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INSIDE AFRICA for April 12th, 2008

Aired April 12, 2008 - 12:30:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, HOST: Hello, I'm Isha Sesay. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly window to the continent. On the show this week, this is my Africa.

ZINA SARO-WIWA, DIRECTOR, "THIS IS MY AFRICA": I want everyone to be part of this debate. I want everyone to be part of this fresh dialogue about Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plantain, fried plantains.



SESAY: Filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa tries to change the way the world sees Africa. She tells us about her new film, playing at the 15th annual New York African Film Festival.

Also in attendance, actor Danny Glover and acclaimed director Charles Burnett. They tell us about their film "Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation."

We'll get to the festival shortly, but first, we continue to closely follow developments in Zimbabwe's political crisis. The country's high court now says it will rule Monday on a petition by the main opposition party demanding the release of results from last month's presidential election.

The Movement for Democratic Change says its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won, and that it will not participate in any runoff. The MDC says incumbent President Robert Mugabe is just trying to buy time.

Well, the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe is raising concern among other African leaders in the region. The Southern African Development Community called for an extraordinary one-day meeting on Saturday to discuss the contentious vote.

CNN correspondent Paula Newton has just returned to South Africa from Zimbabwe. Despite restrictions against most Western journalists entering the country, she managed to travel into rural areas to gauge the mood.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through the tightly controlled streets of the capital, Harare, past its tidy and gated suburbs, through check point after check point, dodging police, we venture into the Zimbabwean countryside and join a journey, an all-consuming hunt for food and work.

"We hitch a ride, closed in like dogs on trucks, moving from province to province," she says. "And when we find work, we earn barely enough for a sack of grain a month," she says.

(on camera): One, two, three, four, five, so 50 million.

(voice-over): One U.S. dollar is now worth 40 million Zimbabwean dollars. But here on the land, they rate the country's hyperinflation not by some ridiculous number, but by hunger.

We can't say how we managed to talk to these people, but their stories lay bare Mugabe's rural (ph) ruin.

(on camera): I can't believe we're passing mile after mile of land that really should be cultivated and isn't.

(voice-over): Except the ZANU-PF farm, Mugabe's own party cultivates lush citrus groves and much more for its own use.

But on many ordinary black-own farms, the government isn't tilling the fields for farmers like it used to. There is barely anything growing here. Rich soil goes to waste. And where it's not, especially on the few hundred white-owned farms still left, they are dreading what comes next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very quiet, yes.

NEWTON (on camera): So we've just come back from speaking to a white farmer. This is his property, of course. He wasn't going to say anything on camera. He is incredibly nervous. What he did say is that the situation to try and farm here, of course, gets worse and worse really by the week.

So now we're entering the town center of Bindura, said it's an agricultural hub.

(voice-over): This used to be a Mugabe stronghold. The opposition says, not anymore. It claims this district turned its back on the regime. In town, we spot ZANU-PF members, Mugabe loyalists making their presence felt. But with many we spoke with, we found more and more defiance is replacing fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the people of Zimbabwe, it's so stupid.

NEWTON: He's referring to Mugabe and his party. He wants the "old man" to retire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Zimbabwe stop fighting (ph). No food, no petrol, you see?

NEWTON: This vegetable vendor tells us the election could have changed things, but now most likely won't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult in Zimbabwe, we are a peace-loving people, but those on top are doing what they want.

NEWTON: On this rare journey through Zimbabwe's rural heartland, we found hope has long since lost out to hunger, democracy failed utterly to transform despair.

Paula Newton, CNN, inside Zimbabwe.


SESAY: Let's take at look at some of the other headlines making news this week. Rival leaders in Kenya appeal for calm as instability returned to Nairobi. Young people set fires in the Kibera slums after the opposition party suspended talks on forming a cabinet with the ruling party. Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki signed a power-sharing agreement in February to end two months of violent unrest.

In Egypt, local elections ended with predictable results. Only a handful of voters turned out to cast ballots for about 52,000 municipal council seats. In about 70 percent of those races, only one candidate, a member of President Hosni Mubarak's party, stood for election. The main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, called for a boycott and protested the results.

And they wear sandals instead of running shoes, opt for shields over shorts. These certainly aren't your typical marathoners. A group of Maasai warriors from Tanzania made the rounds of London ahead of the city's world famous marathon. They entered the race to raise money for a water well in their village.

A London filmmaker is trying to change perceptions about Africa when INSIDE AFRICA returns. We'll get a 50-minute crash course in African culture.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. Nigerian-born filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa is on a mission. She's out to change the way the world sees Africa. And she's using her latest film to do it. The film is called "This Is My Africa," and it explores the perceptions of 20 people, black and white, who love the continent. Saro-Wiwa calls it a 50-minute crash course in African culture.

I had a chance to ask her about it.





JON SNOW, CHANNEL 4 ANCHOR: Hey, Mr. Bozilla (ph).





CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, ACTOR: The favorite team has lost. You know, nothing has gone right and you throw your hands up and exclaim, "the sea has drowned the fish!"

