MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We are broadcasting from our bureau in New York City where Tell Me More debuted, this week at WNYC. We'd like to welcome all of our new listeners. Coming up, the Mocha Moms talk about the challenge of raising a family in the big city, and we will talk with the author of a wildly popular series of books aimed at tween girls. But first, we want to discuss developments in Zimbabwe where long-time leader Robert Mugabe continues to dismiss international criticism about his brutal campaign to remain in power. He was sworn in on Sunday for a sixth term, following a campaign of violence widely believed to be government sponsored against the opposition. Violence that observers say left dozens of opposition activists dead, hundreds wounded, and thousands displaced.
Yesterday a group of distinguished international leaders known as The Elders issued a statement calling the election in Zimbabwe illegitimate. The Elders urged the African Union, currently meeting in Egypt, with Mugabe in attendance, to appoint an envoy to create a transitional government and to begin the process of new elections. Two members of the elders, former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu join us now. President Robinson is here with us in our New York studio, and Bishop Tutu is on the phone in Cape Town, South Africa. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with both of you. Thank you so much.
Ms. MARY ROBINSON (Former Irish President, Elder): Thank you.
Archbishop DESMOND TUTU (Nobel Laureate, Elder): Thank you.
MARTIN: President, let me start with you. Madame President, since the forming in July of last year, The Elders, which includes many former heads of state and other distinguished international leaders have chosen a select group of issues on which to be heard as a group. Why did The Elders decide this issue called for your collective voice?
Ms. ROBINSON: I think it was clear that it was necessary to be deeply concerned over the past month about Zimbabwe. Our chairman - Archbishop Tutu is on the line - has been one of the most outspoken voices in South Africa itself, and we have thought to bring home what is actually happening on the ground in Zimbabwe and how unacceptable it is for women, the elderly, children, that hyper hyperinflation that's so frightening, and then the threats and then the carrying out of those threats against the opposition, the killing, the maiming, the way in which it was absolutely impossible to have a free and fair election. The lead elder on Zimbabwe is in fact Kofi Annan.
He has been engaged morning, noon, and night, and he issued a very strong op-ed piece in the Financial Times recently, and I'm glad to say that eminent Africans have spoken out. There was a full page advertisement which was carried in the Business Day in South Africa in the Financial Times and in - as a news story in many other countries, and now we've issued a statement yesterday because we feel deeply this election cannot be accepted. Mugabe has not been legitimately elected, he cannot be allowed to bully his way as he's seeking to do now in Sharm Al Sheikh, and we do need to find a compromise for the future of Zimbabwe.
MARTIN: Archbishop, you have been very outspoken on this issue. Most recently in June 24th you were quoted on CNN, let me play a short clip of what you said.
(Soundbite from CNN)
Archbishop TUTU: Please, for your own sake, for the sake of Zimbabwe and for the sake of Africa, step down. You still have the chance. Many of us would advocate that you be given a soft landing. If you refuse, what is going to happen is that the world will be incensed even more, and you're going to be arraigned before the International Criminal Court.
MARTIN: Archbishop, I wanted to ask you a number of things. First, a number of South African leaders, including the President Thabo Mbeki have not been as outspoken as you. They have continued to suggest that quiet diplomacy is the better course. You clearly disagree. Why do you feel it is important to speak out publicly about Mr. Mugabe's behavior?
Archbishop TUTU: As it happens, the president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, has been quite forthright and unambiguous about the current affairs in - state of affairs in Zimbabwe. A number of leading religious leaders, one of my successors is Archbishop of Cape Town, a young man has been very vocal, and today the Catholic Bishops' Conference has also made its views clearly heard, and COSATU, the Trade Union Federation, has in fact spoken about the possibilities of imposing a blockade against Zimbabwe. I have spoken because as Mary said, this is something that is unacceptable. Africa is making very many of those who wish her well just shake their heads and are bewildered that we should not want to say we stand for good governance, we want democracy, and we want free and fair elections. And it is a good thing that the African Union and the African parliament through its observers has declared that the election was not free or fair.
MARTIN: The African Union, during the course of this meeting which Mr. Mugabe is attending, he was personally escorted into the hall by the president - the host of the meeting, the president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak, and while there have been speakers who denounced his behavior, on the other hand he's been treated as an equal. Is he not getting a mixed message from Africa, mister - Archbishop Tutu?
Archbishop TUTU: Yes. I was being chivalrous and letting - saying ladies first. OK, yeah. I think so, and one of the reasons why we put out a statement was it was our hope to strengthen the hand of those leaders who have been outspoken. The president of Zambia, the president of Botswana, Tanzania that these persons should be supported and their stand bolstered. Yes, there is a mixed message that they are sending different signals to him, Mr. Mugabe, but we do hope, I mean that they will state clearly - because it is in terms of their founding heads the AU and the regional organizations have codes of conduct which describe the criteria for, for instance, elections. And according to their own documents they clearly have in front of them a case that does not measure up to those standards, and they ought to be unequivocal as they were with Togo. You see I mean they were quite willing to take very firm action against the military once they had staged a coup, and they were successful. They faced them down.
