African leaders who gathered in Lisbon, Portugal for a summit with their colleagues from the European Union yesterday said their aim is not to seek charity but for their countries to be allowed to become major players in the global economy.
Chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré who spoke on behalf of the continent yesterday at the on-going Africa-EU Leaders Summit said at the opening session that "Africa doesn't want charity or paternalism. We don't want anyone doing things for us. We want to play in the global economy, but with new rules."
Konaré also criticised the EU's strategy of pressing individual African regions and states to sign new trade deals, or Economic Partner-ship Agreements, saying it was divisive and would hurt Africa's rural poor and its industry.
Also, John Kufour, Ghanaian President and AU Chairman told the gathering which included President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua that "The real significance of this summit must be to lay the foundations of a new partnership based on mutual respect."
He said meetings like this would help to break and move away from a painful past relationship that included slavery, colonial rule and apartheid. "Europe needs Africa as much as Africa needs Europe," Kufuor said.
African and European leaders are at odds over the EU's insistence that African states sign new Economic Partnership Agreements by December 31 before the expiry of a World Trade Organization waiver of current preferential treatment. Some African nations have complained they will face too much competition and are being strong-armed into signing new deals.
EU leaders have called for a new partnership between the two continents based on common interests, from trade to climate change, instead of the traditional relationship between donors and aid recipients.
Only the presidents of the EU, AU and UN Secretary General were scheduled to make speeches yesterday during the opening session.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is the President of the EU in her speech challenged European and African leaders to confront human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, putting the country's president Robert Mugabe in the spotlight at an EU-Africa summit.
Addressing the meeting in Lisbon attended by Mugabe, Merkel said the world could not stand by while human rights were "trampled underfoot."
"Zimbabwe concerns us all, in Europe and Africa," she told more than 70 European and African leaders, who were meeting to try to forge a new partnership between the world's largest trading bloc and its poorest continent," she said.
The EU-Africa summit has been labelled by its organizers as a step towards a 'strategic partnership' between the continents, based on respect, solidarity and shared goals and values.
It is only the second such summit in history. A meeting in Cairo between the EU and the then-moribund Organiz-ation of African Unity (OAU) in 2000 produced few, if any, concrete results, while a further summit scheduled for 2003 was repeatedly postponed over the issue of human rights in Zimbabwe.