European Union and African leaders are hoping a row over human rights doesn’t overshadow their two-day summit which got underway this morning in Lisbon. The meeting is taking place seven years after the last such summit in Cairo. It comes at a time when Africa, with its wealth of resources, is attracting more and more attention from emerging economies, notably China.
To launch proceedings, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said that despite fears and scepticism before the summit, the two continents were now sitting down together to make progress. Nothing significant has been done since the Cairo talks in 2000, admitted Socrates, adding “let’s not waste any more time.”
However, talks on trade, immigration and human rights are not likely to be an easy ride. As the president of Ghana and the African Union, John Kufour, noted, old colonial wounds are not yet healed. He said: “For almost 500 years the relationship between our two continents has not been a happy one. It is to correct this historic injustice and inhumanity that this new relationship between Africa and the EU is necessary.”
The pre-summit controversy centred on the presence of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has boycotted the event in protest. Britain accuses Mugabe of disastrous economic mismanagement and abuse of human rights.