Africa Reacts To Clinton's Visit
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
It's time for our Thursday International Briefing. Later in the program, we'll check on the latest developments in Myanmar, where Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional 18 months under house arrest. Most observers believe the move is intended to shut her out of the campaign for the 2010 elections. We'll speak to one of her attorneys a little later in the program.
But first, we are following the travels of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Africa. She is in Liberia today, the sixth stop on her seven nation tour of the continent. Her trip ends on Friday with a visit to the island nation of Cape Verde.
Last week, we looked into the U.S.'s foreign policy and economic priorities in and for Africa. This week, we wanted bring you the perspective of African journalists to tell us how Secretary Clinton's trip is being received and what it means in their respective countries and the continent. Joining us now, Prince Collins, he is a freelance journalist in Monrovia, Liberia. Ferial Haffajee, she is editor in chief of South Africa's City Press. She joins us from Johannesburg. And Constance Ikokwu, deputy editor for Nigeria's This Day newspaper, and she joins us from Lagos. Welcome all of you, thank you for joining us.
Ms. CONSTANCE IKOKWU (Deputy Editor, This Day): Thank you.
Mr. PRINCE COLLINS (Journalist): Thank you.
Ms. FERIAL HAFFAJEE (Editor in Chief, City Press): Thank you.
MARTIN: Before we go into each country in detail, I wanted to ask each of you what's been the general reaction to Secretary Clinton's visit and what's the coverage been like? Prince, let's start with you because Secretary Clinton is in Liberia today. What's been the general reaction to her visit and what's been the coverage like?
Mr. COLLINS: As I speak to you, the Secretary of State has just arrived in Monrovia at the state house in the capital. And so thousands of people have turned out to welcome the high U.S. diplomat to Liberia. And people are in high spirit actually for her visit. People from across the country who cannot make their way here are listening to the FM radio to hear what she got to say about Liberia's recovery process.
MARTIN: And Constance, before the Secretary came to Liberia, she was in Nigeria, what was the reaction there to her visit?
Ms. IKOKWU: There was a good coverage of Secretary Hillary Clinton's visit to Nigeria. She was highly expected here. There were two views about her visit. Some were of the view that she shouldn't come here to give us a lecture about good governance and corruption. And others were - saw it as an opportunity to discuss with her like civil society groups about the problems that we are facing in Nigeria. So, I think that she has been well received here and I think that she enjoyed her time here.
MARTIN: And of course, Ferial, same question to you. South Africa which was last week or earlier in the trip. So, how was her trip there covered?
Ms. HAFFAJEE: I would say that it was quite business-like and professional. People didn't go quite as crazy as we did when President Obama visited Ghana. I think there was far more emotional interest in that visit. This time it was about trade, good governance, reestablishing a decent relationship between the U.S. and South Africa with none of the rock star quality of the previous visit.
MARTIN: And why is that? Is it simply a different job? Is it that just somehow the foreign minister or secretary of state just doesn't carry the same star power or are there other things?
Ms. HAFFAJEE: I think our continent and our country has taken ownership of President Obama, it feels like a long lost son or a brother who comes to visit. With the secretary of state, most media covering it as a very important geopolitical moment, but it didn't have people lining the sides of streets, T-shirts that you saw during the Obama visit.
MARTIN: And Constance, I want to pick up on something that you mentioned. You said that there have been kind of two reactions. One is, on the one hand, yes, we welcome this visit, we welcome the interest. On the other hand, there is a sense of, we do not need to hear any lectures from you. And, I just want to read a little bit of an editorial that ran in This Day by Titi Amuta(ph). The title is, I sincerely hope that your Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not stopping over here to lecture us on good governance, corruption and the now familiar unflattering themes that dominate international discussion on Africa.
And it goes on to say that the U.S. has played a role in the global economic meltdown, and thus, perhaps is not in the best position to lecture Africa or any other countries on some of these matters. Is this a widely held view? I mean, of course, just in fairness the editorial does go on to say that some of the things that Western leaders do talk about are legitimate to talk about, like corruption and so forth. But that the U.S. is perhaps not in the best position to lecture at this point, and that perhaps a better approach would be one of more sort of mutual respect. Is this is a widely held view?
Ms. IKOKWU: First of all, that (unintelligible) you read was written by a columnist. It's not an editorial view of the paper. It was written someone who writes a column on the back page of the paper.
MARTIN: Fair point.
