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Interview With Wangari Maathai; Performance Philanthropy

Aired April 15, 2006 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST (voice-over): Today on INSIDE AFRICA, environmentalist, a Nobel Peace laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai on her country and her cause.

Plus, a world food program that's working for Ethiopian schoolchildren.

And what is performance philanthropy? The leader of this innovative organization explains how it works on the continent.

And that's all on INSIDE AFRICA.


OKE: Hello, I'm Femi Oke. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, our weekly look at news and life on the continent.

Now, we begin with an update on the situation in Chad. The country's 10 million residents are bracing for more violence, as President Idriss Deby battles on two fronts to maintain his hold on power. While government put dozens of captured rebels on display in N'Djamena, after repulsing their attack on the capital, analysts believe they may be regrouping to topple his regime. The rebels are mostly made up of defectors from Deby's own military forces, including former close allies opposed to his determination to extend his 15-year rule in the country's May elections.

President Deby has opened another front with the international community. It's a bid to win political support and free up more than $100 million he could use to arm his troops and help ensure their loyalty. Published reports say Chad is demanding the money from a U.S.-led oil consortium by Tuesday, and if not it is threatening to shut down oil exports for a pipeline that runs through Cameroon.

President Deby has also threatened to close camps housing more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur along his eastern borders.

There could be a considerable turmoil created if he closes the refugee camps, and we will continue to keep you updated on this developing story.

This has been a week of mourning in Kenya. On Monday, a military plane crashed killing 14 people. Two assistant government cabinet ministers and the leader in the opposition party were among the dead. A number of religious leaders were also aboard the plane when it went down in heavy rain and fog.

2004 Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai is one of the most visible members of the Kenyan government, as its assistant minister of environment. She began her Green Belt Movement some 30 years ago, with a tree planting revolution, which has brought her much acclaim. We recently spoke to Dr. Maathai when she -- when she stopped in the U.S. to pick up another accolade; this time an honorary degree from the traditionally African-American Morehouse College. The interview took place before Monday's plane crash. I began by asking Dr. Maathai about her work on the environment and how it changed when she started getting recognition.


DR. WANGARI MAATHAI, NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE: Yes, I think it took time, because in the very beginning it actually did look a bit awkward for a highly educated woman who was already in the university (inaudible) in the university among the academic members of staff, and then shifting to be active in the women movement, and even going farther to work with women in the countryside, planting trees, going on there on -- on one's knee and dirtying one's hands.

This was initially very strange. But gradually, people came to understand that this was very important. I think the ordinary people appreciated that more than the people in the universities, but it was validating to eventually see the people in the university saying yes, it is very important for our educated members of society to go and work with the rural populations, and change, and not just be theoretical talking about what things -- how things should be done, how life should be. Go and actually, practically trying to change it by being involved.

OKE: You mentioned the image of the African woman. You broke (ph) that image out completely, you're so smart, you're so honored, and there's something that you said, which is really interesting. I actually wrote it down, "not everybody is clapping when we're succeeding." So, who are your enemies, who are the people who are jealous of you?

MAATHAI: Sometimes it has deep-seated cultural reasons, because you're breaking the codes, you're breaking the tradition, you're challenging, you're telling women that there is another level to which you can aspire.

OKE: And personally, how do you take that on?

MAATHAI: Well, sometimes you're surprised that people are not clapping, but eventually you learn to accept that, yeah, not everybody will be clapping. So you appreciate those who clap, and you forgive those who are not clapping.

OKE: I have to say there was a lot of applause happening from all around CNN when people heard that you were coming. And a lot of people who'd interviewed you before because, of course, you are the Nobel laureate for 2004 said, you know, Femi, it's going to be tough doing an interview with her. She is so amazing, so brilliant in what she does. It's going to be difficult to ask her about tricky subjects like being part of the Kenyan government.

So I want -- I want to ask you this, because right now the Kenyan government is in the news. Kenyans are not very happy with the level of graft that's being seen coming out of the Kenyan government. As part of that government ...

MAATHAI: It is true that we have been fighting amongst ourselves. And because of that, people have tended to see the negatives rather than the positives.

