Priorities a question with Grace under fire

Rams Mabote

Grace Mugabe, the 48-year-old wife of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, is international news again, and this time it is nothing of her doing.

The European Union has denied the flamboyant first lady a visa to travel with her husband to attend the EU-AU (African Union) summit which started in Brussels this week.

As a result, 90-year-old president Mugabe has cancelled his attendance at the summit.

Relations between Africa and Europe have been frosty pretty much since the first European ship landed in Africa at the turn of the 16th century.

It’s commonly acknowledged that Europeans came into Africa and had a party lasting at least four centuries, in the process looting Africa’s wealth, exploiting her people, enslaving them and using its women as concubines.

Africa is yet to recover from the evils of colonialism, oppression and slavery. From the day the winds of change started blowing in the 20th century – with Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast being the first to break free from the chains of bondage in 1957 – the relations between the continent and the colonial masters have been tentative at the best of times.

Africa has never fully forgiven Europe for the devastation it suffered. And Europe has never fully let go of its influence (some may say control) of Africa.

And ever since, many leaders past and present, dead and alive, have fought for what they call total emancipation from Europe. Many of these African leaders have long held the view that Europe needs no say in African affairs.

However, there have been two challenges throughout the freeing of Africa from European stranglehold.

First, the new Africa is poor. As a result, it has never been able to extricate itself fully from European influence and sway. Africa needs European patronage for trade and sadly, much aid.

Secondly, Europe (and now the entire developed world including the USA and China) has not stopped using its financial muscle to influence developments and even politics in Africa.

Leaders like former Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah and Zaire’s founding president Patrice Lumumba, are said to have been assassinated under direct European or western orders because they dared to challenge the former masters and insisted on their countries determining their own destinies.

It is not only Nkrumah and Lumumba. Many other leaders including Mugabe himself and former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, gained a reputation for taking on the west and sometimes telling it where to get off.

But all this remains complicated by realities on the ground. In some other African countries, the infrastructure in place remains the same as was developed under colonial rule, of course on the back of African exploitation.

The mineral wealth Africa still boasts is still shipped to Europe since many mines are still owned, managed or manipulated by foreign interests. The only other minerals managed by Africans are often mired in controversy and blood, literally.

But Africa is aware it has to maintain and foster relations with the developed world. Africa accepts that the expertise and wealth of the west is what the continent needs to pull herself out of the doldrums of poverty and desperation.

It is for this reason that summits like the EU-AU exists. It is for this reason that Africa has a relationship with the USA in which America gives Africa preferential treatment to buy the latter’s materials and exempts the continent from strict excises and taxes.

But of course the west is not shying away from calling the tune, since it still pays the piper. It wants a pliant Africa that will follow the new rules of engagement often phrased as modern and imperative.

Yet, it has to be said that barring Grace Mugabe from travelling is almost childish. She is not a politician. She is a wife of a politician the west loves to hate.

Why allow Mugabe to travel and exclude his wife? What influence does she have on world politics? What is it about her that drives Europe up the wall?

Of course Grace is reputed for being a serial world shopper, which has been phrased in terms of a first lady who is stealing from the poor to live large.

This is of course a view that is debatable. If indeed true, it is the people of Zimbabwe who must deal with this.

Europe is playing like a spoilt brat. It wants to use its toys to control how the game is played.

Sadly, whatever the deliberations this week, the summit will be mired by this unnecessary gambit by countries that are not only economically developed, but should presumably be politically mature to not sweat the small stuff.

If indeed Grace Mugabe was going to travel to spend her people’s money, now the ban has legitimised her even more and painted Europe as vindictive and small.

[First Published in Columnists & Opinion on