British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated
We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.
Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.
African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.
I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.