Africa Update: Nigeria Rejects AFRICOM This week: Nigeria says no to the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), the International Monetary Fund is set to cancel much of Liberia's debt, and Ian Smith, the last white leader of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) dies at 88.

Africa Update: Nigeria Rejects AFRICOM

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

It's time now for our Africa Update. Nigeria says no to the U.S. Military Africa Command and the last white leader of colonial Rhodesia, now the nation of Zimbabwe, dies.

Plus, the International Monetary Fund plans to cancel millions in Liberian debt.

For some perspective, we've got Emira Woods. She's co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Hi, Emira.

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

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Well, let's talk about Nigeria and AFRICOM. Last week, Nigeria restated objections to Africa hosting the U.S.-African military commander AFRICOM. Countries including Libya and South Africa are also raising these questions. The U.S. military involvement in Africa had been split between European command, central command, and pacific command; now it's going to be under a single command unit. Why would the U.S. want to set up an Africa command in Nigeria specifically?

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, when you think of Nigeria, you should - when you think of much of Africa, you should think resources, right? And Nigeria, in particular, is wealthy in terms of its oil resources, so when you think about this Bush administration and its foreign policy, oftentimes, the addiction to oil ends up dictating foreign policy, whether it's in Iraq or in the Middle East or certainly in Africa. So the Bush administration is looking to get 25 percent of U.S. oil from Africa, much of which will flow out of West Africa. Those waters neighboring Nigeria, the Gulf of Guinea are attractive. It's strategically attractive because of the oil reserves that are flowing below the land and under the water.

CHIDEYA: I'm assuming, but perhaps I'm wrong, that Nigeria gets final say over whether or not to host this. Who does get final say?

Ms. WOODS: Well, clearly, the Department of Defense thinks that they should have the say. But what you're hearing throughout the African continent - from South Africa to the entire 14 nations, Southern African Development Community -are voices of the dissent saying, no, not in our backyard. We don't want increased U.S. Military footprint on African soil, we don't want the Department of Defense expanding to do more development, to build bridges or to do more diplomacy, to take on the role of ambassadors. No, we are rejecting this call for an expanded U.S. presence on African soil. So Nigeria is actually restating a position that it's taken for really quite some time now.

CHIDEYA: But didn't Liberia offer to host AFRICOM?

Ms. WOODS: Well, that's the tricky thing, Farai, because you're right. It is the only country on the continent to date that has so vocally called forth and supported the Africa command's creation and called for it to be based there. Clearly, the government is looking at some short-term needs with 85 percent unemployment and a need for rebuilding roads. But the voices are rising in the continent steadily in opposition to the Africa command.

So it will be interesting to see what happens. Will there be an African Union continental stance on this issue or, you know, and in which case it may end up isolating Liberia? Will the voices of dissent continue to grow as they are happening now within Southern Africa, within the West Africa Gulf of Guinea region?

CHIDEYA: Now, let's move on to Zimbabwe. Last week, Ian Smith, the former prime minister of Rhodesia died in South Africa. Rhodesia was the colonial name and the colonial nation that preceded Zimbabwe. Smith was 88 years, and for 15 years, he led Rhodesia under minority white rule. He once famously said this.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. IAN SMITH (Prime Minister, Rhodesia): I don't believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia, not in a thousand years.

CHIDEYA: And that position led Smith and Rhodesia to civil war. Under pressure from the civil war in 1980, he ordered Democratic elections, and Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party won power. It was renamed Zimbabwe under black majority rule.

Tell me a little bit more about Ian Smith and his rise to power in Rhodesia.

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, Ian Smith comes out of a long tradition of racist forces in Southern Africa that actually claimed the land. In the case of Rhodesia, they ruled the land since 1923 up through 1979, so it was entrenching white minority rule at the expense of the majority. And you have this double whammy, so to speak, both on the Rhodesia end, which is now Zimbabwe, and across the border, the apartheid regime of the South Africans. And you had a pact keeping white minority rule in place for long pass of time that it should have been.

