Africa Update: Congo Vote, Term Limits
TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Africa is our focus in these periodic updates, and there's a lot of news from the continent, including the aftermath of a second round of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the ballot counting continues. And We Love Lucy, the 3-million-year-old fossilized skeleton is to go on display in the United States in hopes her bones will spark a tourism boom in Ethiopia.
Joining me now to debrief us is NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Charlayne, nice to talk to you again.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Tony.
COX: As we said, the ballot counting continues in the Congo elections, and we're told here, Charlene, that the vote seems so far to be split between the east for the incumbent Joseph Kabila and the west for challenger Jean-Pierre Bemba. Bring us up to date on what's happening.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, so far so good. I mean, there have been two deaths in one part of the Congo. But for the most part, this second round of voting has been generally free and calm. And there was concern about violence, because violence accompanied the first poll. And then in the interim there's been violence.
But President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba signed a declaration of intent to keep their people in line and to keep the peace. So let's hope that works, because this is going to take at least three weeks to get any results.
COX: You know, the question is not only whether or not there will be continuing peace while the counting is going on, but whether or not that peace would continue once one of these two people is declared the loser.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, yeah, you know, and none of knows what's going to happen. But again, I think that the secretary-general was calling on the candidates and their supporters to be patient. And he seemed to put a lot of stock in the fact that the two leaders had, in fact, signed this declaration.
I was told by some of the observers who are now here in South Africa attending a forum, presidential forum. But I was told that the people of the country are tired of war. And they have made that known, and hopefully their leaders have heard them.
COX: One more note before we move on, Charlayne. We hear here that for news coverage, the election is competing with Madonna's adoption and losing back there. Is that true?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, there was a good bit of coverage. But in some cases, correspondents were pulled off to cover the Madonna thing. And if this had been another time perhaps, I think one of the reasons some of the human rights organizations were raising issues is because there's been so much child trafficking.
And so there was a really good story there which probably would've justified having correspondents there instead of in the Congo, but nobody did that. But having said that, I think the Congo did get some good bit of coverage. And then, of course, it was knocked off the air, in some cases by the third plane crash in the last six months in Nigeria.
So, you know, I guess all these decisions have to be made.
COX: Speaking about paying attention to topics, let's talk for a moment about Lucy, the fossilized skeleton of the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor who is going to go on display here. Is there excitement over this where you are?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, nobody's too excited about it in South Africa, because it thinks it's the cradle of civilization. You know, nobody much is talking about it here, but I understand that at least two museums in America - the Smithsonian in Washington and the American Museum in New York - are refusing to host good old, dear old, very old Lucy for that reason, because she's so old. And they're concerned that she's too fragile to be trooped around the United States, even if, you know, it may put people in touch with their ancestors.
So those are two very important museums. But the Houston Museum, which negotiated this trip, plans to go forward, and hope to get 11 venues for old girl to show herself.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: Charlayne, we have time for one more topic. Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born billionaire, is offering big bucks to African leaders to leave when their time is up. Now each leader…
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah. I mean, that's what people are talking about. On the radio here in South Africa, there was a whole half hour devoted to this. They're calling it the African Nobel.
COX: Really? How much optimism is there over this?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I think that people are hopeful. I mean, but this is just - I mean, this, of course, the biggest of the big. I mean, it's bigger than the Nobel Prize, actually. But it's one of a series of steps that Africans themselves have been taking over the past couple of years or so to support good governance, to promote good governance.
And I think the whole point is to encourage African leaders who traditionally have stayed, tried to stay in power for life, to actually leave when their time comes. You know, African countries for the most part are very poor. And so one of the reasons these presidents hold on so long is because they don't have anything to look forward to once they leave.
They don't get what American presidents get - you know, security, houses and the kind of support that former presidents in the West get. So the hope is that with this kind of incentive, African leaders will indeed step down when their time comes.
COX: Charlayne, thank you very much.
HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Tony. It's nice to talk to you.
COX: Charlayne Hunter-Gault is NPR's special Africa correspondent.