Let me first to say what we're doing good. One good thing that this government has done was to release 3 percent of all the money that is collected, is being released through members of parliament. All of us are getting more money than we have ever seen, and the public is appreciating that, because that money goes directly to the constituency, and where members of parliament are doing what they should be doing, it is the members of the public who decide how that money is going to be used.

So they prioritize the projects that are going to be covered, that are going to be implemented, and that is a form of governing, a form of equitable distribution of resources, starting with that small 3 percent, which is more money than people have ever seen, which indicates to us that there is so much money locally if we managed it properly, there is nothing we couldn't do. We do not even need that much aid.

Now the bad things. The bad thing, of course, is the fact that it was completely -- it was political, I guess, people would tell me, that's how politics go, but some politics can be very destructive. It is clear that before we formed the government, or before we actually went into the elections, we made the infamous memorandum of understanding, and we agreed how we would share power, and how we would govern in NARC coalition.

Unfortunately, we didn't honor that promise. And I think that was the beginning of the problems that we have seen in NARC. So I feel that what is the challenge right now, is the challenge that faces every government, not only in Kenya, but in Africa, is to go beyond the rhetoric and put in the place what we promised.

It is -- and that can be demonstrated by the budget. When you see the budget, and you see that, for example, we put more money -- much more money in the Ministry of Defense, and allocate peanuts in the Ministry of Environment, you know there is a lot of rhetoric, because what we should really be more concerned about is the protection of the land, is the protection of the resources and proper management of our resources. Because what we're protecting with our guns and our -- our bulldozers is nothing if we're not protecting our environment, if our forests are disappearing, if our top soil is disappearing. We're not doing anything, and the soldiers have nothing to protect.

OKE: Is there enough of Dr. Wangari to go around? I spotted you in the Torino Olympics caring a flag?

MAATHAI: Yes ...

OKE: Such a big celebrity!

MAATHAI: That was really wonderful. That was really lovely, it was so good to be there. And I must say that this is also another indicator of how the consciousness is rising among different sectors and among different peoples of the central role the environment should play. So I was very happy to be there and carry the flag.


OKE: (inaudible) interviewing Dr. Wangari, and she rushed off -- you won't believe this -- to go to the gym. She says I have to keep my figure in shape. She is an incredible woman, it was a real pleasure to talk to her.

Now, moving on -- children in Ethiopia who once had to skip school are returning to the classrooms. Up next, we'll show you what's being done to boost school attendance. And we'll take a look at an organization making a huge impact on humanitarian needs. Do stay with us.


OKE: Good to see you again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. Now, our next two stories look at ways to tackle problems on the continent that get results. In a moment, we check on an innovative organization that puts donor money into grassroots projects in Africa. But right now, we're going to focus on the United Nations program that's been around for decades: The world food program, and its latest success is helping to feed school children in Ethiopia.


OKE (voice-over): One hundred and fifty kilometers south of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa lies Denai (ph) elementary school. Today it is teeming with more than 1,200 students. But it hasn't always been that way.

The school takes part in the World Food Program initiative that started in 1994. The program offers free meals to students. The WFP says enrollment in schools located in six drought-prone Ethiopian states has gone from 25,000 students to more than 600,000 students.

GOSSA BIRTUKAIL, SCHOOL DIRECTOR (through translator): Thanks to the school feeding, they're now showing interest in education.

OKE: For the parents it was a matter of survival. When (inaudible) crops failed, children would have to work. Some schools would have to close down for lack of attendance.

BIRTUKAIL: In time of severe droughts in particular, parents have rather their children go to urban centers and bring money to the household.

TEREFE WONDE, PARENT (through translator): Had it not been for the school feeding, you wouldn't have got a single student in this school this time of year.

OKE: For the students, just getting to school is half the battle. 13-year old Yirgalem has been in school for four years now. For her and others, it takes determination.

YIRGALEM MEGERLA, STUDENT (through translator): It takes me two hours to come to school and another two to return home.

OKE: But Yirgalem is one of the lucky ones. While her school is in the feeding program, many others are not, and suffer alarming rates of dropouts. The World Food Program says it would like to expand the school feeding program, but lacks the resources.


OKE: Well, good luck to all those youngsters. They certainly deserve it. Now, on to an organization that has a new way of finding solutions to problems on the continent. Geneva Global gets money from private donors and foundations, and then finds local programs that are working in the developing world. The group then gives the money directly to the program administrators. I spoke with the CEO of Geneva Global, Eric Thurman, about his recent trip to Burundi and the work of his company.