CHIDEYA: Was there a parallel between the way that apartheid was executed in South Africa and the way that land was partitioned and people were partitioned according to race in Rhodesia?

Ms. WOODS: Clearly, the parallel is the whites control all the money and the blacks who are the majority get nothing essentially; this was the understanding within the apartheid regime. It was an understanding that the whites were somehow better; it was a class above the rest. And they were entitled to controlling the land, controlling the resources, the wealth of Southern Africa - from the diamonds to the gold and all of the richness of the land - they felt they should control it.

CHIDEYA: Now, we actually have something from David Coltar. He's a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer who served in Ian Smith's police force in the 1970s. Here's what he had to say about Smith.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. DAVID COLTART (Human Rights Lawyer): The draconian legislation passed under his tenure as prime minister in the 1960s and 1970s and the unilateral declaration of independence announced by him in November 1965 were the root cause of the civil war that erupted in then-Rhodesia in the 1970s. I think history will show that his policies contributed to the disastrous state that Zimbabwe is in today.

CHIDEYA: So this former member of the police force is basically saying that this colonial era was what undermined or set the foundation for undermining Zimbabwe today. As you know, the nation is in dire, dire trouble. Some other people, though, say, you know, what - and these are blacks Zimbabweans - things were better when this was a white-ruled country. How do you reconcile those two different sides or two different cuts on the state of play in Zimbabwe?

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, you hit the nail on the head when you opened this segment because you talked about the issue of land, and that is what's central here. All, even the critics of the current government, everyone who is paying attention to Zimbabwe understands that the key issue is the land reform - land redistribution, which actually never has happened.

Now, we can look back at Ian Smith and we understand that he negotiated what's called that Lancaster House Agreement. They met up in the U.K. and negotiated an end to white rule, but with that end came control, still, over the land by the whites. And it is that problem - without redistribution of the land, you cannot really tackle issues of economic reform in Zimbabwe nor in many other countries throughout the world.

CHIDEYA: Let's move on to a nation that you're very familiar with, Liberia. Two weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund or IMF agreed to cancel a substantial amount of Liberia's debt. How much are we talking about here?

Ms. WOODS: Well, this is, again, it's not the amount that's critical because it's actually just a portion of what Liberia owes. So it's about $600 million out a $4 billion debt that Liberia owes. But it's critical, Farai, because it is coming out of pressure being put by campaigners in Liberia joined with international campaigners - the jubilee movement and others around the world -creating a space now for two years to push for debt reform, for debt cancellation for Liberia.

This is a critical first step where the IMF finally, after two years, recognize the need to take action. If this step hadn't happened, Liberia would continue to be excluded from whether it's African Development Bank financing or many other debt cancellation programs. This was a critical first step, and it only happened because of human rights economic justice campaigners around the world two years ago saying, this should be something easy. When Charles Taylor is leaving, the debt of the dictator should be cancelled, and it is the steps of those campaigners that led to the IMF decision two weeks ago.

CHIDEYA: Many activists, including celebrity activists, like the musician Bono, are calling for debt cancellation as a - as something that should go across the continent. Are there any prospects that it will spread - more nations will have debt cancellation?

Ms. WOODS: It is critical for countries to get rid of the stranglehold of debt. It is almost as if it's the shackle that's still holding back Africa. After slavery, after colonialism, those shackles remain and they need to be lifted. Clearly, there are countries where the debt is so odious, the debt of dictators, like in Liberia and in many over instances that you can think of -Somalia as well, where the debt was accrued by dictators over generations. It was accrued as the bank gave money for irresponsible governments to essentially build a machinery of oppression against their people. It is that debt that needs to be cancelled immediately.

It really should have been cancelled a long time ago. And it is public pressure that is needed both here and the U.S. and around the world to really hold feet to the fire, Farai, to make sure that all the many, many pledges that are made towards that cancellation are actually followed by real concrete action. In the case of Liberia, it took two years for the pledges to turn into action. And for many other countries, two years is much too long the wait.

CHIDEYA: Well, Emira, thanks so much.

Ms. WOODS: Thank you.

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

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