Mandela's Free… Again African leaders met this week, but economic issues were pushed aside in lieu of Zimbabwe's political crisis. Also, Congress votes to remove Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress from the U.S. terror watch list. To get caught up, Farai welcomes Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies.
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Mandela's Free… Again

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Mandela's Free… Again

Mandela's Free… Again

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And now we're going to take a wider look at news from the African continent, including the African Union summit, where Zimbabwe is a hot topic. For more, we've got Emira Woods. She's co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Hey, Emira. Welcome back.

Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies): Hey, Farai. Great to be with you.

CHIDEYA: So we just heard from the Zimbabwean ambassador to the U.S. And the nation's president, Robert Mugabe, is in Egypt for an African Union summit. His fellow African leaders have called on him to negotiate with the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change. And here is how Mugabe responded.

President ROBERT MUGABE (Zimbabwe): Victory by us does not mean death, the death of the MDC. I said we will remain open to discussion if there are any proposals but not because we are being dictated to by the outside world. The moment the outside world starts dictating to us, we will not proceed.

CHIDEYA: Emira, what do you make of the tone and substance of those remarks?

Ms. WOODS: It is almost as if it's surreal, Farai, you know? When you see the level of violence, the level of intimidation, the fact that only Mugabe's name was on the ballot in the end, to say that, oh, all is well and this is a victory, you know, to say, as the ambassador said, that things are normal, is really surreal and is almost as if the Mugabe forces are living in a parallel universe, you know?

It's a second life type thing, Farai, and it's astounding, when you see the condition of people's lives, when you hear the stories people are text messaging, people are sending emails, ordinary people, Zimbabweans who are extremely concerned both about the political crisis and also the economic chaos of their lives. And so to hear these statements is absolutely outrageous.

CHIDEYA: You know, one thing we found just incidentally is that it's very difficult to break through on the phone lines. And you know, that's - the information infrastructure has been in some trouble or at least overloaded there for a while. But all this communication you mentioned that's going on, there'd probably be even more if there was more capacity. But nonetheless, people continue to talk about the situation, and we want to bring up Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate. He said the African Union and the United Nations have the right to intervene in the crisis.

Archbishop DESMOND TUTU (Nobel Peace Laureate): That crisis has to be resolved sooner rather than later, and a very good argument can be made for having an international force to restore peace.

CHIDEYA: So when you think about someone like Desmond Tutu, who holds no elected office but who is a, you know, kind of a moral leader, not just in Africa but throughout the world, do statements by people like him make any difference at all in a situation like this?

Ms. WOODS: Without a doubt, because of the moral political force that he brings. But also people like Nelson Mandela, people like the UN undersecretary general who heads the Economic Commission for Africa. There have been a steady flow of statements from prominent African leaders, particularly over the last week and a half, Farai, and I think it is those calls for peace, for justice, for a sense of order to return to Zimbabwe that must be heard in the both the African and the international policy-making circles.

CHIDEYA: Now President Bush says that sanctions are a good idea. He's called for the Security Council to ban arms sales and freeze assets of some specific individuals and firms. Do you think that, first of all, the UN Security Council would make a move like that, and what do you think of sanctions in terms of their effectiveness?

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, I think, clearly, the UN Security Council is discussing this. I think the role of both the U.K. and the U.S., as you've heard in the rhetoric of the ambassador, in particular, it is divisive, and so I think it is critical that African voices, African nations continue to lead the push to a better day in Zimbabwe.

And I think it is those leaders coming out of Kenya, coming out of Sierra Leone, coming out of Botswana, Tanzania - the list is growing now of African leaders that are trying to put forward proposals for both a political resolution, as well as for a peacekeeping mechanism that would bring stability once again to Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned Kenya, and we saw that country just completely shaken by political violence, election-related political violence, and then a move to a coalition government. Well, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga urged the African Union to suspend Robert Mugabe.

Prime Minister RAILA ODINGA (Kenya): The situation in Zimbabwe calls for nothing less than an intervention by the African Union and the UN also to send a peacekeeping force to Zimbabwe to preside on them to bring normalcy so that free and fair elections can take place in Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: That was yet one more Zimbabwe-related statement. But when you think about issues like Darfur, Somalia, AFRICOM, is all the other business of the day being kind of pushed aside because of what's gone on so recently in Zimbabwe?

Ms. WOODS: Well, clearly, one of the key agenda items for the African Union has been meeting the challenge of conflict on the continent. And so Zimbabwe and those countries that you mentioned are squarely on the table, on the agenda. There are other things on the agenda, as well, and it's true that the more economic focus agenda items have been sort of sidelined, as the focus has been so squarely on Zimbabwe. But I think it is critical to, you know, to keep in mind that the African Union is relatively young.

This is the 11th meeting of the African Union. And I think Zimbabwe is a critical test of some of the policies that are in place, like a peer review mechanism that really, you know, need to be tested. Are they just words or is it possible to hold peers accountable within the African Union? I think there have been some tests already in Darfur, in Mauritania, in a number of countries where the African Union has sided with those calling for justice. And I think they have, really, a responsibility to do the same when it comes to Zimbabwe.

CHIDEYA: All right. We have time for one last quick issue, and that is in London, over the weekend, celebrities and political figures gathered to celebrate former South African President Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday. His actual birthday is July 18th, and sometime between now and then, people here in the U.S. are hoping that they can get Mandela and the ANC off of the U.S. terror watch list.

The African National Congress was at one time and technically still considered a terrorist organization. So the Senate approved a bill to remove Mandela and the ANC from this watch list. It's going ahead to the White House and the president's expected to sign it. Is the symbolism important, even though it comes quite a time after his name has been in a totally different context?

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, it is absolutely a travesty that Mandela, that really all of the leaders of South Africa have to get a special pass to be able to travel to the U.S. because of these travel restrictions. So the Bush administration has quite rightly moved on North Korea to remove North Korea from that list of terrorists. But all these decades, you know, since the end of the apartheid era, we still have South Africa on - especially the African National Congress, including Nelson Mandela, on that list of terrorists.

So I think we need to really applaud the Black Congressional Caucus who, you know, they took up this mantle and they have pushed, just as they did in the anti-apartheid struggle. They have pushed to say, look, we need to really recognize an era here in U.S. policy and move swiftly to change it. So it is their leadership that has brought congressional action. It is also the leadership of the South Africans who have said, enough is enough.

CHIDEYA: Emira, thanks so much. Take care.

Ms. WOODS: It's a pleasure. Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and she was at the Avenue Edit Studios in Chicago.

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CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our web site, To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at That's where you can go to see our Road Trippin' series on gasoline prices.

News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tommorow, our Road Trippin' series continues with a look at possible solutions to the energy crisis. I'm Farai Chideya. This is News and Notes.

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