ERIC THURMAN, GENEVA GLOBAL CEO: We work on behalf of donors who are interested in supporting high-impact programs throughout the world. And the particular project we're going to be talking today about is a project in Burundi, working with Pygmies. And some donors actually from Europe that we helped find that project, and -- and support it.

OKE: There are two things I want you to talk about. One is the philosophy of Geneva Global, because I think it's very relevant in the way that aid is getting to Africa right now.


OKE: And there is a lot of controversy about how the West helps Africa ...

THURMAN: Oh, certainly.

OKE: ... in developing countries. Let's just establish that. The whole philosophy of Geneva Global and actually helping the developing world, in particular Africa?

THURMAN: We use the term "performance philanthropy". The idea simply means that we want to be sure that when money is given, it actually accomplishes something. Too often when charity is given, people don't expect any results. They just expect a thank you letter and think it's all done. But for people who genuinely care about people in other parts of the world, they say show me that something is occurring.

And, in fact, when I made this trip to Burundi we're going to be talking about, I met with the president several times, and one of his big concerns -- the president of Burundi said, "I know a lot of money is coming into the country, but often I can't see the results from it." And that's the role Geneva Global plays, is we help make a connection, so that donors can be sure that lives are changed as a result of the money that they give. And one of the ways we do that is by bypassing the big-name famous charities and going straight to local groups that are delivering real services that have high impact. And that's exactly what happened with this project.

OKE: Let's talk about this project. And you've just come back from Burundi.


OKE: What work were you doing there?

THURMAN: Well, I was visiting a number of projects, and we -- we've supported a whole spectrum of things, a lot of work with HIV/AIDS, especially AIDS orphans. But this particular project caught my attention, because like I think most people, I've heard about Pygmies all of my life, but to my surprise found out that there was this project that had been discovered that had colossal effect.

It's a community of about 1,600 people up in -- Gitega is the name of the area, what Burundians would call "up-country," and there is about 60,000 Pygmies, mostly of one tribe called the Batwa, or the Twa people, and they have been largely ignored.

It's -- it's a very difficult situation, because Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. The United Nations Human Development Index rates it among the bottom 10 nations in the world. But these people, the Batwa people, are the underclass of what is one of the poorest nations. So, they had very hard lives, very short life expectancy.

And here's a group in Burundi called Help Channel Burundi, that had been doing some good work with them, and said that if we had -- it only took $40,000 -- that they'd be able to institute education, health programs, income generation. And by the time I saw the outcome of that project, a year after it'd been running, the -- the difference was colossal.

OKE: Tell me about the difference a year ...


OKE: ... in that year.

THURMAN: Well, one of the things that was -- preconceived notion I went in with was I had always heard that Pygmies were small people, weren't they? I mean, you read about them in the books, or you see specials on television, and that's one of their big claims to fame, that they are such an ancient society and -- and so primitive in their ways.

Well, that wasn't what I saw when I got there. I discovered and talked to the people who were there and found out that the -- the people weren't that much smaller than I was when I stood among them. The adults were a little bit smaller, but the children were the normal height for their age.

Now, why was that? The stunted height was simply because they'd been malnourished. And when they got adequate nutrition, these people grew to what would be considered pretty close to normal size for their neighbors and people from other tribes.

OKE: Eric, I'm so glad you said that, because I'm looking through the video you sent me, looking for very small people, and I found none. And I was very confused. And I looked to my producer, and we looked through the video again, I said there are no Pygmies in this video. What's Eric talking about?

THURMAN: One of the things that also is very encouraging to me, you will see some of the kids dancing in these brown uniforms -- these uniforms indicate that they're in school. This -- this particular community -- there was no record that any of the children had ever been in regular education. And so now, they're in formal school, they're getting trained and the enthusiasm is just colossal.

OKE: And when you go to Africa, what do you get out of it?

THURMAN: What I enjoy universally in Africa is there is an authenticity in the people that it's very easy to begin relating with Africans. I find they're very welcoming, and then the other thing that I appreciate about them is their ingenuity. I think there is a mind-set that happens in the West sometimes that says Africans are poor because they're lazy or haven't taken initiative, and anybody who works around Africans knows the opposite is the case.


