PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, banned from Europe, got a rare chance this week to mingle with European leaders at the third Africa-European Union summit in Tripoli, Libya.
Mugabe, 86, shook hands with several European leaders and country representatives including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in informal meet-and-greet encounters at the summit which opened Monday and ends Tuesday.
He was pictured chatting with Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
The Zimbabwean leader’s attendance at previous summits hosted by France and Portugal presented organisational challenges for those countries who were forced to invite Mugabe by threats of boycott by African states.
The EU imposed travel sanctions on Mugabe and over 100 Zanu PF officials accused of human rights abuses and election fraud.
But with Libya playing host to this year’s summit, Mugabe was able to attend with less controversy.
On the sidelines of the summit, Zimbabwean officials including Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi worked feverishly to lobby EU states to block an extension of sanctions which are up for renewal in February next year.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi opened the summit on Monday, saying the partnership between the two continents had failed and slamming bodies like the World Trade Organisation as "terrorists".
"We have failed in our economic partnership with Europe," Gaddafi told leaders of 80 nations gathered for the two-day summit, which faces fractious issues such as trade and migration.
Gaddafi reopened old wounds between former colonial powers and nations marking half a century of independence, saying accords struck in 2007 – the last time leaders of the two continents met -- "had no effect, they remained on paper."
"We want win-win relations based on mutual interest and not on exploitation," Gaddafi said.
The summit is due to seal 2007 pledges made by the 27-nation EU and the 53 African nations to turn a page on the burden of history by joining in a partnership of equals that ends decades of donor-recipient ties.
"Europe talks to us of governance, human rights," Gaddafi said. "We focused on politics and left aside the economy. Africa needs economics, not politics."
The harsh words came as Africa's leadership squares up for a fight with the EU on trade following almost a decade of failed efforts to strike Economic Partnership Agreements deemed as unfair by the Africans.
While the bloc remains Africa's top trading partner, emerging giants such as Brazil and India are joining China in chasing the spoils of the resource-rich continent.
"Africa and Europe need each other," the Libyan leader said.
But he warned that in the event of failure Africa had alternatives in the Americas, China and India.
Africa wanted to deal with "groups that respect our space, our sovereignty, our regimes and that don't interfere in our internal affairs," he said.
"We call for the elimination of the WTO, because it does not serve our interests," Gadhafi added. "It wants us to open our borders to foreign goods to kill our industries."
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank "have destroyed Africa" and the word "terrorism" could as well be applied to the World Bank and the WTO as to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, he said.
Turning to calls for reform of the UN Security Council, Gaddafi said Africa wanted permanent seats for both the African Union and the EU.