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SUZANNE CHISLETT: Diplomats who followed the private discussions of the European leaders described the atmosphere among them as “tense and frosty,” with Britain and France trading jibes through the media.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the European Union’s split over Iraq.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And the US looks outside of the Middle East for oil.
JERRY KEPES: The issue is that US oil production continues to decline. And our consumption increases for crude oil, particularly because of gasoline demand. So the pie, what we need, is getting bigger and bigger all the time.
MCHUGH: Plus, the aftermath of India’s religious riots.
AARON GLANTZ: Rioting mobs spread across the countryside. Within a few days, over 4,000 people had flocked to Godhra, many burnt out of their homes and all terrified to return.
PORTER: These stories—coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The question of how to deal with the Iraq crisis split Europe right down the middle. While Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair rallied to President Bush’s call for the urgent disarming of Saddam Hussein, France and Germany were equally vocal in their wish for weapons inspectors to be given more time.
PORTER: On the eve of the induction of 10 new member states to the European Union and discussions on a common foreign and defense policy, where does the European Union go from here? Suzanne Chislett has been looking at the divisions caused by the Iraq issue and what they mean for a future united Europe.
[The sound of dignitaries arriving at a diplomatic summit.]
SUZANNE CHISLETT: When the leaders of the 15 European Union member states assembled in Brussels on February 17th for a special summit about Iraq, the divisions were already clear. Britain, Spain, and Italy had all thrown their support behind the United States’ proposals to deal with Saddam Hussein, while France and Germany could not have voiced their opposition more clearly. In the days before the meeting, millions of people in cities across the Union had protested against the prospect of military intervention
[The sound of a large street protest.]
CHISLETT: Commentators believed the anti-war groups were in the ascendant. Nevertheless, British Prime Minister Tony Blair went to Brussels calling for tough resolutions in support of the call for Iraq to be disarmed.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: I think and believe that most people understand that if that cannot be done peacefully it has to be done by force. And I think the most important thing at the moment is to send a signal of strength, not weakness.
CHISLETT: Diplomats who followed the private discussions of the European leaders described the atmosphere among them as “tense and frosty,” with Britain and France trading jibes through the media. It prompted the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, to step in to the fray.
PAT COX: Following some weeks now of the propensity to express themselves outside the normal procedures of the presidency, that they might choose to cool it, a little bit with each other, and to use the mechanism of the presidency, and to meetings such as today to find a way to express their views.
CHISLETT: The summit ended with both sides claiming a victory. Of the 15 member EU states, Britain, Germany and France, have always been the central players. They are the major economies, despite recent slumps, and have the biggest populations. The battle lines were drawn as the three nations campaigned to get others to join their sides. Spain and Italy joined the British stance, along with Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands and Ireland. The 10 nations who will join the European Union in 2004, most from the former Soviet Bloc, also widely backed Britain. But Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Greece, and Finland were firmly in the ‘be more patient’ camp of France and Germany. Only the smallest EU state, Luxembourg, was undecided. European Union Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, was unsure which way to turn for an official EU line on Iraq.
EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF JAVIER SOLANA: We have to exhaust all the elements of diplomacy.
CHISLETT: While the disputes raged, officials within the European Union and analysts monitoring the developments were considering the long-term implications. For the past year EU officials have been meeting to draft a Convention on the Future of Europe, setting out how the union can become more closely integrated. Among the policies being discussed are a common standpoint on foreign and defense issues, and clearly that’s unlikely while the member states are so publicly divided on the issue of Iraq. The proposals were due to be put to Europe’s leaders this June when they meet in Greece, but in March, the man chairing the discussions, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, announced that because of the disarray over Iraq, the work may not be completed until September. Julie Smith, head of the European Program at the London think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
JULIE SMITH: It’s important to get constitutional reform and to have that reform done before the next enlargement of the EU, scheduled for May of 2004. But at the same time, a slip of three months isn’t a disaster. But it will be a blow for the Italians who were rather hoping that a new treaty might have been agreed by the end of this year. And that clearly won’t happen now.
