PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has rallied the backing of fellow African leaders in his bid to force an invitation to the EU-African Union summit set for Brussels in April this year.
Previous EU-AU summits have been rocked by controversy over the Zimbabwean leader who is banned from travelling to Europe under sanctions imposed to punish alleged human rights abuses and suspected electoral fraud.
The 2007 meeting in Portugal had to be deferred as Britain opposed Mugabe's invitation while African leaders said they would not attend if he wasn't welcome.
In the end Mugabe travelled to Lisbon while Gordon Brown, then British premier, boycotted the summit.
African leaders agreed at an AU summit in Ethiopia last week that they would not travel to Brussels in April if the Zimbabwean strong-man was not invited.
"The Africa Union has resolved to move as a united front on issues of governance and international policy," said Zambia foreign minister Wylbur Simuusa.
"We must now speak with one voice and make sure we act in the interest of Africa. That is why for the EU-Africa summit coming up, where Zimbabwe has been singled out with restrictions for President Robert Mugabe from attending, the position that the AU has taken is that if Zimbabwe won't go, then Africa will not go and that has been agreed upon.
Zimbabwean foreign affairs minister, Simbarashe Mumbengewi, confirmed the development as Mugabe returned from Ethiopia on Saturday.
Addressing reporters in Harare, Mumbengegwi said he was confident the EU would allow Mugabe to attend the meeting.
"It seems they (EU) have very short memories," he said.
"Of course, Africa took a very firm position to say if President Mugabe is not invited to this Summit, then there will be no Summit because no African Head of State was going to attend a Summit where President Mugabe is being excluded.
"That is the decision that was taken at the African Union that all Heads of State and Government must be invited without exception if the Summit is going to take place. And so, faced with this situation, I do not think the European Union has any option.
"As it is, I do not know if the invitation has arrived yet, but we know that it will have to come because they want the Summit to go ahead and Africa will only go there if President Mugabe is invited to this Summit.
"After all, President Mugabe is now the First Deputy President of the African Union. How can you hold a Summit between two organisations and then one organisation has the arrogance to say to the other, 'Yes, let's meet as two organisations, but we don't want your Deputy President to be present.' I mean this is madness! This is just madness!
"The AU Commission has been tasked to follow up on this decision of the African Union that each and every Head of State must be invited. They have been mandated to follow up this issue and ensure that it is done because, if it is not done, then there is no Summit."
Mugabe wants the sanctions, which he blames for Zimbabwe's continuing economic turmoil lifted.
The Zanu PF leader had hoped his re-election last July in polls widely accepted as free of violence would leave Brussels with no choice but to remove the restrictions.
But the EU, along with United States, refused to endorse his victory, backing opposition claims that the vote was fraudulent.
A furious Mugabe rejected the criticism and said Zimbabwe would look East to "all-weather" supporters such as China for help.
"We dismiss them as the vile ones whose moral turpitude we must mourn," Mugabe said venting against Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States during his inauguration last August.
"Most likely we shall remain under these sanctions for much longer (but) we continue to look East."
He would later back-down somewhat, admitting Zimbabwe needed access to European markets.
"We want the removal of economic sanctions so we can export beef to Europe. Let's get to trade," the Zanu PF leader said during a meeting with diplomats from France, Germany and Holland in October.
"Let our flowers find home in the Netherlands. Let our greens find their way into the Dutch market but for as long as there are sanctions, this will be difficult.
"We do not want to visit France. I do not want your girls. I do not want to visit France for romantic purposes. I want to develop relations between us."