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African Leaders Take Controversial Vote on Zimbabwe; Political Reforms Stalled in Egypt

Aired March 31, 2007 - 12:30:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, GUEST HOST: Hello, I'm Isha Sesay. This is INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly look at life and news on the continent. Today, we're going to take a closer look at two major stories in the news this week: An emergency meeting by African leaders in Tanzania on the issue of Zimbabwe, and a controversial vote to change the constitution in Egypt. We're also going to take you to Uganda, where one of the capital's most popular modes of transportation is being put to a halt.
But we begin with a meeting in Tanzania, where southern African leaders this week sent a very clear message to the world about where they stand on Zimbabwe.

The unusual summit was called to discuss recent battles between police and pro-democracy activists, as well as an apparent crackdown on opposition backers. The story made headlines around the world when one opposition supporter was killed, and a prominent opposition leader arrested and allegedly beaten in custody earlier this month. But any speculation that African leaders might condemn President Robert Mugabe's actions was quickly put to rest in what some analysts have now dubbed a non-event. Jeff Koinange has more on the summit.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They came to try to give peace a chance in a city known as the place of peace -- Dar es Salaam. After all, this was the hotel where 30 years ago, some of these same men planned for the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

JAKAYA KIKWETE, TANZANIA PRESIDENT: We succeeded then (inaudible) and I'm confident that we will succeed now.

KOINANGE: But 30 years later, these regional leaders were staring at a 21st century crisis in Zimbabwe. And they were determined to try to put the brakes on a country spiraling out of control.

DAVID NYEKORACH-MATSANGA, POLITICAL ANALYST: Zimbabwe from the out -- outlook, from outside, people might think it is - there is an inferno.

KOINANGE: Actually, it is more like a meltdown. Inflation is the highest in the world, more than 1,700 percent. Eight out of 10 Zimbabweans are out of work, and thousands are fleeing the country on an almost daily basis.

NYEKORACH-MATSANGA: (inaudible) situation doesn't (inaudible) to a conflict. The people in the region don't want a conflict.

KOINANGE: Expectations were higher this summit meeting that Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, would be censured by his colleagues for his seeming disregard for human rights. Some even thought he'd be asked to retire when his present term ends next year.

Despite the doom and gloom, Mr. Mugabe still remains very much in control back home in Zimbabwe, and around the continent, he's still seen by many as Africa's eldest statesman. As it turns out in the end, peace prevailed over political pressure.

Mugabe emerged from the meeting all smiles, regional leaders calling for the immediate lifting of all sanctions against Zimbabwe, pledging to seek a solution to Zimbabwe's current economic vows, and encouraging South African President Thabo Mbeki to continue facilitating dialogue between Zimbabwe's opposition and the government. And Mugabe's counterparts were quick to stand by their man.

THABO MBEKI, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: We absolutely agreed with everything he's going to tell you.

KOINANGE: Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who just a few days ago had referred to Zimbabwe as a sinking Titanic, was on this day tightlipped.

Some experts believe Mugabe may have been quietly asked by his colleagues to retire next year. If that's the case, his body language didn't betray that fact. And now he returns home to a possible hero's welcome as his ruling party holds a conference this weekend to map out the way forward for a nation on the back foot.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


SESAY: Well, for more on this week's meeting and the issue of Zimbabwe, Femi Oke spoke to Chris Maroleng with African Security Analysis Programme in Johannesburg. He's considered a leading expert on Zimbabwe. Here's what he had to say.


FEMI OKE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm thinking, what kind of power do those surrounding nations have on Mugabe? He told the West to go hide (ph). What's he saying to his neighbors around him?

CHRIS MAROLENG, AFRICAN SECRUITY ANALYSIS PROGRAMME: Well, I think that President Mugabe would hold his fellow leaders in the region with some esteem, and this is mainly due to the fact that they share similar sort of legacy from the liberation struggle. But more importantly, I think that he would see them as friends, as opposed to enemies who are engaged in some sort of project towards regime change.

Because I think the position within the southern African development community has been around regime reconstitution, that is trying to find change in Zimbabwe coming from within the ruling ZANU-PF. Hence, I think President Robert Mugabe would be more open to a discussion with his counterparts from the region, as opposed to, say, international leaders.

