Corridors of Power: Reporting from Valetta, Malta

Corridors of Power: Reporting from Valetta, Malta

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS -- President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was the rogue elephant in the room at last week's summit of African leaders and the European Union. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly denounced his poor human rights record, but otherwise European participants simply tried to ignore him. Other African leaders had insisted no Mugabe, no summit, and the Europeans wanted to deepen their penetration of the continent more than they were willing to be high minded. "At the end of the day, to see him [Mugabe] strutting around was a bit irritating," an official in Valetta commented dryly this week, "but the EU has to take notice of Africa."

The European Union is Africa's main trading partner ($315.2 billion in 2006), but China has been making inroads in investment and influence that need to be countered. Also, several EU governments were offering aid they hoped would check the tidal wave of illegal immigrants into Europe. One way to limit the boat people in the Mediterranean is to make it economically attractive for them to stay at home.

In the end, however, the Europeans gained little to show for putting their principles on hold. African leaders rejected new trade deals fashioned by Brussels to replace the current arrangements. The Africans felt they were being strong-armed by Europe.

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