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A Look at Crisis in Darfur; Interview With South African Freedom Fighter Ahmed Kathrada

Aired April 22, 2006 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST (voice-over): This week on INSIDE AFRICA: Darfur, the crisis, a deadline, and possible solutions.

And an interview with South African freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada.

Plus, thinking big in Nigeria as the country tries to boost its tourism dollars.

And an African businesswoman exporting cuisine from the continent onto American tables. That and much more on INSIDE AFRICA.


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

Abuja, Nigeria is a site for talks aimed at ending the conflict in the Darfur region in Sudan. The deadline for a deal, next Sunday. But the situation in Darfur appears to be deteriorating, with the U.N. citing a lack of funds and security to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees. The conflict pits Darfur rebels against an Arab militia group known as the Janjaweed. And the group is believed to be backed by the Sudanese government.

The government has denied any ties to the group.

It's estimated as many as 300,000 people in Darfur have died, some from starvation, others from brutal attacks. We spoke recently with Omer Ismail, who is originally from Darfur and is the co-founder of Darfur Peace and Development.


OMER ISMAIL, DARFUR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT: In the next couple of months the African Union is going to continue taking care of security in Darfur. However, there are lots of conferences, and lots of behind-the- scene talks to transfer that responsibility to the blue helmets of the United Nations.

OKE: Is this something that's going to go peacefully, do you feel, because there has been some toing and froing between the A.U., the U.N. and also the government in Sudan?

ISMAIL: Yes, the A.U. in principle agreed to give this responsibility to the United Nations. However, the government of Sudan is reluctant. The United Nations, of course, seeing the deterioration of the security situation in Darfur and the fleeing of more people that are going to displaced camps and even crossing international borders into other countries, mainly Chad, they decided to take the responsibility of the protection of the people of Darfur from the United -- from the African Union. The only problem is the government of Sudan doesn't want that to happen.

OKE: And why would you think that might be? Is it because the A.U. perhaps won't be quite as challenging as the United Nations?

ISMAIL: The -- the government of Sudan's prospective on this is that they don't want foreign troops in Sudan, and that is a fallacy, because the African Union troops that are in Sudan today are foreign troops anyway.

OKE: This week, we were looking at the 12th anniversary of Rwanda, and everybody said this is a good opportunity to take a look at Darfur, see what's happening in Sudan. Never, never, never again. Is the international community at all likely to do anything more practical to help Sudan and the western part of Sudan in particular?

ISMAIL: The intervention of the international community is important. They're doing a lot on the ground today in terms of helping these people on the humanitarian level. However, the protection of the people of Darfur is the most important thing. The African Union does not have enough troops on the ground to do that, and when even with the existent troops in Darfur today, they have a lot of issues with lack of equipment, lack of logistics, lack of funding. And also, the contingent there is very small; 7,000 troops taking care of real estate the size of France. This -- this is not feasible.

OKE: What is the solution as far as your group is concerned?

ISMAIL: As far as my group is concerned, the solution is in a negotiated settlement. And I will never get tired of saying that, because this war continued, the government of Sudan is not going to wish away the rebels just like that. And the rebels are not going to win this war against the government of Sudan. And we say in Africa, when elephants fight, only the grass will suffer. The people of Darfur has suffered enough.

I call upon the international community to exert as maximum pressure as they can on both the government of Sudan and the rebels to come to terms, and to reach an agreement in Abuja, and they have now a date set by the African Union and the United Nations.


OKE: The Sudanese government could be facing another deadline. The U.S. government said Friday that it will seek a U.N. Security Council vote early next week, aimed at placing sanctions on Sudan over the conflict.

Now, Ahmed Kathrada is an icon in South African history, also known as Kathy. He worked tirelessly to end apartheid and was repeatedly detained for his works. Convicted in 1964 of sabotaging and attempting to overthrow the government, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Kathrada spent 18 years alongside Nelson Mandela at Robben Island. Freed from prison in 1989, he went on to become the head of public relations of the African National Congress. Now, he's written book of his life story, called "Memoirs". We spoke with him recently about why he was motivated at the young age of 12 to try and change his world.


AHMED KATHRADA: When I was not allowed to register at the white school, nor at the black school, and I had to be sent away to Johannesburg, which is over 200 kilometers, to school. So that's when I first experienced racism. Political understanding is a process that comes with time.

OKE: With the impact you had on South Africa's history and the political activism that you had -- why was that important to put that in a memoir for other people to read?

KATHRADA: During the last few years of our imprisonment, when we started getting more and more books, which were not allowed before, it then confirmed our belief that the textbooks that are available to people in South Africa either ignored our history or the history of the struggle, or dismissed it in a paragraph or a footnote. And that is when we realized there is need for someone to write.

Now, these memoirs do not for a moment claim to full the void. At the very most, we expected that it would influence academics to research, to record and to publish. So, mine is really just memoirs, what I remember of my own life.

OKE: What do you find that people find most fascinating about your life? Because I'm reading some -- many of the quotes, which are glowing. I'm sure your ears must be burning many, many times. What is it that people always want to know about your life?