MARTIN: Madame President, what additional steps do you think other governments should be taking, and I also mention that there are some who suggest that the more criticism Mr. Mugabe gets from the west, the more it enhances his position at home because he continues to use western criticism as a foil to say that it's, you know, it's the west who's trying to depose me, they're trying to undermine our independence.
Ms. ROBINSON: He has tried to do that, but I think now the criticism is worldwide including from the security council and from the United Nations itself. The Deputy Secretary General was in the African Union meeting, Asha-Rose Migiro. And she made it very clear that the UN does not accept this election, that it's illegitimate.
And I think it's very important that civil societies in African countries, and worldwide also rise up on this issue. I was at a recent meeting on (unintelligible) of over a 1000 organizations, many of them from the African continent. And they were watching what was happening, and saying it will not be acceptable. Now, within countries starting in Egypt, where Sharm el Sheikh the meeting is taking place. I hope that there will be a very strong voice. We're talking about an urgent collapse of a whole country and its people.
I work closely with the YWCA, and the current Secretary General Naradzay is from Zimbabwe. She is emailing by the day, in touch with women in Zimbabwe. They're bearing the full brunt of this. It's not just totally unacceptable and totally bullied, and horrible tactics to win - steal an election. It's what's happening in the country.
It's the fact that now we're at a deadlock, because Morgan Tsvangirai's party won majority in parliament. So, what we're looking for is action to move forward. We've asked for an envoy, The Elders want to see the kind of negotiated situation that resolved the situation in Kenya. And we do want to support those African leaders that have spoken out more publicly, and hopefully are saying very strong thing privately. It's not always in the African tradition to speak out in a very forceful way, but the time has come, and civil society must insist that leaders take action and take a stand on this.
MARTIN: Archbishop, what action should be taken if Mr. Mugabe continues to dismiss international criticism?
Archbishop TUTU: Well, because I think the first would have been what Mary said. I mean the unequivocal declaration by the world of its rejection of the election that is an important thing. To say that this is illegitimate, and therefore you are not the duly elected head of state.
And then second. Yes, to insist that there should be an envoy preferably an envoy of the African union to facilitate, and oversee negotiations. Because Zanu-PF, Mr. Mugabe's party, are going to, whether we like it or not be part of those negotiations, and try to move towards the setting up of a government of national unity.
MARTIN: Archbishop, forgive me, I hate to interrupt, but we were hoping we could spend just a few more minutes with you, but we need to take a short break now. Can you stay with us for just a few more minutes with you, and Madam President?
Archbishop TUTU: Yeah. Well, yes.
MARTIN: All right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: We - if you would. If you'd indulge us we have more with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland, two of The Elders speaking about the situation in Zimbabwe - in just a moment. I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We'll be back in just a minute.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News broadcasting from New York for a special week of broadcasts. Coming up we speak with Deborah Gregory the creator of the popular "Cheetah Girls" series for tween girls. She has a new series coming out, and she will tell us about it.
But first we're going to spend a few more minutes with the Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They're both members of a group of distinguished world leaders known as The Elders, which turns its attention to some of the most pressing issues. The group recently issued a statement denouncing the recent elections in Zimbabwe as illegitimate.
Archbishop, before we took our break you were saying like it or not Mr. Mugabe and his regime will be part of the future in Zimbabwe. In the past, you've said that Mr. Mugabe really should have no role in a future government there. Are you of the opinion now that a power-sharing agreement is really the most desirable outcome? Really, the only feasible outcome? Archbishop?
Archbishop TUTU: He has a role whether we like it or not. And the negotiations should be one that says - that gives a significant part in the interim government to the MDC. And you may have seen where Morgan Tsvangirai said that he'll be quite happy to have Mr. Mugabe as a ceremonial president, a figurehead whilst he was the executive prime minister. You'd want to have something like that, and then we'd want to see an end to the violence. I mean to try to stabilize the situation and enable people to return to their homes and to be able to live safely.
MARTIN: Archbishop, I know you have to go. So, just one final question for you. Do you know Mr. Mugabe?
Archbishop TUTU: Yes.
MARTIN: And do you have any sense of him personally? Whether he - what is motivating him at this point? Is he really so indifferent to the suffering of his people?
Archbishop TUTU: I have met him in the past when he was still, as it were, a blue-eyed boy. I mean someone we admired. He was an outstanding leader of the liberation movement, and acted magnanimously after winning his election victory. Because he remained a member of parliament until he stepped down of his own accord.
