Should Mugabe go to Portugal?

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Malcolm Rifkind, former UK minister of state for Africa 1983-86 and foreign secretary, argues in the Financial Times that Robert Mugabe should not be allowed to attend the EU-African Union Summit due to be held in Portugal later this year.

“There has now been the absurd suggestion that Mr Mugabe might remain banned from Europe as president of Zimbabwe but be allowed to attend the summit as a member of the African Union delegation. Such an outcome would be a humiliation for the EU and should be unequivocally ruled out”, writes Mr Rifkind

Mr Rifkind suggests that Gordon Brown should declare that “if Mr Mugabe is allowed into Portugal, to strut around the proceedings, Britain will not attend.” He also argues that EU must hold its nerve and “explain to the African Union that while Zimbabwe can be represented at the Summit, Mr Mugabe cannot attend.”

Should Mugabe be allowed to go to Portugal? Mr Rifkind answers FT.com readers’ questions.


Allowing Mugabe to join a meeting with the international community would validate his fraudulent government. Isn’t it better to let the opposition gain some grounds as the people of Zimbabawe see that the international community do not endorse Mugabe’s multiple crimes?
Monique Amaudry, France

Malcolm Rifkind: I very much agree. The Zimbabwe opposition deserve all the support we can give them. If Mugabe attends the Lisbon Summit Zimbabwe’s state controlled TV and newspapers will present this as a great triumph for him which will be another blow for those who are pressing for reform and the rule of law.


I think it is crucial that Mugabe is denied entry to Portugal, if only to demonstrate to Zimbabweans that their plight is not being totally ignored. Unfortunately, we have already stood by too long and the humanitarian catastrophe has been allowed to snowball. Why has the EU not put more pressure on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, namely South Africa, whose inaction has effectively condoned Mugabe’s brutality?
Fred Kooij

Malcolm Rifkind: I understand your point but it is difficult to see what the EU should have done against South Africa. While we can disagree with Mbeki’s policy on this issue, he is a democratically elected president after fair and free elections, South Africa does have a free media and the rule of law applies.

We must hope that South Africans themselves press their government to change as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have done


Why hasn’t the African Union taken this opportunity to affirm its credibility, instead of hiding behind colonial guilt? We punish those who commit crimes even if they were abused as children. Patriotism, brotherhood, the last bastions of scoundrels. Isn’t it embarrassing enough that Zimbabwe leads the UN on sustainable development? Now there’s an oxymoron.
Jonathan Lloyd, London

Malcolm Rifkind: You are quite right. The sadness is not just that other African states have not put pressure on Mugabe. They treat him as if he is some kind of hero despite the terrible things he is still doing to his fellow countrymen


Ignoring the irony of having Thabo Mbeki lean on Mugabe, is it not hypocritical for the European Union (whilst acting as host to the African Union and where independent decision making and accountability is surely the end game?) to set preconditions as to who may or may not attend? If we are truly able to get over the legacy of colonial intervention, surely we must allow this continent to find its feet. The issue is not whether we think what Mugabe has done is right or wrong it is the democratic principal of allowing Africa to take responsibility for its own. Refusing entry to the longest standing (SS) leader undermines not only the AU, but our ability to deal with them as a peer. It is a choice of lesser evils.
Will Potts

Malcolm Rifkind: I strongly disagree. It is for African states to decide whether they wish to welcome Mugabe to their capitals. It is for European states to reach their decisions as regards Europe.

Europe has already got a policy of banning Mugabe. This has been widely welcomed by Zimbabweans. If the AU does not like this it would be better to postpone the Summit until Mugabe is no longer around


Why is South Africa the country with the most influence over Mugabe? Does this influence lie mainly in trade, and if so, are those trade links the reason why South Africa stands by and does nothing?
Laura Spinney, UK

Malcolm Rifkind: South Africa’s influence is because it shares a border with Zimbabwe and has been its major economic partner.

Zimbabwe is landlocked and South Africa is the natural point of entry and departure. Ian Smith was forced to abandon UDI when PW Botha withdrew support from Rhodesia. South Africa’s reluctance to act is not because of trade but because of Mbeki’s political support for Mugabe as a fellow Nationalist


Could Mugabe be arrested in Portugal under international law for crimes against humanity?
John Ray, Yorkshire

Malcolm Rifkind: That would, probably, require a warrant for his arrest to have been issued by the International Criminal Court or some other competent international body. While there has been some discussion on this, no such warrant has yet been issued. There would be disagreement as to whether Mugabe’s misdeeds would constitute ”crimes against humanity”.


If Mr Mbeki is serious about his mediation in the tragedy of Zimbabwe perhaps he should be allowed to nominate a bipartisan eminence grise to act impartially and with the necessary gravitas. This would also be a test of Mbeki’s sincerity.
David Niven, Johannesburg

Malcolm Rifkind: I am afraid there must be doubts as to Mbeki’s willingness to act as a mediator. I am sure he would be delighted if Mugabe decided to retire but he is not willing to put any real pressure on him. Any independent mediator would need to have full South African support to warn Mugabe what would happen if he does not go. That support is not yet forthcoming.


As an Ex-South African, I cannot understand why the two most powerful countries in the world The US and the UK do intervene. It is similar to genocide - in fact it is genocide. Why do these countries sit idle and see such brutality take place on an hourly basis?
Anthony c Jewell, Florida, US

Malcolm Rifkind: The situation is bad but it is not genocide. People are suffering but they are not being slaughtered in their thousands as in Cambodia, Rwanda or Darfur. If by intervention you mean US and UK military invasion, I disagree. Iraq is a good example of what happens when a war is begun without proper international support.


