via Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe boycott EU summit over exclusion of wife Grace – Telegraph By Peta Thornycroft 30 Mar 2014
Harare out in the cold, with its businessmen saying high-level meeting in Brussels would have offered struggling economy a boost
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, is to boycott an EU Africa summit in Brussels because his wife Grace was denied a visa to enter Europe.
The EU has relaxed a travel ban on Mr Mugabe so he can attend, but has refused to do the same for his wife Grace, nicknamed The First Shopper at home for the numerous, lavish European shopping sprees she used to enjoy before being made the subject of sanctions.
Mr Mugabe has ordered the entire delegation from his country to stay at home for a two-day meeting which has been described by Aldo Dell’Ariccia, the EU’s ambassador in Harare, as “the highest level of political dialogue between the two continents”.
The summit will bring together representatives of 90 nations from both continents, including 65 heads of state and government.
Financial and travel restrictions were imposed on Mr Mugabe and most of his close political colleagues in 2002. As the West has sought to re-engage with Zimbabwe, most have been lifted so that only the 90-year-old head of state and his wife remain on the EU list.
The EU has pumped £20 billion into Africa in the last five years, mostly for development projects.
It first invited Zimbabwe to the summit and later sent Mr Mugabe an invitation.
“We have invited those with a role to play in the meetings and the programmes of the meetings do not have any role for spouses,” Mr Dell”Ariccia said. “There is no programme for spouses at the summit.”
He said the EU was asked to grant Mrs Mugabe a visa. “The EU has to reach a consensus but in this case that has not happened,” he added.
Joey Bimha, the Zimbabwe foreign spokesman, said: “The European Union did not implement what was agreed on at the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January. The continent has agreed that it is not the duty of the EU to choose the delegation of the member states.”
At the weekend the EU said that more than 40 heads of state from Africa had accepted invitations to attend, and 22 from the EU.
Zimbabwe is now trying to pressure other African states to boycott or delay the summit.
The southern African country is in debt and several domestic banks cannot meet depositors’ demands, while the government is struggling to pay civil servants’ salaries.
Many Zimbabwe businessmen were interested in the EU’s theme for this summit: “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace” and in the potential benefits offered.
A veteran businessman from Harare, who asked not to be named, said Mr Mugabe’s boycott was not in the interests of the country’s fragile economy.
“It is madness for the government to boycott. Relations with the EU are improving and this summit would, for sure, have brought some EU funds into the economy, particularly agriculture,” he said.
Despite Western restrictions against Mr Mugabe, he attended previous EU summits in Cairo (2000), Lisbon (2007) and Tripoli (2010).
Mrs Mugabe usually travels with her husband each year to New York for the UN General Assembly, and to the Vatican, as Mr Mugabe is an occasional Catholic. She seldom travels with him to African countries because, critics say, shopping there is not so good.