OKE: That is Eric Thurman, CEO of Geneva Global. Let me just show you what I did when he told me about the Batwa tribe and the difference in the height. It was amazing. Thank you very much, indeed.

Next on INSIDE AFRICA, the world's largest single stone statue is deteriorating. See what's being done to restore this ancient wonder of the world. And we'll have your comments from our mailbag. See you on the other side.


OKE: Good to see you again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Egypt. The sphinx at the pyramids of Giza is a major tourists attraction, and the enigmatic statue which has been around for thousands of years is feeling the test of time. As Shahira Amin reports, it's getting a much needed makeover.


SHAHIRA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pyramids of Giza, burial places of ancient Egyptian pharaoh kings. At the foot of the second pyramid, south of Chephren, stands the Sphinx, so-called guardian of the Giza Plateau. Half-human, half-lion, it is the world's largest single stone statue.

These monuments are the last of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, but the sphinx's health has been ailing in recent times, laments Egypt's chief of antiquities Zahi Hawass.

ZAHI HAWASS, EGYPT'S CHIEF OF ANTIQUITIES: The sphinx is the oldest sick (ph) monument in the world. The sphinx is dated back 4,500 years ago. Suffered a lot from wind, erosion, (inaudible).

AMIN: And pollution. Facing east, the Sphinx overlooks the sprawling metropolis of Cairo, over 17 million residents, with its high-rise buildings and fast food outlets.

But Hawass tells CNN the past restoration work has done the Sphinx the greatest damage, clear reference to an incident in 1998, when part of the statue's shoulder unexpectedly dropped to the ground.

HAWASS: They did put cement on the whole body of the Sphinx, and you know limestone is like a human being. When you put cement on the limestone, you stop the breathing of the limestone, and therefore we can see always that Sphinx is pushing the stones out.

AMIN: It took Egyptians archaeologists 10 years to undo the damage.

"We used water such as this, consisting of lime and sand as an outer casing to protect the mother rock," says this leading archaeologist.

Now, 10 years later, the Sphinx's neck and chest are again in need of attention, and the restoration workers are using the same model that with time has proved effective in protecting the monuments against erosion. Their work is attracting the attention of the tourists, who flock daily in the thousands to catch a glimpse of the famous Abulhoul, or father of terror, as the Sphinx is called in Arabic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you travel through life and people tell you things about things you're going to visit, and typically they do not match your expectations. But the Sphinx, when you see it and the restoration and what's happening -- it's incredible. It exceeds your expectations, astounding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I just, you know, it makes you feel really good when you know that, you know, people are trying to bring back what was really great in ancient times.

AMIN: Tourism is Egypt's main foreign currency earner. It is the country's lifeline. Monuments such as these are the magnets that attract tourists to Egypt, hence the need to preserve them.

Even though the Sphinx cannot be restored to its original condition of thousands of years ago, the Egyptian archaeologists are hoping they can preserve the monument as it is for future generations, but without altering its features.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sphinx is the icon of our Egyptian identity. It keeps the secrets of our past. We have to keep it safe all the time.

AMIN: For INSIDE AFRICA, Shahira Amin, CNN, Cairo.


OKE: Thank you very much, Shahira. Time now to take a quick look at some of your e-mail.

The recent events in Nigeria top our mailbag this month. Jerry from Spain has a comment about Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's trip to the United States. He says, "It's quite unfortunate that after smooth agreement between President Obasanjo and Charles Taylor, Obasanjo went to the United States and betrayed his friend for compromise of ensuring him for a third term. It's very shameful."

A few weeks ago, Jilo (ph) wrote from the Netherlands and had this comment to add about Charles Taylor: "I'm wondering when international organizations will take Mr. Charles Taylor to trial for the crime he did to Sierra-Leoneans and Liberians. I want to remind the world that we're still suffering."

And Gabrielle from the United States is interested in seeing more coverage about the crisis in Darfur. She writes, "This show lets America and the world see the real Africa, but I do not see very many editions of INSIDE AFRICA where people are responding to this devastating genocide. There should be more coverage of this catastrophe." That's where you have to write to. Look forward to seeing you next time. I'm Femi Oke. Take care.



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