Why are the leaders of the AU so timorous when it comes to dealing with Mr Mugabe? Surely they must have seen and understood by now that putting intense pressure on him to step down and help avoid a dangerous vacuum in the future leadership of Zimbabwe is not internal interference in the affairs of a sovereign country but a pragmatic policy towards ending a wilfully incompetent and brutal regime. After all, what legitimate right does Mr Mugabe have as a corruptly elected leader to impose millions of his impoverished, browbeaten, tortured and starving people on his neighbours and former friends further field?
Felicia Nair, UK

Malcolm Rifkind: I agree with you but these other African governments have different priorities. Some of them have poor human rights records in their own countries. Others still see Mugabe as a great African nationalist who liberated Zimbabwe from white rule. It is curious that these governments still have a neo-colonialist mind frame half a century after colonialism began to collapse with the independence of Ghana.


Who are they key supporters of Mugabe in other AU countries? Surely they are also slightly split, and if the West can put pressure on those backing Zimbabwe and favour on those who stand up - we will be half way towards getting change. China may be bankrolling his bankrupt economy, but without support from other Africa leaders, Mugabe is still a dead duck.
David Cohen, London

Malcolm Rifkind: I am sure there are many people in other African states who are disgusted by Mugabe and the disaster he has been for Zimbabwe. Sadly virtually none of their governments are willing to say so publicly. South Africa could change that and Mandela and Tutu have been outspoken. Unfortunately, President Mbeki takes a different view.


Could Zimbabwe be represented at the EU-African Union Summit by any independent representative - without instructions from (and prepared answers by) Mugabe and an obvious fear from going back if he or she shall opt different instructions.
Immy Antal, Tiverton

Malcolm Rifkind: EU policy does not prevent Zimbabwe being represented at the summit, even by an official representative of the government. The ban is on Mugabe and a number of his senior ministers and henchmen. This gets the balance right. ........................................................................................................................................

It is the opinion of most Zimbabweans at home and in diaspora that if you invite Mugabe to this summit, you care not for plight of the people of Zimbabwe. The EU observer mission was kicked out of Zimbabwe at election-time a few years ago. Prior to that, in a previous election the EU determined that the it was not free and not fair. On the basis that most Zimbabweans consider the regime of Robert Mugabe as illegitimate, your appeasement sickens us to the core. My question is, does the EU have backbone to stand up for what is right and is EU happy to blackmailed by Africa’s threat not to attend if Mugabe is not invited?
Pat Mangwende, Harare

Malcolm Rifkind: You make powerful points. This is a test case for the European Union. The EU has a policy banning Mugabe from Europe.

It would be pathetic if that was abandoned to save the Summit. The EU’s future credibility on a much wider range of issues, such as Iran’s nuclear plans, would be in tatters


Shouldn’t the question be ”Should Mugabe be allowed to go to go home from Portugal”?
Derek Linfield, London

Malcolm Rifkind: A good point! That would be the only persuasive justification I have heard so far for allowing him to attend the summit


What needs to happen in Zimbabwe for Europe to consider Mugabe an undeniable threat to Zimbabweans? And what sort of dialogue is under way between African Union states and the EU? Is the AU in clear support of Mugabe’s actions?
Nyasha Chiundiza, New York, US

Malcolm Rifkind: Mugabe is already a threat to Zimbabweans and has ruined heir country. The AU has called for reform and political reconciliation in Zimbabwe but has refused to put any pressure on Mugabe. African heads of state even implied that the last Zimbabwe elections were free and fair.


Why is it okay for Britain to have cordial relations with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, the gulf states and countless others whilst arguing for the isolation of Mugabe?
Ricardo Wilson, London

Malcolm Rifkind: Thank you for your question.You are right that there are many dictatorships around the world. Mugabe is worse than most . Unlike the Saudis and the Gulf States which have created prosperity, he has destroyed the Zimbabwean economy. Over 3m Zimbabweans have fled as refugees. Mugabe is in the same league as Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein.


Mr Rifkind is entirely right to oppose any appeasement of Mugabe to save Portugal’s blushes. But what long-term solution does he see for the increasing economic, social and political breakdown in the country?
Jeremy Hughes, London

Malcolm Rifkind: Given Mugabe is 83, hopefully he cannot remain in power much longer. It will be for Zimbabweans to sort out the mess when he goes but they will need economic and political help from the rest of the world. We should make clear now our willingness to provide it in order to help morale in that country and encourage opposition elements to act as soon as possible.


Is it not more effective, for Britain, to put more pressure on South Africa, take more positive action to effect regime change in Zimbabwe and lead campaign to prosecute Mugabe for human rights violations?
James MacNeil, London

Malcolm Rifkind: Yes it is desirable to press Mbeki in South Africa. Mandela and Tutu have been doing that but London, by itself, cannot force the South African government to change its policy .That is why the Lisbon Summit will send an important message on how the world sees Mugabe.


Keeping Mugabe out of sight is not going to make the Zimbabwe crisis go away. The crisis has to be engaged with and that can only be done by engaging with Mugabe. It is time to talk. We talk to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and other countries that respect human rights no more than Zimbabwe under Mugabe, nor have we banned the likes of Pervez Musharraf from coming here. Isn’t it time to engage Mugabe, dangle carrots and broker a dignified exit?
Miles Tendi, Oxford University

Malcolm Rifkind: I have no problem about talking with Mugabe if he is prepared to discuss his human rights violations and his destruction of the Zimbabwean economy. What we must not do is allow him to attend the EU-AU Summit which he will pretend is a sign of his international respectability. He does not deserve a dignified exit but I agree he should be offered one if that enables Zimbabweans to be rid of him earlier than otherwise.


Malcolm Rifkind: Mugabe must not be allowed to go to Portugal

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