But the interesting thing is that we've seen more voices criticizing the human rights abuses and the decline in civil liberties in Zimbabwe. For example, the Zambian president recently likened Zimbabwe to a sinking Titanic, or a sinking ship, and hence we're seeing the regional leaders quite adamant that if Zimbabwe goes down, that this should not affect the region in any negative fashion.

OKE: Where does President Mbeki stand?

MAROLENG: Well, I wouldn't say that he's being a good friend to President Mugabe, that is President Mbeki. I'd say that the South African position has been also very consistent. They've always maintained that they will not impose the solution on the Zimbabwean people, and that they would very much like to see the solution to the crisis coming from the various parties. They've also been adamant that a dialogue between the various parties is the only option that will save Zimbabwe and its people from a further decline.

OKE: And your sources in Zimbabwe, what are you - they telling you about Mr. Mugabe's state of mind, what might happen in the next few months?

MAROLENG: Well, I think the fact that we're seeing such a brutal attack on the opposition is a clear indication that the president in Zimbabwe is preparing as he's done in the past, for an election, and he's resorting to the use of political violence to resolve an essentially political problem. And I think that this is being a trend that we've monitored in Zimbabwe. I think he's also increasingly resorting on a very brutal, violent attack on his opposition opponents, and this is something that is undesirable.

OKE: You spend your time studying Zimbabwe. Looking at where we are this week, how do you think things actually progressed?

MAROLENG: Well, I think that the best prospects for change in Zimbabwe would possibly come from some kind of process of regime reconstitution within ZANU-PF, and we really see the various factions that have been identified in ZANU-PF almost moving towards a position where they could be more likely to nudge President Robert Mugabe out. We've seen various voices in ZANU-PF criticizing the economic decline, and we've also seen some of these faction leaders clearly indicating to President Robert Mugabe that his plan to extend his term in office to 2010 is not favored by the majority of this party.


SESAY: Coming up next on INSIDE AFRICA, what's really at stake in Egypt. We look at the aftermath of this week's referendum on a constitutional amendment. But first, here's what some African editorials are saying about the crisis in Zimbabwe.

"It is sad that Mugabe, who started on a bright note, has in the twilight of his life turned into a monster that could go to any length to remain in power."

"Never before have Mugabe's political and personal interests of remaining in power for life been as challenged from his own party and everyone else in and outside Zimbabwe."

"We urge President Mugabe to reflect whether his stay in power has become the problem rather than the solution".



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Namibia is set to become one of the world's leading uranium producers. That's according to Rossing Uranium, a company based in Namibia that operates one of the world's largest uranium mines. They say the country will be producing 10 percent of the world's entire uranium supply in five years.

In what could be a very sweet deal for Uganda and some European consumers, buyers are expressing interest in purchasing 60 tons of the country's amber gold honey. Buyers are agreeing to continue that purchase of the honey for a three-year testing period. The honey would appear on European supermarket shelves after a launch in London this May. And Africa's largest hotel management company has been bought out by an Australian firm. Stella Group has purchased Protea Hotels for $255 million. Stella Group now has hotels in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Africa.


SESAY: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. This week's constitutional referendum in Egypt is prompting a storm of outrage from the opposition and human rights groups. Among them is Amnesty International, which calls it the greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years in Egypt.

The vote paves the way for several changes to be made to the constitution. It bans the creation of political parties based on religion; it gives the president the right to dissolve Parliament without referendum, to suspend civil protections in cases associated with terrorism, and to limit the role of judges in monitoring future elections.

Now, despite what critics see as the seriousness of the vote, the public seems to show little interest on the issue. While the government put voter turnout at about 27 percent, independent monitoring groups said it was less than 5 percent. So, what is happening to politics and democracy in Egypt? Ben Wedeman reports from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a heady time in Cairo two years ago. Egyptians, who for years shunned politics, took to the streets denouncing the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981.

Demanding, after decades of stagnation, repression and corruption, something had to change.

GEORGE ISHAC, KIFAYA MOVEMENT: The door is open, and nobody can close it again. And we will go through this door, and we'll struggle until the end to be democratic country. We'll insist to be there.

