Saturday, December 8, 2007
The summit of more than 70 African and European Union nations has opened in Portugal with an acknowledgement that conflicts, human rights violations and poverty continue to pose challenges. Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates opened the summit on today, calling it a meeting of equals in a community of nations that shares a historic duty.
The Portuguese leader promised a frank and open discussion with no taboos. This was seen as a reference to issues such as conflicts and human rights violations in Africa as well as historical injustices in Euro-African relations.
The chairman of the African Union, Ghana’s President John Kuofor, said the relationship between Africa and Europe during the past 500 years has been unhappy, characterized by the slave trade, colonialism and apartheid. He said a new relationship is needed to correct what he called a historic inhumanity.
“The real significance of the Africa-EU summit must therefore be to lay the foundations of a new partnership based on mutual respect and a genuine commitment to pursue the mutual interests of our two continents,” he said.
The leaders are to establish a new strategic partnership with eight priority areas. These include peace and security, governance and human rights, economic development, environmental degradation, migration and trade.
The President of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, said the relationship must avoid charity, paternalism and false promises.
He says no one will solve Africa’s ills for it. Africa must play the game of globalization but not unilateral globalization based solely on market forces. Konare said the new partnership must develop ways to address this issue.
Efforts to hold the Africa-EU summit have been thwarted for the past five years by a dispute over Zimbabwe‘s human rights record. President Robert Mugabe‘s invitation this year prompted a boycott by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler.
Human rights activists have protested that summit leaders are ignoring suffering and oppression on the continent. And opponents of globalization said the summit’s approach to boosting trade would aggravate poverty.
European leaders have been intent on holding the meeting because of competition for Africa’s markets coming from China, India and other emerging nations.