France has hit Britain below the belt. Already at odds with Britain over the war against Iraq, France has invited President Robert Mugabe to attend the Franco-African summit next month when he is not supposed to set foot in Europe because of the international sanctions imposed on him and his lieutenants last year.
But the Tony Blair government is playing down the diplomatic showdown by arguing that it is allowing the visit to go ahead in return for France’s support to renew sanctions against the Mugabe regime for another year.
France, on the other hand, says it is not flouting the European Union travel ban. It says provisions in the travel ban allow for trips to conduct a political dialogue aimed at promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Zimbabwe. Sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe precisely because of lack of those three.
France has been a close ally of Zimbabwe since relations between Harare and London began to sour. It was allegedly on Zimbabwe’s side during its controversial involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which some analysts say is partly responsible for the current economic crisis in the country.
With Zimbabwe down on its knees, Paris could score a major coup if it rescues Harare. The country has been running dry since the beginning of December. France has the fourth largest oil company in the world, Totalfinaelf. Total operates in Zimbabwe and at one time, the government was a major shareholder in the oil company.