WEDEMAN: They thought they had powerful friends, friends who came to Cairo with a revolutionary message.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: When we talk about democracy, though, we're referring to governments that protect certain basic rights for all their citizens. Among these: The right to speak freely, the right to associate, the right to worship as you wish, the freedom to educate your children, boy and girls.

WEDEMAN: Last week, the same messenger was back, but with a significantly toned down message:

RICE: I've made my concerns known as well as my hopes for continued reform here in Egypt. I think what I said is that the process of reform is one that is difficult. It's going to have its ups and downs.

WEDEMAN: And these days, it's mostly downs. A government-sponsored referendum on a constitutional amendment rushed through, boycotted or ignored by around 90 percent of the electorate. Protesters kept in place by black-clad police.

I asked human rights activists, Nigad Barai, if maybe Mubarak was sincere about democracy, but just taking a cautious approach:

(on camera): Maybe is he just going slowly, slowly?

NIGAD BARAI, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Slowly? (laughter). He'll never move toward democracy. He'll never. He talk - talking about democracy day and night, but nobody can see it.

(voice over): People pushed, the government pushed back, and activists discovered no one was backing them up.

BARAI: I think the Americans - Americans mistreated (ph), betrayed the dream of our people for democracy.

WEDEMAN: A feeling shared by many hoping for change.

HISHAM QASIM, NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER: Among all reformers, they feel that the Americans have backed off, that it's no longer a priority, that they've decided to keep Mubarak on or all Mubarak-like regimes in the region. Yes, there is a serious sense of letdown.

WEDEMAN: So, what cooled American ardor for democracy in Egypt? Analysts believe the answer lies in a combination of factors, including stunning gains by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections here in late 2005, the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian territories early last year, and the Bush administration's preoccupation with chaos in Iraq, and its need for Arab friends in the looming confrontation with Iran.

All scant comfort for an Egyptian opposition, now left in the cold.

Gamila Ismail is struggling in a political wilderness. In 2005, her husband Ayman Nour challenged Mubarak in the country's first-ever multi- candidate presidential elections. He now lies in the hospital bed in the prison south of Cairo, serving a five-year sentence on fraud charges human rights groups say are trumped up.

GAMILA ISMAIL, WIFE OF JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, I guess what Ayman experienced, and I guess the trap which he's been in and the frustration that he got, I guess is a very clear message to every young opposition here in Egypt: Do never, ever trust what the U.S. administration says. Never, ever trust that under this regime, anything will happen positively.

WEDEMAN: Following the September 11th attacks, the Bush administration concluded that stagnation and oppression had created a fertile breeding ground for Islamic extremism in the Arab world. But now, with the administration's mind on other things, it's no longer aggressively pushing its Arab allies to change their ways. The result, activists here say, is even more anti-American sentiment, and potentially even more anti- American violence.

I'm Ben Wedeman in Cairo, for INSIDE AFRICA.


SESAY: For more on what's taking place in Egypt, I spoke earlier with Amr Hamzawy, a noted Egyptian political scientist and senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


AMR HAMZAWY, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR PEACE: It's unfortunately a step backwards at three levels. The constitutional amendments are designed to block the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the powerful opposition group in Egypt. They're designed to give the president and the executive branch of government authorities to limit political activities which can be described as based on a religious frame of reference, but they're also designed to lessen the judicial supervision of elections, which secure the degree of transparency in Egyptian parliamentary and presidential elections in the last year. So overall, it's definitely a step backwards.

SESAY: However, there are those that say that these amendments do increase the power of parliament.

HAMZAWY: It's not true. This is - this is a half-reality at best. They do give the parliament more authorities in discussing the budget, in voting on - on the prime minister and his policies, withdrawing confidence from - from the prime minister, but these amendments also give the president for the first time the right to dissolve the parliament without going back to the Egyptian voters in a referendum. So it's quite a mixed picture. They do give parliament a few more authorities, but they put the president in such a powerful place that he can basically control the government.

SESAY: But in a time when it's about people making their voices heard, and the project of democracy in Egypt, was it not the wrong move for the Muslim Brotherhood to boycott the vote?

