2 Jun 2014

Politics of attendance and no-shows

Showing up at a summit can be key to a politician's image and communications strategy, but the power of a well-planned absence or boycott is all too tempting for some. The sick no-shows, also, manage to use the doctrine of silence surrounding the health of African leaders to their advantage. The Europe-Africa summit in April provided just the right platform for drama brewed in the African pot, writes The Africa Report.

No-shows at the EU- Africa summit

It was billed as the people's summit and it was just that – although not in the way envisaged by the planners of the Africa-European Union (EU) conference in Brussels on 2-3 April. Among the no-shows, South Africa's Jacob Zuma led the pack in solidarity with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who boycotted the conference because his wife Grace was refused a visa. The sick no-shows included Côte d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara and Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with the latter also busy running a virtual election campaign. Morocco's King Mohammed VI declined to attend following rumours that representatives from the Polisario Front, on South Africa's urging, might be attending.
Odd couples, rare birds

Among the shows, the star turn was Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan, who beamed that his country's economy was bigger than Jacob Zuma's. There was also a rare sighting of Cameroon's Paul Biya, along with the old guard Francophone elite, Gabon's Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba and Congo-Brazzaville's Denis Sassou Nguesso. Despite elections and rocky economies, the euro elite were out in force. Affectionately known as the 'odd couple', European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and EU Council vice-president Catherine Ashton were ubiquitous.

Business and Security

Although the summit was preceded by a business forum, attended by a large and investment-hungry Zimbabwe delegation, the main business was security. Central African Republic's (CAR) Catherine Samba-Panza had meetings with French President Hollande and the United Nations's Ban Ki-Moon. On the agenda was the despatch of 1,000 European troops to Bangui. Niger's Mahamadou Issoufou went to brussels with a sheaf of well-prepared demands for military and development aid. After recent tensions between Mali and France, Issoufou is now Europe's ally of choice in the Sahel.

Keeping the Peace

The chair of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, jointly ran the key meetings with Van Rompuy, despite her concerns about euro dominance on security in Africa. there was some confusion, however, about the AU's attitude to aid offers after the EU pledged €800m ($1.1bn) for its new African peace facility. Another tactic is being tried by Rwanda's Paul Kagame, who turned up in brussels having just given an interview to our sister magazine, Jeune Afrique, accusing the Belgian and French governments of direct participation in the 1994 genocide. Just 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda has sent more than 4,500 peacekeeping troops to Sudan, South Sudan, CAR, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Mali. 

This article initially appeared in The Africa Report
The Photo is courtesy of The Council of the European Union
The views represented are those of the authors, and may not represent those of ECDPM


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