KATHRADA: What is surprising to me after so many years since our release from prison, there is very much interest, still, you know, of prison lives. And that type of a question is posed over and over again.

OKE: You were imprisoned for many years in Robben Island, and now you take people on tours around Robben Island, you're very involved in the museum there. In some way, that was such a tragic part of your life. Why is that important?

KATHRADA: Well, I think that the Robben Island as a prison in our struggle for democracy has got a message for the people of South Africa and for people throughout the world. A message of peaceful transformation to democracy, the -- what preceded it, the struggle that preceded it, and eventually, the negotiated settlement which led -- really led to our releases.

The message that one wants to convey is not to perpetuate our suffering, our hardship -- that is part of history, and we don't want to be constantly talking about that, except where we are asked to. The message of imprisonment, of our struggle as a whole, is the message of triumph, triumph over forces of evil. And we'd like to note that seldom in the world's history, do we find almost literally from prison to parliament to president within a very short space of time.

OKE: This is what Nelson Mandela writes on the back of your book: "It's impossible to tell one's story without the voice of the author being heard somewhere." Explain to our international viewers how closely you two are linked together.

KATHRADA: I first met him, if I can recall, when he was a fellow law student at the University of Johannesburg, together with friends whom I knew. And I met him through them. And, of course, it was not immediately a political relationship. It was social when I met him at these friends' houses, a flat. And then gradually, of course, it developed into a political relationship. He was then in the youth organization, the ANC Youth League, and I was in the Indian Youth Congress and the Young Communists League.

OKE: What is it that you know about Nelson Mandela that perhaps the rest of the world don't know, or are not aware of?

KATHRADA: He is a man of great foresight, of courage. He is a mixture of the peasant and the aristocrat, considering that he comes from royalty. He is modest. At the same time, I have said he is not devoid of a bit of vanity at the same time. He's very caring. So he is -- he is -- he is a mixture of so many qualities. He is not like one's next door neighbors. He's got a unique quality about, which makes him what he is.

OKE: And if you look ahead to the elections of 2007, how do you see the future of South Africa developing? Is this the South Africa that you fought for?

KATHRADA: It is the South Africa that we fought for. We did realize the baggage that we had inherited. It became more and more -- more and more -- we became more and more acquainted with it, as we faced the problem that we had inherited. We knew that we were going to inherit massive problems after 350 years of white rule. But when we got into government, it is then that we realized -- we really realized the enormity of the -- of the problems that we faced.


OKE: And that was Ahmed -- and that was Ahmed Kathrada, a South African freedom fighter.

Moving on, on INSIDE AFRICA, artists have gathered in the United Arab Emirates for a calligraphy competition. Next, see how an ancient art form is being updated with new flare. And a new brand of African frozen food is being sold in the United States supermarkets. There you go. Looks very tasty, doesn't it? Find out more on the other side.


OKE: Hello, it's good to see you again. Now, I have seen my name written in several different scripts: Chinese and (inaudible) are two examples. But I had never seen it in the art form of calligraphy. I know, I should get out more.

Take a look at this -- it was produced by an artist at a calligraphy exhibition and competition in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. I'm told it does say "Femi." Sylvia Smith was there at the competition and filed this report for us.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ruler of Sharjah welcomes calligraphers from many parts of the world to the Gulf.

The work on display is skillfully executed, and the words contain seeds of wisdom, often from the Koran. Judging the work and awarding prizes depends on how precisely the artist has followed exacting requirements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judging calligraphy, it is not a difficult thing for a skilled calligrapher, the calligrapher with experience in -- in lettering, in the sense that there is certain rules and proportions which govern this art.

SMITH: There is no margin for any sort of digression from the rules, and that is what bothers some freethinking calligraphers. Some African artists have created a new version, called calligrams. They use just parts of Arabic letters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This sign is freed from the constraints of meaning, and it's simply a beautiful object that is a reminder of specific culture.

SMITH: And some skillful writers are turning to other sources for inspiration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the past, calligraphy developed through producing religious books, but today the calligrapher -- he listen to music, he reads poetry. He experiences different kind of well of wisdom.

SMITH: Sufi poetry prompted this Sudanese calligrapher to produce work that bears many of the cultural symbols of his country.

Like other leaders in the Arab and African worlds, Sheikh Sultan of Sharjah has his own calligrapher. Trained in Cairo, Khalifa (ph) writes official letters, as well as creating art for his patron. Cairo is one place, he says, where there is particular emphasis on teaching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have their own schools for -- especially schools for the calligraphy, and using the way of preparing the handmade paper, the handmade ink, their own illumination.

SMITH: Although many of the classical calligraphers don't like this digression, for the modern generation, the new style of fusing Arabic letters and painting is exactly the balance between tradition and contemporary art that they're looking for.

For INSIDE AFRICA, I'm Sylvia Smith in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates.


OKE: Thank you very much, Sylvia. Now, she is a dynamo in the kitchen, a move that's translating to quite a business for Kunmi Oluleye.

She first came to the U.S. from Nigeria when she was 14 years old. Sheba Foods claims to be the largest branded African frozen food company in the U.S., and I met with the owner recently to see how it all started.