CHISLETT: European political analysts believe the problems over Iraq stem less from concerns about how to deal with Saddam Hussein and more from fears about what some see as America’s unilateralist approach. The European Union may bring together around 300 million people and have knocked down trading barriers, but for some countries there has always been the knowledge that even together they are unlikely to ever be able to take on the United States on the global stage. President Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and the International Criminal Court incited many in Europe. But as the only remaining super power, the US has the ability and the confidence to go it alone—and the members know that. The European Union, by the very nature of its invention and the need for agreement, is unlikely to be able to compete. Julie Smith from the Royal Institute of International Affairs again.
SMITH: In terms of international trade, the European Commission has the right to negotiate on behalf of the EU 15 or the EU 25 once Europe is enlarged. So, from that point of view, Europe speaks with one voice and is able to compete effectively with the United States. The difference with European foreign policy is that the member states all have to agree with what’s being said. So although we have a Secretary General in the form of Javier Solana, who can speak for Europe, essentially he’s constrained precisely because anything he says really has to be in line with what the member states think. So for foreign policy you really do need some sort of consensus.
CHISLETT: In the mean time, France, Germany, and Belgium are already holding meetings to discuss bringing their defense policies closer together, Whether that will act as a focal point for the rest of the European Union or whether the move will only prove to further divide Europe cannot yet be determined. The one thing the EU is currently agreed on regarding Iraq, is the need for the United Nations to play a role in the post-war reconstruction of the country. But even then, France and Germany are questioning why they should have to pay for cleaning up a war that they didn’t want in the first place. The 10 nations waiting to become fully paid-up members of the European club, may be wondering just what they have let themselves in for. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.
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MCHUGH: As the Persian Gulf region becomes more volatile; concerns are growing about the security of America’s oil supply. Even before the Iraq crisis, US officials were getting more and more uncomfortable with America’s reliance on Middle East oil. The Bush administration wants to explore new domestic sources of oil, but officials and observers have also been taking a new look at smaller oil producing regions. One such region is West Africa. Discoveries of new reserves there have led to projections of huge increases in output in the near future. Judith Smelser looks at the promise and challenges of West African oil.
JUDITH SMELSER: Oil production in Africa is nothing new. Some countries, like Angola, have been in the oil game for as long as 40 years. But recent estimates suggest that the next five years could see a significant spike in Africa’s oil output and a doubling of US oil imports from the continent. In some cases, this trend can be attributed to political circumstances, like the end of Angola’s brutal civil war. But industry analysts say the main reason for the oil boom is technical.
JERRY KEPES: As the industry’s improved its technology, it’s been able to go into deeper and deeper waters. So, although in the past we’ve expected or suspected that there was oil reserves—substantial oil reserves in deeper water, it’s really only in the past 10 years that we’ve been able to go out and look for that and recover it commercially.
SMELSER: Jerry Kepes is with the consulting firm PFC Energy. He says most of the projected increase in African production will come from deep-water reserves. And he says that while extracting oil from those reserves is still a major technical challenge for oil companies, it’s a challenge they won’t shy away from.
KEPES: Most oil companies—these are really technical organizations and they would much rather have a technical challenge than a political challenge. Right? Because physical, political instability, people getting hurt, people getting killed—obviously, preferentially, no leader of a publicly traded oil company wants to have its employees killed.
SMELSER: And if those employees are on an offshore oil rig, they, and indeed the entire physical operation, are insulated from the dangers that political instability can cause. New oil fields are being developed on land as well. Perhaps the most publicized has been the Doba oil field in the nation of Chad. It’s gotten so much attention because of the World Bank’s participation alongside oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Malaysia’s Petronas to develop the field and build a pipeline through neighboring Cameroon to take the oil to a port.
[The sound of street protests against the World Bank.]
SMELSER: This is the kind of project that’s prompted massive protests against the World Bank like this one last fall. And Jerry Kepes with PFC Energy says concerns about the project are justified.
KEPES: You’re gonna be putting more money through this country than it’s ever seen before. And you don’t have any kind of institutional development, truly in Chad and somewhat in Cameroon. And you throw a lot of money into a place that’s already politically unstable, what do you think’s gonna happen?
