Home » General » EU-Africa Summit, the Fine Print [analysis]

THE debate on whether Zimbabwe should have attended and why it did not attend the EU-Africa summit in Brussels this week has been diluted either through too much infantile politics or overstating the importance of the summit itself, all for the wrong reasons. I shall not repeat the arguments for or against.

Rather I want to dwell more on the objectives of the summit, which are way beyond its deceptive theme: “Investing in people, prosperity and peace”.

Precious little is being said about what material benefit would accrue to Zimbabwe from President Mugabe’s attendance.

This is an important point given that these summits are an escalation of the Cotonou Agreement which sets trade parameters between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, to which Zimbabwe is a party.

The EU has been fighting hard to have ACP nations sign Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which will create free trade areas between the two regions.

Initially these EPAs were supposed to take effect on January 1, 2008.

Many ACP countries are reluctant to sign them because there is very little direct benefit for their people while the EU has set stringent time-frames to beat competition from the US, China, Brazil, Turkey and India, and hopes that African negotiators sign away their birthright just to meet its deadlines.

Under these EPAs, ACP countries will have to progressively remove all duty and other import tariffs on goods manufactured in EU countries.

This means they will lose a vital source of their developmental revenue while gaining “access to EU markets”.

Given the technological aances in Europe and heavy subsidies on their farm products, competition will always favour already developed EU countries. At this stage, there can be no fair competition to talk about, let alone dream of winning it.

EU subsidies also mean EU companies could literally dump their goods in ACP countries, thereby accelerating the pace of de-industrialisation in countries such as Zimbabwe.

We know what happened to Cone Textiles and its successor, Modzone Enterprises following the opening up of the textile sector under Esap and flooding of the market with secondhand clothing.

People will always go for what is cheaper before they think about ideology.

The haunting silence in the industrial sector tells a sad story.

Disciples of free market economy and private property rights over national resources will try to convince us that this spectre of death is a direct product of the land reform programme and economic empowerment policies.

They dare not challenge IMF and World Bank prescriptions which promote consumption over production in poor countries.

They would rather have Esap back than countenance a return of their own national currency.

They will always show you how it is easy to import than to produce, even your own food, just to spite Government’s Zim Asset!

Of course they won’t tell you about the long-term negative consequences of substituting imports for production: being vulnerable to blackmail, political manipulation, the dependency syndrome and a perpetual inability to create jobs.

To catch Zimbabwean intellectuals and so-called captains of industry in their “finest hour” just listen to their oppositional jargon when they brag about how Rhodesia was able to survive 15 years of “comprehensive” UN sanctions while the ‘incompetent’ Zanu-PF Government cannot survive a mere travel ban and “restrictive measures”.

You would think Ian Smith was micromanaging all production processes to strengthen import substitution while Mugabe is failing.

Yet the truth is that Smith had a small core of patriotic white Rhodesians in industry, on the farms and in the civil service who were prepared to sacrifice everything for the “thousand years”.

Contrast that to Mugabe’s galaxy of degreed caricatures educated on Government grants who can’t quantify what it costs to construct a tarred road from Harare International Airport into the city, the quantum of our diamonds mined at Chiadzwa or the type and cost of infrastructure required to end Harare’s traffic congestion but love to live large on imported luxuries from cars and perfumes to human hair and artificial fingernails. All this has not passed unnoticed by cunning Europeans.

The EU wants to engage Africa because it has noted the venality of those who should be helping pull it out of the “heart of darkness”. It has noted their love for luxury but not industry.

It has noted the richness of the continent resource-wise and a growing market for all its technological wizardry. (In Harare almost everyone you meet has a cellphone in his hand.)

There is more urgency now. The resources and markets are not guaranteed. Brazil and India are angling for them. China has established a g foothold on the continent.

America has its own US-Africa summit later this year. It is a scramble for Africa more insidious than the physical partition of the continent.

The EU-Africa summits are part of strategies by the Europeans to lock blind Africans into 25-year economic partnership agreements so that we are bound by legal instruments to accept their cheaply produced goods which will literally wipe out our nascent manufacturing sector and textile industry while we surrender all the raw materials and potential jobs for a song. Once signed, it means there is little room to negotiate more lucrative deals with other regions.

Beside South Africa, how many Sadc countries manufacture shoes or shirts which can compete in European markets?

Do our cigarettes have a market?

Europeans give no free lunches not if we are prepared to look at the bigger picture. Once the EPAs are signed in their current state, it means we have no need for regional integration or intra-continental trading blocs. We become a huge market waiting to consume.

That negates the spirit and letter of Africa’s Agenda 2063 exhorting the continent to “design a comprehensive industrial development framework that is inclusive and transformative to speed up and deepen value-addition of local production linkages between the commodity sector and other economic sectors”.

To me these are the issues which should inform the debate on whether Zimbabwe should have attended the EU-Africa summit. In all 22 EU leaders and 37 from Africa attended. What was the nature of the deliberations?

Was every leader given a platform to speak on behalf of his country or was the platform given to a regional bloc?

Would it have benefited Zimbabwe had President Mugabe gone to Brussels and every paparazzi had his camera trained to see which European leader got the “grubbiest handshake of all”?

Yet in the trivialised debate in Zimbabwe the focus has been on the First Lady’s visa. For some strange reason, those who often complain about President Mugabe ‘wasting’ the nation’s meagre resources on foreign trips were the loudest in decrying his failure to travel, even as they celebrated that he remains on the EU travel sanctions.

What has become of Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims?

Not all is lost though. Xinhua reported this week that Ecowas member states refused to sign the EPA after a meeting of heads of state and government in Yamoussoukro, Cote’Ivoire, on Saturday.

Nigeria in particular objected to some “technical matters” which needed to be renegotiated with the EU. Ghana’s president John Dramani told a news conference later Ecowas “needed to negotiate an agreement that would be beneficial to their peoples”.

Zimbabweans on the other hand appear good at signing documents they haven’t read, including, as we now learn from Chiadzwa, some written in Mandarin. In April 2008, the late Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika declared he would not endorse the EPA during his presidency, and urged other countries to resist them as they were set to hobble efforts at African regional integration and had no direct benefit for Malawians. He obviously knew better having formerly been secretary-general of Comesa who had also worked at the World Bank as a loans officer.

Warned that Malawi could lose European funding if it did not sign the EPA, wa Mutharika retorted with anger, pointing out bluntly: “I think this is imperialism by (the) European Union which we must fight against . . . if the agreements (EPA) are so good why do they have to force people to sign?”

Source : The Herald