AU Diplomat Promotes Better Image Of Africa
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's Thursday, time for our international briefing. Coming up, as part of our ongoing series, A Global Memo To The President, we've talked with the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. about what his country and region hope for as the new administration takes office.
But first, a newsmaker interview. From time to time, we like to bring you conversations with leading figures from an array of professions. Amina Salum Ali is the African Union Mission permanent representative to the United States. That means she represents more than 50 African countries here in the U.S.
Born and raised on the island of Zanzibar, Ambassador Ali is a career diplomat and political leader in Tanzania, where she has held many key positions, most recently as minister of state for the chief minister's office in Zanzibar. And she joins us now from her office in Washington. Ambassador, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ambassador AMINA SALUM ALI (Permanent Representative to the U.S., African Union Mission): Thank you for inviting me.
MARTIN: Can you start by explaining what does the AU hope for in terms of relations with the new administration? Are there differences from the way the Bush administration has conducted relations with Africa that you'd like to see or are there things you want to see continued?
Ambassador ALI: This administration had done more to African council in the field of health, education and trade, and also in peace and security. But we believe with the new administration, we would like to see the new administration is - will bring the relation to the new level - higher level than what we have seen with the Bush administration.
MARTIN: Can we talk about some of the specific countries in Africa? The situation in Zimbabwe seems to be deteriorating by the day. Of course, there's been a terrible economic conditions for some time now, and now at least 1,000 have died from cholera. Some people say that Zimbabwe's an African problem and it should be resolved by Africans, but African leaders disagree on the way the conflict should be dealt with. Now some are calling for deploying forces at this point. Some are calling for tougher economic sanctions. What do you think?
Ambassador ALI: I think the Zimbabwe issue is very, very sensitive and is very sad for all of us. And we had a very deep discussion, and we had very open discussion in terms of the future of Zimbabwe and also in terms of what is happening in Zimbabwe, and at that time, not only a final commission but all - most of the president did agree, and they really wish to see this peace settlement in Zimbabwe, and that's why they recommend this power sharing. And we had hoped that by now we will see the implementation of that decision.
And now let me tell you that all the African - of course, leaders in African people are worried of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Africa is concerned, and I believe right now people are discussing this and African commission, together with other countries in Zimbabwe, discussing this and see what we can do.
MARTIN: Another region I wanted to talk with you about is Darfur. And of course, the conflict there has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and many, many people displaced, and there are those who say that, again, here's a situation where - this is an African problem to be solved by Africans, but many people feel that the joint UN peacekeeping force has not been effective in stemming the violence. What would be more effective, in your view? What would make a difference?
Ambassador ALI: We should try to find an African solution to African problems. But at the end of the day, if you don't reel in power, the troops who are in Darfur, you just can't - clearly cannot see implementations so soon, you know?
MARTIN: By that, do you mean you think there need to be more troops on the ground, whether from the UN or the AU, or do you think that those troops need more expansive orders? Do they need more latitude to intervene, to be more aggressive?
Ambassador ALI: No. What I said about capability because you need - for instance, you need to have the air power. So if - I'll give you an example of a helicopter. They've been for - up to now, they have been discussing about helicopter. Whoever, each country, when you talk, they say they don't have helicopter, they don't have helicopters. I mean, (unintelligible) can move, but how do you be able to provide a capability to follow the rebel, to be able to stop this, you know? Also in terms of numbers, we have not seen increasing numbers of the troops. OK? These are the issues.
MARTIN: Before we leave Darfur, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo at the International Criminal Court has charged Sudanese President Umar Hassan al-Bashir with committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. On the other side, President al-Bashir says it'll consider any attempt to arrest him an act of war. Do you have a view of this? What do you think? Should the President al-Bashir be prosecuted?
Ambassador ALI: Well, this is not only my views but I think the views of some of the leaders of African Union. But this is not the right time to talk about prosecuting al-Bashir, especially because previously, Bashir - we - we as African - well both African Union as well as the regional(ph) community exert a lot of pressure on President Bashir. And we have seen a lot of movement, positive movement from his government in terms of bringing all those criminal to be reach out in terms of allowing negotiation to rebels and his government in terms of providing better facility for the displaced people.
And we believe right now we are in the right approach. If we now talk about indictment or arresting Bashir, it might really reduce the speed of things to happen. Let's concentrate on to bring peace in Darfur, and then those issues can be discussed later. But right now is not the right time, and this was discussed at the UN. Even during the AU meeting last July, the same issues was discussed.
MARTIN: I was hoping that you would tell us a little bit about yourself. When you were growing up in Zanzibar, is this the life you envisioned for yourself?
Ambassador ALI: Well, to be very honest, when I was growing up in Zanzibar, I really wanted to be working with the army as - in the Air Force division. Unfortunately, at that time they did not recruit women. As you know, it's only recently that there's - all over in the world they started to recruit women.
MARTIN: Why did you want to be in the Air Force?
Ambassador ALI: Well, you know, I just like it. I just like it, you know? And then, I said, no. I want to be able to - unfortunately, when I went to India for my high education, they got me and decided for me to do economics. I never realized I'll be joining politics. It just came - it just came...
MARTIN: It just came. It just came. How did it happen?
Ambassador ALI: There was a formative action whereby women can join politics, and I was very keen to really help the women in Zanzibar. You know, we have Muslim society, and I thought maybe if I can really help my sisters who was not been educated and who still facing challenges at the time of early marriages, challenges of dropping out from school, and I said, let me join the politics.
MARTIN: Well, finally, and I - you've been most generous with your time and I appreciate it. I wanted to ask you, how will you know if you have succeeded in this job?
Ambassador ALI: Well, you know, you can judge your success by leaving tangible things. If I can really bring - sort of elevate the status of Africa in America so that people will know what we stand for, people know that Africa is the land of opportunity, and if I see the media bring apositive news about Africa, then I will say my work has been meaningful.
MARTIN: Amina Salum Ali is the African Union Mission permanent representative to the United States. She was kind enough to join us from her office in Washington, D.C. Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ambassador ALI: Thank you very much.
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