Ms. IKOKWU: Secondly, like I said earlier, there are people who feel that Nigeria already knows they have a lot of problems, including electoral reform, the Niger Delta conflict, peacekeeping and a couple of other things. They're already working on it, and do not want to see a situation whereby the Secretary comes to Nigeria and talks to Nigerians in a manner that does not show respect to them. The other view is that, well, we have this problem, but in any way that the U.S. can help Nigerians would be open to that.
So you have these two reactions. And when I saw Secretary Clinton doing yesterday was to say to Nigerians that it is up to you to solve most of the problems that you have and that the U.S. is here to support. And I think that that was what was expected of her. This country knows that we're facing serious challenges. You go to the shops, you enter public transport, everybody is talking about the problems that we have in this country. And most of these issues would have to dealt by the Nigerian government. More than 80 percent of the problems we have will have to be solved by the government. We're already having debates about where we're coming from, where we are and where we are going to. And I think that the position that she took yesterday was okay.
MARTIN: Okay, so that was going to be my question - was, do you feel she did take an appropriate tone, whatever that means, with the leaders of Nigeria? Do you feel that she came to lecture or did she come to listen and was, in your view, was there - or in the view of other observers an attitude of mutuality, if you will?
Ms. IKOKWU: I think that the tone was mild. But she made up her point all the same. She talked about Nigeria strengthening the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is the agency that fights corruption in Nigeria. She harped on electoral reform, which is an issue that we've been discussing for almost two years now. She talked about the Niger delta and the amnesty that the government has decided to grant to militants in that part of the country. And she actually said that the U.S. was ready to support Nigeria if they need help in that area.
She talked about a U.S.-Nigeria bi-national commission, which should be an instrument through which we can collaborate on a range of issues. She talked about Nigeria's peace keeping effort in Africa and praised what we have done in the past in Sierra Leone and Liberia, in Somalia, and other places. So, I think that the tone was mild when she spoke with the president, and when she spoke with our foreign minister Mr. Ojo Maduekwe. And she left Nigeria, I think that we were relieved that she did not come to the country talking to all in an important manner. But apart from her visit, the challenge now is up to the Nigerian government to begin to work on those issues. They have started already on some issues, but I think that we have to follow it through. The next election, which is in 2011, is a big issue and I think that they should start work on it from now, before the election.
MARTIN: Okay, let me just jump in briefly to say, if you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with journalists Constance Ikokwu from Nigeria, Ferial Haffajee from South Africa, and Prince Collins from Liberia. We're talking about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Africa. She is in Liberia today. And Prince, to that point, a recent report by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended banning current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from holding public office.
The commission was established to investigate and address crimes committed during the country's civil war. Johnson Sirleaf, who has had quite warm relations with both the current administration and the previous Bush administration, is accused of quote unquote, "supporting," former Liberian leader and now indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Is this going to make for an awkward encounter for Secretary of State Clinton? Are these charges supported, for example, by the country to the degree that you can assess this?
Mr. COLLINS: The Liberians in her spirit to, you know, what Secretary of State Clinton has to say especially about the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that recommendation said the president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf should not hold public office for some 30 years because they said she provided some support to war crime indicted Mr. Charles Taylor who is the former president of this country. And so people here really want to know the U.S. position on the TRSC recommendations. So, they're hoping that Hilary Clinton will address a lot of issues, though she would talk about corruption and bad governance and crimes and other issues. But they are in high spirit to hear her about U.S. position on the TRSC recommendations regarding this matter.
MARTIN: Would her comments be welcome or is this an internal matter?
Mr. COLLINS: In our history, America has done immense contribution to our own recovery process. When the war started Liberians were looking at the U.S. to come in and sort of provide support and sort of ensure that the war come to an end. So, if the U.S. can come down and give us a position, clear-cut position on all the TRSC report, Liberian people are of the opinion that, yes, it will yield some results.
MARTIN: Ferial, the Secretary of State Clinton was in South Africa on Saturday and she met with President Jacob Zuma. On the one hand she praised government officials for President Zuma's new policy on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. But the U.S. has also had some disagreements with the South African government in recent years with prior administrations. For example, South Africa's role in advancing political reforms in Zimbabwe. Do you have any sense of what came out of those meetings between Secretary Clinton and the president?
Ms. HAFFAJEE: Well, first of all, I discerned a much more complex and layered policy position from the U.S. to Africans, to South African, particularly I've witnessed for the past 10 years. So that was good to see. I think that the president and Secretary of State agreed on some things like Zimbabwe and AIDS, and that was a big advance on previous years. But they agreed to disagree on other things like the indictment of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, and also on Africa. There was a lot of media coverage in South Africa on the U.S. seeking a number of different bases on which to place Africa, certainly South Africa is not open to that. And it has pushed against locating such a base on the continent.
