouldn't rule out opening a dialogue with Britain.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst John Makumbe told VOA's Peter Clottey that Mr. Mugabe has often declared himself open to reconciliation with Britain but has not followed through and in recent memory rebuffed a British overture.
Chairman David Nyekorach Matsanga of Africa Strategy, a London-based research and public relations firm, told reporter Chris Gande of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Wade’s initiative to broker a reconciliation between Britain and Zimbabwe was a sideshow that could not be tolerated by the Mugabe government.