Region Looks For Answers After Zimbabwe's New Agreement
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
For more on the agreement and what it might mean for Zimbabwe and other countries in the region we're joined by Emira Woods. She's the co-director of Foreign Policy and Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She's here with me in the studio. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-director, Foreign Policy and Focus, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington): Great to be here with you, Michel. ..TEXT: MARTIN: You just heard Jeffrey Barbee's analysis. He said there was very much a wait and see attitude on the part of the opposition, even after they've been through so much. How are your contacts reacting to this?
Ms. WOODS: Well, all weekend long the emails were flying, Michel, and there was a sense of, well, do we celebrate this or do we have that cautious optimism? What will the details reveal? Will there be a real shift in power or is this just a cosmetic shifting around of the power players in Zimbabwe?
I think overall there is a sense of excitement. There is a sense that we have in Zimbabwe passed this milestone where those who lost their lives, Michel, those who really had their backs against the wall, forced into exile, really suffering the consequences of this political turmoil, that maybe their lives wouldn't have been lost in vain, that there can be a new day in Zimbabwe, and it's a difficult path forward but this is a first step towards what could bring a new constitution that has more respect for the rule of law, what could bring an electoral process where the will of the people can actually be respected. These are the hopeful possibilities with the signing of this agreement, Michel.
MARTIN: As you know, of course, better than anybody, Zimbabwe's economy has been in freefall in the recent years, and of course, the violence only made it worse. What kind of support should the international community be expected to provide at this point? And why would they, given that Robert Mugabe continues to insist that the country's problems are the result of outside interference?
Ms. WOODS: Well, that's a tricky question. I think clearly the economy is in shambles. People are unable to put food on the table to feed their kids. There has got to be a different way in terms of Zimbabwe's economy, and I think that is the overwhelming priority for all who are concerned about the people of Zimbabwe. So it is critical that the international community not overwhelm, not interfere, not, you know, dictate in its terms, in its conditions, but really create the space where it can be supportive of the people of Zimbabwe.
MARTIN: What should happen first, though? I mean, should it be food aid? Should it be that simple? Because part of the issue was that Mugabe's forces weren't allowing food aid to be distributed to anybody other than his supporters. So what do you think should happen first?
Ms. WOODS: Well, what you're hearing already is that the EU is going to maintain sanctions, and this is a worrisome sign, quite frankly, because if you still have an economic embargo on a country that's unable to feed its people, it may be difficult to create an environment where either investors, both domestic and international, feel a climate of stability again in Zimbabwe, so there have to be all the right signs from the Southern Africa Development Community, from South Africa, which is a key economic partner for Zimbabwe, throughout the African Union, starting with those African allies creating a space for trade, creating a space to push for debt cancellation which has been long on the agenda for the people of Zimbabwe. These are the ways in which the international community can support the efforts of the Zimbabwean people to put their economy back on track.
MARTIN: South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki was front and center at the signing ceremony. I wanted to mention that this is the second kind of post-election power-sharing agreement that's been reached in the region over the course of the year. In Kenya an agreement was reached the spring after post-election political crisis. I'm wondering whether these two agreements, if they hold, signal a consensus among the leaders of the African nations that they can and should step up to show leadership in resolving these crises.
Ms. WOODS: Well, it has been tremendous to see the African Union - we have to remember it's a relatively young organization, just six years young - to see the African Union step up to the plate and do these complicated negotiations and mediations. It has taken tremendous leadership from the continent, but it's also the people supporting that continental leadership, the people within the country that have tremendous experience that they brought from internation arenas into their own political context that have been able to carve out this space for peace, both in Kenya and then hopefully in Zimbabwe.
It is a difficult thing and many say, well, will the next irresponsible ruler simply do a scam election and then work out an agreement at the end and still hold onto power? This is a question that is being asked by many on the continent. I think clearly we have to say that democracy is about the rule of the people. It is informed consent of the people, being able to choose their leaders freely, being able to hold those leaders accountable. This is ultimately what democracy is all about. What we see in these negotiated resolutions is a path to peace but not necessarily an ideal situation in terms of the democratic space.
MARTIN: We have about 40 seconds left, so I wanted to ask, what should we be looking for in the next couple of weeks in Zimbabwe to determine whether or not this is a good faith agreement and whether or not it is actually holding?
Ms. WOODS: Well, the key thing will be, what will happen? You asked that very question in the earlier segment. What will happen to these forces of oppression? The security agents, the police force, the army that really turned on their own people. Can there be a sense of putting that violence and political repression aside and working together for the good of the country? That will be the first test.
The second test is, again, the economy. To what extent can there be, early on in these next few days and weeks, changes, signs for the international community, for the people of Zimbabwe that they can get food, that they can find goods that they need in the stores, that the economy can be put back on track?
MARTIN: Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign policy and Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studios. Emira, will you keep us posted, please?
Ms. WOODS: It's a pleasure. Anytime, Michel, thank you.
MARTIN: Just ahead, the new film, "Towelhead," takes on some of the issues we either ignore or hand over to the tabloids like racism and the sexual exploitation of young girls. Filmmaker Alan Ball is having none of that.
Mr. ALAN BALL (Filmmaker): The movie is trying to understand the dynamics that allow something like this to happen, rather than just telling the same old story of the innocent child victim who displays no sexual curiosity and a subhuman cartoon predator.
MARTIN: The director and star of the movie "Towelhead" are with us for our Behind Closed Doors conversation. That's next on Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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