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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is News & Notes.

Condoleezza Rice holds historic talks with Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and the South African president tries to get political rivals in Zimbabwe to reconcile. For that and more in our Africa Update, we've got Emira Woods, she is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Hey, how are you doing?

Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies): Hey. So great to be in the same room with you.

CHIDEYA: I know, I get to do it every now and then. And every time I do, you're wearing an incredible tailored African outfit. One day we will have to take a picture and put it up on our newsandviews blog.

Well anyway, let's start with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She just got back from a visit to the North African states, including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. They were talking about terrorism, political reform. But she began with a visit to Libya, where she met with Moammar Gadhafi. Why is it so noteworthy that she met with the Libyan leader?

Ms. WOODS: Well, it is noteworthy as the vice president was heading to the Caspian Sea because of a three-letter word, oil, Condoleezza Rice was heading to Africa again because of oil. Oil dominates foreign policy for this administration. So it is incredibly noteworthy that after 53 years, a U.S. administration - a highest level official - in all this time, going to Libya, going to North Africa and asserting that there are in fact no permanent enemies. Why? Because of oil.

CHIDEYA: Permanent interests, not permanent friends or enemies. This is one of the things that gets talked about in politics. And this was - they met in one of the compounds that was actually bombed by the U.S. So there's been more than a little bit of bad blood, and Libya was on the U.S. State Department's list of sponsors of terrorism until 2003. Libya ranks 15th in exporters of oil to the U.S. Do you think that the U.S. wants more?

Ms. WOODS: Clearly. Africa now provides 24 percent of the oil that comes to these shores, to the United States. As the Middle East remains in turmoil because of the war and occupation in Iraq, Africa becomes even more strategic in the eyes of the Bush administration in particular, but the U.S. interests overall. So this is why you see this ever-expanding interest in the African continent. Clearly you have some countries, that's, you know, Ghana, Mauritania, just coming online with oil. But North Africa has had oil and rich deposits of oil for quite some time. And it is in that interest that the Bush administration is there today.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to take a quick detour. Staying with Secretary Rice, she spoke at a conference this week concerning HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities. And she championed more diversity among diplomats, saying, I have lamented that I can go into a meeting at the Department of State, and as a matter of fact I can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State, and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me. And that is just not acceptable.

So Emira, do you think that having more black people in diplomatic positions will change, for example, Africa policy?

Ms. WOODS: Well clearly, we have had Condoleezza Rice at the top of the ticket, right? She has been the lead in U.S.-Africa policy and broader U.S. foreign policy. And that has not necessarily improved U.S. relations with Africa. If anything, this administration has had a more militaristic approach to Africa under Condoleezza Rice. So it is important to make sure that there are a range of views represented in foreign policy, a range of views that will bring about a more responsible U.S. engagement with the continent, and with the rest of the world.

And so, yes, it would be great to have more people from black and brown communities in those senior places, but it is important what their views are, what their foreign policy agenda is. I think we are now in the 21st century, where we have to push forward to say, we demand, really, that the U.S. engages in a more responsible way with Africa and the rest of the evolving world.

CHIDEYA: Let's move to the south of Africa. Zimbabwe, we have talked about it many times on the show. This constantly roiling political atmosphere after an election and a recount, etc., etc., etc. Now, South African President Thabo Mbeki has visited the country to help along power sharing talks. What was that - was that meaningful, and did it help things?

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, this has been a long-running story. I feel like we've talked about this almost every time now, you know. It's since March now these negotiations over exactly that, power sharing, what will happen? So the elections were in March, the runoff was in June. Since July we've had these discussions as to what can be this makeup. Can we have a prime minister that has a substantive role, and not just this sort of symbolic gesture of a role while Mbeki pushes forward for Mugabe to continue to have his hold on power.

I think these are the concerns that have come about in the negotiations, and why we have not had resolution to this date. And Farai, we know this well. While all this political dance continues, it is the innocent people that are suffering, right? Because the economy remains in shambles in Zimbabwe, and so it happens that it's still women and children, primarily that are suffering the consequences while we continue to delay and delay on these political negotiations.

CHIDEYA: Can the South African leadership, or any African nation's leadership, really force Mugabe's hand?

Ms. WOODS: Well I think this is what the Southern African Development Community is all about now, is trying to push forward, to say we can not continue with business as usual in Zimbabwe. There has to be a different way, and a better way, for the people of Zimbabwe.

So clearly there are economic measures that can be put forward by that Southern African Development Community. There are political pressures that can be brought to bear, not only by the Southern African region, but also, you know, by the African Union overall. And it is time to kind of push forward, beyond the quiet diplomacy here, to put pressure to make sure that we don't end up in endless discussions without a resolution to this crisis.

CHIDEYA: South Africa has also often been a leader in social issues, and now Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that homophobia is, quote, "A crime against humanity, and every bit as unjust as apartheid."

First of all, how's that playing on the home front? And secondly, you know, does it clash with some more traditional views that many people have?

Ms. WOODS: Well, I think Bishop Tutu is, again, sort of a stalwart leader and a visionary, and has used his presence to kind of shed light on these really difficult topics. He's attacking the Anglican Church for not paying attention to broader issues of global poverty, and to being sort of entrenched in this discussion around homosexuality. And I think at the same time he's saying, we have moved now to this 21st century, where all people have certain rights, and those rights must be respected.

So I think on the continent you're seeing, you know, new opportunities as people are organizing, as human rights organizations, as organizations that are promoting equality, and equal rights particularly for those who have a range of sexual orientations, I think it is in that vein that the Continent is saying, we have to expand, and become more diverse, and create a space that is fair for all.

CHIDEYA: Finally, we've got a little update, we spoke with Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson about a luxury hotel he's building in Liberia. You have roots in Liberia. How are folks on the ground seeing this?

Ms. WOODS: Well it's a mixed bag, let me tell you, Farai. First, it is - it's a welcome opportunity for investment, but I think there's a lot of questioning as to why this prime land, beachfront property, is being, essentially, taken up. And this land used to house the cultural center of Liberia. So you're kind of transplanting the cultural center, and putting up a four star hotel, and so there are questions coming out. Especially of the cultural community, the artists that had links to the cultural center, saying wait a minute, what's this all about? And is there a form of re-colonization, where the prime land is now being taken by outsiders, and those intrinsic parts of Liberian community and culture are being pushed aside?

CHIDEYA: All right. Emira, great to see you.

Ms. WOODS: It's a pleasure, as always.

CHIDEYA: Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she was with me at our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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