MARTIN: We need to take a short break but when we come back we're going to continue this conversation about Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's visit to Africa with Liberian freelance journalist Prince Collins, Ferial Haffajee, editor in chief of South Africa's City Press Newspaper, and Constance Ikokwu, deputy editor of Nigeria's This Day newspaper.
Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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I'm Michel Martin and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
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But first, we're going to continue our conversation about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Africa. She's currently in Liberia. She has one last stop to make in Cape Verde before returning to the U.S. And we're getting reactions from African journalists covering the trip across Africa. Our guests are Prince Collins, a freelance journalist in Monrovia, Liberia. Ferial Haffajee, editor in chief of South Africa's City Press. She joins us from Johannesburg. And Constance Ikokwu, deputy editor of Nigeria's This Day newspaper, she joins us from Lagos.
Ferial, overall, assessing Secretary of State Clinton's visit throughout the continent so far, it's been a long trip. She's made headlines back here for some things that have not been so flattering for example, a rather testy exchange with a student.
Ms. HAFFAJEE: Yes.
MARTIN: And - but just I wanted to ask you, just assessing that totality of the trip so far, what's made the biggest impression on you?
Ms. HAFFAJEE: I like the humility of some of her interactions in South Africa where she told a group of business people that in fact the U.S. had a lot to learn from the way South Africa and a couple of other bigger economies in Africa had insulated ourselves from the global recession and also had much better credit seeking checks in place. I thought that on Zimbabwe she pushed as hard as she needed to. But I also enjoyed that she gave kudos where they were due and didn't really come across like a school mom, which is what we've come to expect of U.S. foreign policy on our continent.
MARTIN: Constance, what about you? What - just assessing the whole trip, what has struck you?
Ms. IKOKWU: I think that the trip is okay. There wasn't a huge excitement over here concerning visit in Nigeria. But I think that the civil society groups who had an opportunity to meet with her were quite satisfied that they were able to do that. I think that from now onwards, the ball is in the court of the Nigerian government to begin to improve the economy and the political system for the benefit of Nigeria. Because honestly, we have huge issues in this country that we're dealing with right now. I think that we are at a crossroads and between now and next year, the government really has to work hard towards improving the country for the benefit of the people. If not, I don't know what is going to happen in this country.
MARTIN: So, elections are next year.
Ms. IKOKWU: Well, the elections are in 2011. But right now there's so much poverty in the country, things are really difficult, you know. So, I think that in the next one year, there has to be something, there has to be concrete steps taken to improve the livelihood of people. And I think that when you push people to the wall you get to a stage, they begin to react. Some of the religious conflict that we've seen in recent days is a mixture of ignorance and poverty and unemployment, you know. So that's one thing that in the next one year, the government has to show up that they have what it take, that they have the political will to move from point A to point B in order to improve the lives of people.
MARTIN: So, what I hear you saying is that really the major challenges for these countries are - they have to be led internally. That the U.S. may play a role but is not the major player in addressing the concerns that are most pressing to the people of your countries. Having said that, Constance, I'm going to ask you, and then Ferial, I'm going to give you the final word, are there steps, though, that Nigerians would like to see the U.S. take in furtherance of the issues that are most pressing to the Nigerian people?
Ms. IKOKWU: When it comes to the civil society groups, I think that they want to see the U.S. to continue to apply gentle pressure on the government. And continue to make comment when issues that affect them comes up. For instance, the issues of corruption, the issues of electoral reform. That does not mean -the way and manner through which the U.S. makes their opinion known is important. At the same time, the ball is in the court of the Nigerian government, which is a sovereign country. We have a government and the government has to act.
MARTIN: Ferial, can I have a final thought from you? Are there other steps that you would like to see the U.S. take in the coming months and years to build on the relationship that has been established with this visit?
Ms. HAFFAJEE: Well, I think that the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, it can be expanded a lot more. I think we can see many benefits coming out of the growing trade between our continent and the United States. Also, I do think that the U.S. bringing up the issues of good governance is very, very important in an era where the other superpower that's really making its mark in Africa is China. And for - and it really puts good governance issues right on the back burner in its dealings with us.
MARTIN: Ferial Haffajee is the editor in chief of City Press. She joined us from Johannesburg, South Africa. We were also joined by Constance Ikokwu. She's the deputy editor for This Day newspaper. And she joined us from Lagos, Nigeria. We were also joined earlier by Prince Collins. He's a freelance journalist who joined us from Monrovia, Liberia. I thank you all so much for speaking with us.
Ms. IKOKWU: Thank you very much, Michel.
Ms. HAFFAJEE: Thank you for having me.