SARO-WIWA: What it's really about is getting sort of 20 different people, about 20 different people together to give me their memories and their perceptions about Africa, because the Africa I saw on the media wasn't the Africa that I heard from different people talking about it.

I thought it would be quite powerful to put all of these interviews together and all of these perspectives together from all of these dynamic and sort of fascinating people.

SESAY: So tell us about some of the people in the film.

SARO-WIWA: I wanted to get sort of -- a lot of my friends are in it, for example, my twin sister is in it. But it is also -- I've got people like Colin Firth, is in it. He was born in Nigeria. And I'd heard him talk about Fela Kuti, and I wanted -- I desperately wanted to show that, depict that. So I tracked him down and got an interview with him and did it that way.

I've got Jon Snow, who is a broadcaster, rather like -- I suppose he is like a Dan Rather, I suppose, to an American audience. And he is a Channel 4 newscaster in Britain. So I got him as well.

And I've also got Chiwetel Ejiofor, the actor, who is fantastic and had some wonderful reminiscences.

SESAY: So a whole host of people.

SARO-WIWA: Yes, yes. It's a wonderful range of people. But what is also quite nice is that I've got a lot of young, dynamic, educated Africans together in one place. And you don't often see that. It seems quite normal to me. I see it in my everyday life. You know, you don't sort of see that depicted on the screen. So I've sort of put that together and it's quite, kind of, empowering to watch.

I ask them different -- just very simple, basic questions about their Africa. So -- and this is the easiest way of doing it by far. So I ask them what smell Africa -- I asked, if Africa were a smell, what would that smell be?

SNOW: If one smell defines Africa for me, it's Africa after rainfall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Smell for me would be wet vegetation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smell of sweat.

SARO-WIWA: What is their favorite food? What is their favorite book, artist, writer, musician, all of those sorts of things. And at the end of it, it's a sort of crash course in African culture in some senses. But it's the African culture that is in those people's hearts and minds.

I mean, you ask them things about books and literature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A book that kind of struck a chord to me when I was growing up was a book called "Negro Eden (ph)."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a book by a Ghanaian writer called Ayi Kwei Armah, the book is called "The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born."

SNOW: I do think actually Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom" is a wonderful book.

COLIN FIRTH, ACTOR: "Lemona's Tale" by Ken Saro-Wiwa is a huge favorite of mine.

SARO-WIWA: They have all got wonderful things to say about it.

SESAY: Did you uncover things you hadn't quite figured out about your Africa, as it were?

SARO-WIWA: I learned an enormous amount doing this film. And it was -- it has changed me, actually. I mean, I'm Nigerian-born, but sort of brought up since age 1 in Britain, and grown up there, as you can hear from my accent. But I've always been engaged with Nigeria and, you know, have been back several times.

But no, I sort of re-discovered -- I discovered lots of different films I had never seen before. I started reading books I hadn't read before. And I started cooking African food. That's the biggest thing that has happened to me.

I started cooking and learning how to do it for myself. It sort of really gave me that bug (ph). So yes, it has turned me on to a completely different journey. And it has been amazing. And I think that it has that effect on people that watch it.

SESAY: What do you want people to take away from it? When they come to watching this film, what is it you want them to feel?

SARO-WIWA: I want them to want to go out and buy CDs and buy certain books and want to try out this meal and engage with Africa in a completely different way. I think it's about the idea of Africa enhancing your life, not just ways we can help the continent, because I think that's often the way around it is, that we have to -- you know, Africa needs everyone else's help. I also think Africa has a lot to give.


SESAY: Saro-Wiwa has other irons in the fire. She is about to launch an online magazine about African culture called "Here be Lions." We'll keep an eye out for that.

Well, actor Danny Glover says film has the power to heal. After a short break, we'll hear from Glover and his director about their film "Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation."



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Making business news in Africa this week: India, looking to increase its economic presence on the continent, pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to boost African development. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted 14 African leaders, the first ever India-Africa summit in New Delhi. Mr. Singh also says he will allow duty-free imports from developing countries, mostly in Africa, to foster increased trade.

And updates on global humanitarian worker just a mouse click away, Internet giant Google is teaming with the U.N. Refugee Agency to offer an up close look at some of the world's worst humanitarian crises and efforts under way to help the victims. Google and U.N. say a new online mapping program will help Internet users understand the terrible hardships facing refugees and displaced people around the world.


SESAY: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. American actor Danny Glover is no stranger to Africa, he has made six films on the continent. The latest is called "Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation." And it is showing at the New York African Film Festival. Glover plays Father Elias (ph), a holy man who takes a political stand.

I asked Glover and director Charles Burnett why they made the movie and what they hope will come of it.


DANNY GLOVER, ACTOR: Twelve dead and over 50 wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The price these people paid is the first installment on our independence.

GLOVER: When you have any struggle for independence, any struggle for justice, there are elements that I think are important, that we discuss values that certainly what we consider to be important.

So the ethics around the struggle itself, the liberation theology which comes out of people fighting for justice, people fighting for a just society, I think all of those are elements that we bring to it, the church has played a fundamental role in setting standard around ethics, moral -- morality, and around justice.

