|Prominent writers criticize EU/African leaders over Portugal summit
By Tererai Karimakwenda
04 December, 2007
Controversy surrounding the European Union/Africa summit that opens in Lisbon later this week has received more headlines, after a group of influential writers criticised European and African leaders for not including Zimbabwe and Darfur on the agenda. Calling it "political cowardice" writers including Wole Soyinka, Vaclav Havel and Nadine Gordimer issued an open letter saying they expected the crises in Zimbabwe and Sudan’s Darfur region to top the summit agenda.
The EU/Africa summit has failed to take place since 2000 due to a dispute over Robert Mugabe’s participation. European countries have lobbied for Mugabe’s exclusion, citing his appalling human rights record and destruction of the economy. African countries refuse to attend if he is not invited. As for Darfur, tribal conflicts in the Sudanese region have taken an estimated 200,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people from their homes.
The letter said in part: "What can we say of this political cowardice? We expect our leaders to lead, and lead with moral courage. When they fail to do so they leave all of us morally impoverished. The EU-Africa summit presents an opportunity to address the biggest issues affecting our people. However our leaders - by putting their own desire to avoid a confrontation ahead of the suffering of millions - are squandering this opportunity and doing us all a disservice”, the writers said.
Pascal Richard from Zimbabwe Watch, a collection of Dutch non- governmental organizations dealing with Zimbabwe, said the letter is being circulated to all Heads of State attending the summit and was published Tuesday in European and African newspapers. He explained that the writers were selected because they were not just creative minds, but people who also had moral weight.
Richard added: “What they are saying is Europe and African leaders should lead by principle and they are not. I think it gives a lot of weight if you have people like that appealing to their leaders, and our leaders to do that.”
Zimbabwean civil society has expressed strong disappointment at African leaders for failing to criticize Mugabe publicly and for threatening to boycott the summit if he is not invited. This move by the writers has been hailed as a sign of moral integrity and the option put forth does not jeopardize the summit in any way.
Also signing the letter were JM Coetzee, Gunter Grass, Roddy Doyle, Tom Stoppard, Jose Gil, Colm Toibin, Wole Soyinka, Mia Couto, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gillian Slovo and Ben Okri.