"What can one say of this political cowardice? We expect our leaders to lead, and lead with moral courage. When they fail to do so they leave all of us morally impoverished. Where they funk the difficult issues they make themselves irrelevant. Why should we listen to the mighty when the mighty are deaf to the cries of the afflicted? Millions of Africans and Europeans would expect Zimbabwe and Darfur to be at the very top of the agenda. It is not too late.

Richard Lea (Thursday, December 6, 2007)

With the contentious EU-Africa summit opening tomorrow in Lisbon, a coalition of leading authors from Europe and Africa have accused the leaders of both continents of "political cowardice".

In an open letter released this week, writers including Wole Soyinka, Gunter Grass, Nadine Gordimer, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called for Zimbabwe and Darfur to be put on the meeting's agenda.

"The EU-Africa summit presents an opportunity to address the biggest issues affecting our people," said the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. "However our leaders - by putting their own desire to avoid a confrontation ahead of the suffering of millions - are squandering this opportunity and doing us all a disservice."

But the Portuguese secretary of state for foreign affairs, João Cravinho, hit back at the writers, calling them "ill informed about the reality of this summit and its objectives".

"I have great consideration for their work and for what they represent," he told Reuters, "but I think they didn't spend much time analysing the summit's objectives."

The meeting has been controversial ever since an invitation was extended to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, despite his administration's poor record on human rights. In the wake of this move, British prime minister Gordon Brown elected to boycott the two-day summit. Only the Czech Republic is following his lead.

The letter in Full

"In a few days heads of state from Africa and Europe will meet in Portugal to discuss issues common to two continents whose histories, for good and bad, have intertwined for centuries. This is a historic opportunity to inaugurate a new era founded on shared values and a genuine friendship where we can support each other and learn from each other.

"But that will not be possible while the summit meeting shies away from discussing two of the world's worst humanitarian crises, those in Zimbabwe and Darfur. Despite Europe's and Africa's shared responsibility to address such crises, neither one is on the agenda. No time has been set aside for formal or informal discussion.

"What can one say of this political cowardice? We expect our leaders to lead, and lead with moral courage. When they fail to do so they leave all of us morally impoverished. Where they funk the difficult issues they make themselves irrelevant. Why should we listen to the mighty when the mighty are deaf to the cries of the afflicted? Millions of Africans and Europeans would expect Zimbabwe and Darfur to be at the very top of the agenda. It is not too late.

The full list of signatories to the letter is:

Europe:
Vaclav Havel
Günter Grass
Roddy Doyle
Tom Stoppard
Jose Gil
Colm Tóibín
Jürgen Habermas
Dario Fo
Franca Rame

Africa:
Professor Wole Soyinka
Mia Couto
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Gillian Slovo
Ben Okri
Nadine Gordimer
JM Coetzee
Goretti Kyomuhendo

Originally appeared in Guardian.


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