Africa Update: Bush Visiting Africa
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.
On today's Africa Update, a look at what lies ahead in 2008 for Africa. A woman is slated to take the helm of the African Union. Plus, upcoming presidential elections in South Africa and a preview of President Bush's trip to the continent.
For more, we've got Emira Woods. She's co director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Hi, Emira.
Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies): Hey, Farai, such a joy to be with you.
CHIDEYA: So, let's start with the African Union. They are likely to get a new head this month. You say it could be a woman. Who is that?
Ms. WOODS: Well, all eyes, Farai, are on the Zambian ambassador to the U.S. She is Dr. Mbikusita-Lewanika and she is likely to be the first woman chairperson of the Commission of the African Union. And as many of your listeners know, the African Union is relatively new. There's been really one chairperson of the commission, Alpha Konare, the former president of Mali. And he, in January, will be stepping down after this first five-year term, and it's very likely that a woman will take the helm. And all eyes are watching anxiously to see what will happen on - this in January.
CHIDEYA: What are some of the challenges facing the African Union and how might she address them?
Ms. WOODS: Well, the biggest challenges are around peacekeeping, around governance issues on the continent, but really, around issues of creating a continental stance on key questions from - an Africa command of the U.S., to key economic integration questions; will the African Union become more like the European Union, with one currency? These are some of the questions on the table right now for the African Union. And the new leadership will help decide the direction of the African Union in the decades to come.
CHIDEYA: Well, let's move on to the upcoming presidential elections in South Africa. Last month, Jacob Zuma won the battle for leadership of the ruling party, the African National Congress or ANC. He is now likely to become the country's next president. But last week, South African prosecutors filed new corruption charges against Zuma that include racketeering and fraud. Back in 2004, Jacob Zuma was deputy president of South Africa and he spoke with NPR's Tony Cox and addressed corruption allegations against him at that time.
Mr. JACOB ZUMA (President, African National Congress): I was most (unintelligible) the process of influencing anything with regarded to the allegations that have been made. In so far as the charges that have been put across, there's been nothing found. There was no interference by the deputy president or by the government institutions, and the investigation went on for more than three years.
CHIDEYA: Emira, these are persistent investigations that have gone on and there have been some that have been resolved. There's also a sex scandal. He was acquitted, but there - he did admit to having sex, which he says was consensual with an HIV positive woman, who was a bit of a goddaughter figure to him. This is a lot of baggage for a politician. How can he move forward?
Ms. WOODS: Well, it's so much baggage. I mean, some of his views have been controversial, but clearly Zuma is the populace candidate. He is seen as the candidate of the people, the candidate who can really represent all of those discontented voices, who have felt pushed out, marginalized by the party since 1994, you know? A party made a grand bargain where the corporate elite would essentially keep their wealth. You know, many people in South Africa are saying the transition is much too slow. They are unrest with escalating unemployment. There had been issues in the textile industries with people being pushed out of jobs; this onslaught of China coming in to South Africa, really forcing factories to close. So, the economy is really putting people in a miserable state. And Zuma is looked at by many as an opportunity to regain a balance where the masses can assert their right to economic freedom, to economic determination, now that the political freedom has come in the post-apartheid era.
CHIDEYA: When you think about South Africa being an economic and political engine for the continent, how does a Zuma presidency looming ahead affect that nation's ability to navigate the international waters?
Ms. WOODS: Well, let's be clear, you know? The finance minister of South Africa, Trevor Manuel, said it clearly right after that the vote in the ANC, is that, you know, that much will remain the same. And we have to understand that there are global forces at play. There is an International Monetary Fund, a World Bank, a World trade Organization, where corporate interests are so dominant and controlling the world economy. That it will take time for countries to put forward a different path that puts the needs of their people first.
But I think the hope from those masses that are supporting Zuma is that Zuma will at least represent those voices of the marginalized poor, to say we cannot only have corporations dominating. We must look at issues of health care in a country that is ravaged by the HIV-AIDS pandemic. We must look at issues of education. It is those core building blocks of the future that people are hoping will come about under a Zuma presidency, if not in the short term.
CHIDEYA: Next month, President Bush heads to sub-Saharan Africa. What's the purpose of the trip?
Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, what we're concerned about is that the establishment o this U.S. military-Africa command will dominate issue of this trip and the concern is that Africa's agenda, which, you know, as we were talking about with South Africa, it's education, it's housing, it's good jobs, health care, you know? Those things on the agenda for most Africans, will, you know, remain really off the table during and after this trip.
CHIDEYA: How will President Bush be remembered? He is in the waning year of this presidency, what we call a lame duck president. How will he be remembered, do you think, by leaders on the continent?
Ms. WOODS: Clearly, what the Bush administration has done is gone their own way and they have done it through establishment of an AIDS fund, called PEPFAR, the Presidential Emergency Initiative on AIDS, you know, at a time when the whole world came together to do a global just establish a global fund for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, the Bush administration went their own way. There is also a going their own way around development and development aids, so that, again, the Bush administration created the Millennium Challenge Account, you know, when the rest of the world was coming together to figure out how to work together.
And many say it has really pushed forward U.S. objectives, particularly in banking and finance, to open up African markets. And really not benefited the poor nor even the middle class in much of the African world. So, you know, it is a mixed review when you look at the Bush administration, clearly a lot of wonderful photo opportunities. But in terms of the substance of the Bush policy when it comes to Africa, I think what remains steadfast is a sense of a military approach first.
CHIDEYA: Emira, very briefly, give us a hint of two big conferences coming up. There's an African Union conference and a U.N. conference. What are they?
Ms. WOODS: Well, they are extraordinary opportunities. First, the African Union conference. The African Union has said that they have established this region six, reaching out to all of the diaspora, Afro descendants wherever they may be in the world, connected to the African Union. And the African Union will go forward and have a conference of this diaspora in 2008, including African heads of state and it will be hosted by South Africa, seen as an extraordinary opportunity to put on the table core issues of engagement with all of the African world and the African continent.
The other conference is really one being pushed by the U.N., and it's fantastic. It is an agenda that was started back in Durbin. Now, you know, quite some time ago, it's a review of a conference on racism; reviewing issues of racism and xenophobia in 2008. So, these are two extraordinary opportunities for African world to come together to bring public consciousness and political will to a much under-addressed issue.
CHIDEYA: Emira, thank you so much for joining us and happy New Year.
Ms. WOODS: Happy New Year, Farai. I wish you all the best, you and all your listeners.
CHIDEYA: Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. She was at out NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.