I have met him, and so I'm as puzzled as everybody else is to see this sudden change. I mean, from someone who was our show piece to start to turn to somebody who has been abominably bad in presiding over this campaign of intimidation and sowing mayhem, and violence. ..TEXT: MARTIN: Archbishop, you've been generous with your time. I thank you so much for joining us, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as a Nobel Laureate.
Archbishop TUTU: Bye, bye, Mary.
Ms. ROBINSON: Goodbye Archbishop. Good to be with you on this program.
Archbishop TUTU: God bless.
MARTIN: Archbishop joined us by phone from Cape Town. President Robinson, if you'd be kind enough to spend a few more minutes with us here in New York. You're also a Former UN High Commissioner for human rights. And you worked on the situation in Rwanda. Are there any lessons from that experience that might be helpful in addressing this? All the things we've talked about here, the violence directed at innocent women, children - you know, the elderly across the board through the use of government pressure to deprive people - sort of, basic goods, food, and medicine. Are there any examples from your past work that are helpful here?
Ms. ROBINSON: I've been thinking about that quite a bit. In fact before I became High Commissioner, I made a state visit as president of Ireland to Zimbabwe. And I was even invited by then, President Mugabe, to go to his old school, a boys' school. And as we traveled to the boys' school, we traveled through some of the wonderful farmland, but all white owned, and he pointed that out. I said, as an Irish person I understand the land issue, but it's time to make more progress because he as president was not making enough progress, and he's not the only one to blame there.
The British were to blame. Probably the UN could have done more. But the point is, it wasn't really addressed. And I have heard reliable reports that Mugabe himself was not faultless in the way that he won elections, before the recent violence.
So, I there was an element in the man of the corruption of power. And now we're seeing a corruption of power that's become evil. And I - you know I find it tragic that the situation has deteriorated so much. But I feel there's a lack of willingness to engage in prevention of things getting as bad. You mentioned Rwanda. There were warnings about a possible genocidal killing, not least from one of the Raporteurs (ph), Bakra Indiai (ph) of Senegal, who understood. He read the situation well, and he warned about a genocidal killing. But we didn't take adequate steps.
We have known about the situation in Zimbabwe, and I really say - you know, it's not just looking to African leaders, and we are a bit disappointed, but some of them are standing up. It's also African civil society. I was very pleased to see that African trade unionists refused to take - refused to let a ship unload, because there was going to be weapons that would get through to Zimbabwe. There has to be a total arms embargo. I remember when, in Ireland, we were part of the anti-apartheid movement. And it was done towards women - women who were of low income who went on strike, because they would not sell apartheid goods. And recently there was a plaque unveiled in Dublin to those women. People remember when civil society stands up.
So, civil society here in America, make your voice known. In Ireland, make your voice known. But especially African civil society, and I know from my work as High Commissioner in every country there are strong groups - working with women, working with children, working to combat poverty, working in conflict. There are very good women's groups - there's FARM-Africa Solidarity, who are doing really, very good work in Sudan. We need to link with the women in Zimbabwe, and those links are formed. I mean the - one of the things about modern means of communication is that you can mobilize. We need to mobilize millions of people to say, this is not acceptable. And pressure...
MARTIN: What about...
Ms. ROBINSON: Appropriately.
MARTIN: What about - forgive me for interrupting, really. We're down to our last minute or so. What about mobilizing forces? Is military force appropriate here?
Ms. ROBINSON: I don't think we're talking about that at this stage. I think it is possible to have targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his government to have a total arms embargo and then to have the kind of freezing. The Irish boycotted a certain Captain Boycott and wouldn't speak to him. That's where the word boycott came from.
We need to boycott President Mugabe, as effectively as possible. Until he realizes he has to share power, and there has to be a process of discussing how his party, Zanu-PF, will share power with Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition. And it must happen soon, because the tragedy is, that people are suffering deeply at the moment in Zimbabwe.
MARTIN: And finally and very briefly if you would. I understand that The Elders are about to meet on this issue in South Africa. Is that correct?
Ms. ROBINSON: We're having our meeting - it was planned some time ago in South Africa. It's honoring President Mandela, who will have his 90th birthday on the 18th, we will meet with him on the 16th, and we'll have our working meeting. And I'm sure Zimbabwe will top of our priorities, but we'll also have other issues.
MARTIN: Mary Robinson is the Former President of Ireland. She joined us from our New York bureau. We were also joined by Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Archbishop and a Nobel Peace Laureate. He joined us by phone from, Cape Town, South Africa. They are both part of The Elders, a group of leading international citizens who are fighting for peace and human rights around the world. I thank you so much for speaking with us, and if you would, please do keep us posted on your efforts on your important work.
Ms. ROBINSON: Thank you. I would be happy to do that.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.