France, which had caused a diplomatic uproar by allowing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the Africa-France summit of 2003, went all out to avoid Mugabe for the summit in 2007.
But it also faced the dilemma of how not to alienate the other Southern African Development Community countries.
Though they did not officially express any support for Mugabe, the presidents of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania, did not attend the summit.
The French also sensed mixed messages emanating from the United Kingdom about how to handle Mugabe.
There was speculation that Gordon Brown, heir-apparent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, might prove less committed to hard-line EU policies on Mugabe.
Blair himself had in 2004 privately complained to French President Jacques Chirac that conservative opportunists in Parliament had painted him into a corner over Mugabe.
Viewing cable 07PARIS849, PART III: AFRICA-FRANCE SUMMIT – AVOIDING A MUGABE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 000849
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/06/2016
SUBJECT: PART III: AFRICA-FRANCE SUMMIT – AVOIDING A MUGABE
REF: A. PARIS 847 B. PARIS 848 C. PARIS 578
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Josiah B. Rosenblatt. Reas
¶1. (C) Summary: For the 2007 Africa-France Summit at Cannes,
President Chirac made a watershed policy choice to abide by
the EU travel ban and exclude Zimbabwean pariah leader Robert
Mugabe. Chirac had invited Mugabe four years earlier to the
2003 Paris Summit, amid concerns about the risk of a backlash
among Africans, including a Summit boycott. In preparing for
Cannes, the GoF pursued a quiet two-prong strategy, working
to forestall a possible SADC boycott while coordinating
overtures to Mugabe to defuse the issue and seek an alternate
Zimbabwean representative. This is the last of three cables
on the Africa-France Summit. End Summary.
¶2. (C) For the 2007 Africa-France Summit at Cannes, President
Chirac made a watershed policy choice to abide by the EU
travel ban and exclude Zimbabwean pariah leader Robert
Mugabe, despite concerns about a backlash among Africans.
The GoF caused an uproar in Europe in 2003 by inviting Mugabe
to the 2003 Africa-France Summit in Paris despite the EU
travel ban, arguing within the EU that Mugabe’s presence
afforded an opportunity for dialogue. The MFA maintains that
the EU travel ban authorizes exemptions in order to advance
peace efforts. However, Mugabe’s failure to make reciprocal
efforts toward reconciliation and the degraded situation in
Zimbabwe made a repeat invitation to Mugabe untenable.
Portugal, which will assume the EU Presidency in July and
preside at an EU-Africa Summit, watched carefully how the
French would address Mugabe.
¶3. (C) Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, Deputy Counselor in
the Presidency Africa Cell, in a February 21 conversation
with Africa Watcher, claimed credit for the decision to
uphold the EU travel ban and block Mugabe’s attendance of the
Summit, stating he had presented his arguments forcefully in
a September 2006 memorandum. Chirac’s decision did not come
naturally, according to Labriolle, for the French President
customarily favors dialogue over confrontation, and Chirac
worried that barring Mugabe, an iconic revolutionary figure,
would exacerbate North-South tensions. Labriolle posited
that the GoF had the influence to counter the threat of a
possible SADC boycott of the Cannes Summit. Chirac took his
decision early, Labriolle maintained, although the Elysee
kept mum until late in the game so as not to foreclose all
hope of a diplomatic compromise with Mugabe.
¶4. (C) The GoF advanced its Mugabe strategy on two tracks
over several months. The GoF turned to former Mozambican
President Chissano to try to coax and cajole Mugabe’s
concurrence in a diplomatic deal, according to Labriolle.
The GoF hoped for a face-saving arrangement whereby Mugabe
would decline an invitation from Chirac and dispatch a senior
emissary in his stead. In parallel, the MFA reached out to
lock down attendance by other SADC members at the
Africa-France Summit. Botswana, Labriolle noted, had a
history of bad blood with Mugabe, and was a prime candidate
to break ranks if Zimbabwe tried to orchestrate a bloc SADC
protest. Because Namibia, on the other hand, had
long-standing links to Mugabe, the MFA offered to host
Namibian President Pohamba for an official visit to France
during the period of the Summit. Thanks to this official
visit, Pohamba enjoyed the privilege of one of the only two
formal bilateral meetings that Chirac held at Cannes, the
other being with Ghanaian President Kufuor in the latter’s
capacity as AU Chairman.
¶5. (C) Although Mugabe rebuffed the overtures by Chissano and
the GoF, initial signs did not presage a diplomatic uproar,
according to Labriolle. Labriolle blamed diplomatic
clumsiness by Egypt for wounding Zimbabwean pride. Egypt,
intent on landing the hosting rights to the 2009
Africa-France Summit, had lobbied African delegations
intensively during the 2006 AU Summit in Addis Ababa, an
inappropriate venue, in Labriolle’s view. The Zimbabwean
delegation, smarting as the exclusion from Cannes hit home,
struck back and began to complain vocally.
¶6. (C) However, no serious SADC protest developed, Labriolle
noted. SADC members Mbeki of South Africa, Dos Santos of
Angola, Kikwete of Tanzania, and Kabila of DRC did fail to
show for the Cannes Summit; however, none officially invoked
Mugabe’s absence as the cause, Labriolle asserted. Dos
Santos, he suggested, continues to bristle over “Angolagate”
and the related judicial pursuits in France of French adviser
Falcone, whom Dos Santos has protected with an Angolan
PARIS 00000849 002 OF 002
diplomatic passport. Mbeki, who has an uneasy rapport with
Chirac due to differences over Cote d’Ivoire, claimed a
domestic political obligation; and Kikwete pleaded ill
health. (Note: Labriolle revealed Kikwete was due shortly in
Paris for medical check-ups, suggesting there may be some
validity to his excuse.) Kabila, confronting a flare-up in
DRC violence and laboring to install a new DRC government,
expressed profuse apologies to Chirac’s Presidential
Counselor Michel de Bonnecorse and then dispatched the most
senior representative available, President Kamerhe of the
¶7. (C) Labriolle remarked that the Elysee sensed mixed
messages emanating from the UK about how to handle Mugabe.
He speculated that Gordon Brown, as heir-apparent to Blair,
might prove less committed to hard-line EU policies on
Mugabe. Labriolle asserted that Blair in 2004 had privately
complained to Chirac that conservative opportunists in
Parliament had painted him into a corner over Mugabe.
Labriolle lamented, with irony, the misunderstanding and
disinformation within the EU over French African policy,
noting the exaggerated disquiet at Brussels and in London
that Paris would not vote to extend EU penalties on Mugabe,
let alone adhere to the travel ban on Mugabe. Labriolle
maintained that Bonnecorse had definitively told UK Minister
for Africa Lord Triesman on October 20 that France would vote
to renew the travel ban.
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