OKE (voice-over): It's trial by children, as the group of hungry youngsters get (inaudible)...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rye, chicken and (inaudible).

OKE: But today it's also lunch and learn, thanks to Kunmi Oluleye, the owner of Sheba Foods, a line of African frozen food sold in the United States.

KUNMI OLULEYE, SHEBA FOODS: Well, you know, you guys are kind of right, because this is ...

OKE: Kunmi believes in recruiting her future customers while they're still very young.

OLULEYE: If we can get this market, this younger generation, then, of course, African food will be more acceptable, then Africa becomes acceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spicy, but a little greasy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rice was a little greasy.

OKE: Greasy? Whatever you do, don't tell Kunmi that. She started her African food business three years ago, and she's all about health and nutrition.

OLULEYE: So, I think that in order to help America become more fit, you know, cut down the obesity, they need to try some African cuisine.

OKE (on camera): All right, Kunmi, you're so (inaudible). I'm looking at this gorgeous food over here. I'm seeing Jollof rice, which is made in oil. I'm seeing ...

OLULEYE: Olive oil. Olive oil.

OKE: I'm seeing the stew, which is also made in oil. I know this stuff, because I grew up on this food.


OKE: And plantain is fried until it's brown.

OLULEYE: No preservatives. So, no, it's very healthy, and not that much oil (inaudible). Look at them, they love it.

OKE (voice-over): With a sigh of satisfaction for a job well done, Kunmi heads back to the kitchen. Events like the school trip are all part of her business strategy. She also writes books, runs cooking classes, caters, and offers online food shopping.

(on camera): What is it that you don't do in this company?

OLULEYE: Right now, I do everything. I'm the chef, I'm the marketing director, I'm -- I like -- I kind of like it.

OKE (voice-over): It was this high-energy approach that clinched her first supermarket deal in the States. She told the managing director ...

OLULEYE: I know how to cook, I'm very new to packaging, and that's about it. Pricing, I have no clue.

OKE: Three years on, her frozen food is sold all across the Southern U.S., and she even has a secret recipe.

OLULEYE: So that may assistants don't know what my spice combination is, I premix it.

OKE (on camera): Are you serious?

OLULEYE: It's in the safe deposit box.

OKE: Where?

OLULEYE: Well ...

OKE: In London?

OKE (voice-over): In a former career, this entrepreneur was a trainer, and it certainly shows in her approach.

OLULEYE: Frozen food can stay fresh for two years, but I want to give you some samples of the one I made a year ago, just for the fun of it.

OKE (on camera): Why don't I have the one you made today?

OLULEYE: Just for the fun of it!

OKE (voice-over): Kunmi Oluleye named her company Sheba Foods because she feels she's just as wise and beautiful as the legendary queen, although I suspect Kunmi makes better Jollof rice.


OKE: Guess what the INSIDE AFRICA team are having for dinner? Jollof rice. Grease and oil.

Now, Nigeria is working to improve its tourism sector, but will it be enough to compete with other hot spots around the world? We'll have that story next. See you in two minutes.


OKE: Hello again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA.

Now, Nigeria is the largest oil-producing African nation, but now there is a new initiative to boost the economy with new tourist attractions. CNN's Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange reports.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Cross River State on the southeast coast of Nigeria. And this cable car is part of the state's bold new move to go where Nigeria has never gone before -- helping transform the country into a tourist Mecca.

Nigeria is the world's eighth largest producer of crude oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the country's gross national product. One man, though, wants to change the country's reliance on one export: Cross River State Governor Donald Duke. His solution, to make Cross River State into the Switzerland of Africa.

And he's putting his money where his mouth is, with his $5 million ultramodern cable car, the first of its kind in West Africa, which will be able to carry 20 visitors at a time up these picturesque hills for several hundred meters.

Once on top, the plan is to house the tourists in this multimillion dollar resort, complete with cabins, restaurants, and a high-altitude heated swimming pool.

And Duke isn't stopping there. He has other, bigger plans for Cross River State; this time as the Dubai of Africa.

Already, construction has begun on this $300 million project, thanks to a group of investors in conjunction with the government of Nigeria. Once completed, this large expanse of land will be transformed into a combination shopping malls, cinema complexes, restaurants and a 300-bed hotel, all under one very large roof -- another first for West Africa.

To attract potential big-name clients in the mall, the project is expected to provide some very attractive deals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the (inaudible) prospective, you know, it's a free trade zone, so apparently all the items that come through here, it's duty free and tax free.

KOINANGE: Investors, too, are already calling this a success story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're proud (inaudible) we have this type of project in Africa. We hope that definitely this is a good deal, it is a good investment, it is profitable, and definitely we're happy to be there.

KOINANGE: Imagine that: A combination Switzerland and Dubai in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Conceivable? Definitely. Achievable? Well, that won't be known for another 18 months. But the ground has been laid, and in the words of Governor Donald Duke, the sky is literally the limit.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Cross River State in southeastern Nigeria.


OKE: And that concludes our look inside Africa for this week. I'm Femi Oke. Until the next time, take care.



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