SESAY: Danny, how did you prepare for the role of Father Elias? How much did you know about this story? Because you know, it's quite clear from Charles, he knew something of the part.

GLOVER: I knew quite a bit. I was involved in the Africa Liberation Support Committee in the early '70s, and the focus on Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Zimbabwe. In fact, I have been Namibia twice before, so I knew quite a bit about Namibia, the history. I had certain friends who had been in exile and were a part of the liberation movement and who were now in governance.

SESAY: Charles, it has been said that characters in your films are morally and emotionally complex. What is it you were hoping to arouse in the audience with the main character, Samuel Nujoma?

CHARLES BURNETT, DIRECTOR, "NAMIBIA: THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERATION": Well, you want to show these people as human beings.

CARL LUMBLY, ACTOR: I am not going to cry (INAUDIBLE).

BURNETT: Ordinary people who find themselves in situations where they want their freedom. And they wanted to do everything possible to achieve that.

SESAY: How important is it for the story of Africa to be told by people of color?

BURNETT: Well, I think it is important because you get their point of view. I mean, it wasn't like a Charles Burnett film or a Hollywood film, but it was a Namibian film. I tried very hard to listen to the Namibians and tell their stories.

There was a very interesting thing that happened on the set where we had people who were on the South African side of the war, and we had people on the Namibian side, the PLAN fighters and so forth. They all worked on our film together.

And we talk at certain points and they would have this conversation about the war that they were in and sometimes they were on opposite sides shooting each other. But there was sort of a reconciliation that was taking place on the set itself, which was quite interesting, because people were talking about it with not a lot of emotion. And I thought that was really, really interesting and strange in many ways.

GLOVER: Well, see, that's an important part and something very important that Charles just noted, to understand that there is a possibility of healing when people tell their own stories, when they begin to define their own images and define what's important to them in their storytelling, that gives a -- there is a collective healing process that is happening there as well.

And we can't discount that.



SESAY: An interesting note about the film, money was no object. The Namibian government picked up the tab.

Well, Liberia has undergone some major changes in the last two years under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. When we come back, we'll meet a filmmaker who had a front row seat to the first year of Johnson-Sirleaf's administration. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has already made history just by becoming Africa's first freely elected female head of state. The Harvard-educated economist and grandmother of eight took the helm in 2006 after a bloody civil war that left her country in shambles.

She enlisted other powerful women in her government to help her set a new course for Liberia. A new documentary that chronicles the first year of her administration is featured at this year's New York African Film Festival.

Co-director of "Iron Ladies of Liberia," Siatta Scott Johnson, took us behind the scenes.


ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: I'm not a perfect person, so when I have to make a political compromise, I struggle with my conscience.

SIATTA SCOTT JOHNSON, CO-DIRECTOR, "IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA": Behind the scenes she's a kind of calm, but that's a modern (ph) woman. Out there -- when she comes out, her presidency rule (ph), then she's like the "Iron Lady."

SESAY: And was it hard to get her to open up to you with all of those cameras around? Was it hard to get her to just be herself?

JOHNSON: It wasn't very hard because we told her the intent of this film, she gave us the first two weeks access, we had like two weeks' access to her. And we filmed the first two weeks. And we went back, we gave her more access and she gave us more access.

SESAY: So the film follows Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the president, and other prominent that hold positions of power in her administration. How are these women viewed by ordinary Liberians?

JOHNSON: Almost every Liberian gave particular respect to women now, now that women are in the position of turning Liberia around. We are in the position of putting Liberia in a democratic place. So these women are viewed as role models, as models, as powerful women, as women that make good decisions.

SESAY: How does the gender play into the decisions they are making? I mean, what is the difference, in your view, as you look at Liberia that has had leaders like Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe? I mean, how does it differ having these women in positions of power? What is the effect?

JOHNSON: Oh, it differs greatly. Having these women in power is a great difference, because the decision-making process is totally different. The rule of law is totally different. Charles Taylor, Samuel Doe were kind of (ph) dictators, and these women are not dictators. I see them as real democratic women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the president talked to the Firestone workers, they, in response, were not happy. The citizens of Liberia are not used to hearing the truth from politicians and government people in power.

JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: Nobody was willing to go and tell them the truth, because expect to hear -- comes another president who is going to tell us, make a promise and we'll go back cheering, you know, exhalting (ph). And nothing was going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are experiencing a new kind of democracy. It will be hard to experience, but as time goes by, we will get adjusted to it.

JOHNSON: She has the respect but she is not feared, are you getting me? Yes, she is respected but she is not feared.

SESAY: And finally, what do you want people to come away with when they watch this film?

JOHNSON: Just the fact that, after 40 years of civil war, despotic brutality like the (INAUDIBLE) went through, Liberia will still rise again.

JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: Are we ready? Ready or not, we've got to get on the path.


SESAY: "Iron Ladies of Liberia" was recently featured on the U.S. television network PBS as part of its Independent Lens series. To learn more about the film and the filmmakers, visit

And now we must leave this week's show, I'll see you back here next week with a brand edition of INSIDE AFRICA.