HAMZAWY: It's - it's - it was a tough choice. It was a tough choice for the Brotherhood and for other opposition activists as well, because in semi-authoritarian or authoritarian regimes, they're always faced with a decision between participating in an election or referendum where you already know the outcome before going to the polling stations, and in a way it will be putting and giving legitimacy to an undemocratic step. And boycotting it and risking your influence and your impact on the larger political scene.

I guess this time, they were not wrong in boycotting the elections, because they were not consulted. The suggestions which they put forward, be it the Muslim Brotherhood or other legal opposition parties, were ignored by the National Democratic Party, the ruling National Democratic Party. So, boycotting the referendum was in a way, an attempt to de- legitimize the step.

The government has been backsliding on democratic reforms since the end of 2005, and effectively so in the last few months by repressing the Brotherhood, transferring many of its leaders, organizational leaders and the economic backbone of the movement to military tribunals, and now cracking down on the pace (ph) of freedom by these constitution amendments.

SESAY: What will it take to bring change, to bring a real open, pluralist democracy to Egypt?

HAMZAWY: It - I - It will take on the one side a change of heart and the change of strategies with regard to the ruling establishment. And Egypt is a place which is easily governed by state authorities, by the president, and by the executive branch of government.

Egypt has been - has been (inaudible) state with a very strong executive authority, so there is no way to democratize this place without getting the ruling establishment to commit, to commit to real significant democratic reforms.

And on the other side, opposition parties and movements, the Brotherhood and legal parties ought to consider how they can cooperate to press on the government to democratize. The government has been so far very successful in dividing them up and giving these (inaudible), while repressing other movements, and this will lead them in general nowhere.


SESAY: There is more to come on INSIDE AFRICA. Just ahead, they're a fast and convenient way to get around. Bicycle taxis are a popular form of transportation in Uganda. So, why is Kampala banning boda-bodas? We'll have the answer after the break.


SESAY: They zip through the streets of Kampala, wiggling their way through pedestrians and traffic. Boda-bodas are the main source of transportation for Ugandans, but that is all about to end. Nick Valencia has more from Uganda.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're the quickest way to get around the city, and the cheapest. They're called boda-bodas, and these motorcycle taxis will take you almost anywhere you need to go.

There is no universal transportation system here in Kampala. A popular way of getting around town are crowded mini-bus taxes. But with the city's three-dimensional traffic, these mini-motorcycles are the easiest way to get around.

This weekend, all that will change. The Kampala City Council has labeled these bikes a burden, demanding they vacate the city center and find somewhere else to operate from. Some drivers don't think that's such a bad idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want the moneys (ph), but these days you (inaudible).

VALENCIA: Khalid (ph) is one of the roughly 10,500 boda-boda drivers in Kampala. Boda-bodas originated in eastern Uganda during the 1960s, mostly in response to the flourishing cross-border business with Kenya. They started out as bicycles, but have since become motorized. By the 1990s, they became a lucrative investment for Uganda's male youth, who were tired of working for the minimum wage of a few dollars a day. In contrast, boda-boda drivers make roughly $150 a month.

Boda-bodas are popular mainly for their compact size, which helps them maneuver through tight spots in traffic, but the drivers' aggressive approach to the road often causes safety concerns - just another reason why their time in the city is coming to an end.

The city may be solving one problem, but as one boda-boda driver suggests, it's creating other issues in the process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We like the boda-bodas because we have so many people in Uganda that doesn't have (inaudible), but (inaudible) boda-boda to get money for (inaudible) families.

VALENCIA: The Ugandan government offers questionable numbers about its unemployment rate, but it's believed that roughly 35 percent of Ugandans are impoverished. By banning boda-bodas, that percentage is bound to go up.

In Rwanda, boda-bodas were recently banned from the cities. Now, many people are walking for hours to get to their jobs. As Kampala prepares to be without its motorcycle taxis, the hope is that the working class here won't be left behind.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Kampala, Uganda.


SESAY: Thank you for watching. That's it for this week's program. But there is much more to come next week. So please, let INSIDE AFRICA be your window to the continent. Take care. Bye for now.



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