SMELSER: Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries and was wracked by civil war for more than three decades. Opponents of the project fear a repeat of what’s happened in some other African countries, where oil wealth has been used to enrich the government, but not the people. Nigeria is a case in point, says Stephen Morrison, head of the Africa program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
STEPHEN MORRISON: Nigeria has earned over 300 billion dollars from oil since oil began flowing there. Its national per capita income is, is a fraction of what it was at independence in the 1960s. The vast majority of those resources have, have disappeared. They’ve been squandered, they’ve been stolen, they’ve been misappropriated. They’ve not had developmental impacts that have benefited the majority of Nigerian citizens.
SMELSER: In fact, some Nigerians believe oil money played a major role in shoring up the former military government of General Sani Abacha, who was accused of numerous human rights abuses. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of these types of problems in Chad and Cameroon, the World Bank project mandated a network of institutions to ensure that a good portion of the money would go towards development. Stephen Morrison counts the project as a sign of hope for the responsible development of African oil.
MORRISON: The models that are being developed like the Chad-Cameroon pipeline that are creative, that show that new partners can be brought in like the World Bank, that you can create trust funds, that you can create entities that bring to the table representatives of civil society with some authority over the management of those funds.
SMELSER: But opponents of the project, like Korinna Horta of the environmental watchdog group, Environmental Defense, are doubtful that the experiment will work.
KORINNA HORTA: One law that is being touted as a model, you know, for the region is a law that has been adopted by the Chadian government to transparently manage the oil revenues. But one little thing in the law says that the law can be altered by presidential decree, meaning at the whim, you know, of the president, after five years of its promulgation. So the law came into effect in 1999. At the beginning of 2004 the president can alter the law. 2004, of course, is when the first major oil revenues are expected.
SMELSER: So it’s still unclear whether the Chad-Cameroon project can rise above its predecessors, in terms of transparency and fairness. But one thing is certain—oil will be flowing in Chad and in many other African countries for many years to come. And the big question for US observers is whether imports from Africa can significantly decrease America’s reliance on Middle East oil. Jerry Kepes from PFC Energy says probably not.
KEPES: It is possible that—and likely—that we’re going to see more West African crude barrels coming into the US, and, you know, that’s all to the good. It’s possible that that will back out, or replace, some of the barrels that we get from the Persian Gulf right now. The issue is that US oil production continues to decline. And our consumption increases for crude oil, particularly because of gasoline demand. So the pie, what we need, is getting bigger and bigger all the time.
SMELSER: Analysts say the percentage of US oil imports coming from Africa will likely stay between 10 and 15 percent in the near future. And Kepes points out that even if that number increased dramatically, the US would still be vulnerable to oil price hikes if Mideast supply were disrupted. Still, analysts agree it’s good to have diverse sources of oil, and they say the US is right to look to Africa and elsewhere, as its energy needs continue to soar. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.
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PORTER: Russia—America’s cold war foe—could also be a solution to US energy needs. But the potential for Russia to serve as an optional source of crude oil has ramifications far beyond the basic economic realities of reliable supplies of cheap petroleum. As Priscilla Huff reports, Russian oil must come through both pipelines and politics.
[The sound of stripper wells pumping on the Siberian plains.]
PRISCILLA HUFF: Stripper wells on the Siberian steppes suck oil to the surface. The supply is significant, but getting the petroleum to market is not. Its a problem of geography—or is it? Red Cavaney, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, says Russia’s problem is distance.
RED CAVANEY: They are very interested in serving our market. The difficulty they have at the present moment is they are essentially landlocked with much of what they’ve got, so they need to develop pipelines and other sources.
HUFF: And that’s why the Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the CEO of Yukos, one of Russia’s largest oil companies, wants to convince Americans, Russia has the potential to be a cheap and reliable source of oil
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [via a translator] You see that the biggest chunk of our total costs is the transportation component—and that’s even in the case when we transport the oil through a pipeline. Unfortunately, we don’t always do so today. So in order for us to deal with the problems of a pipeline system, we need to build at least two new pipelines—one to China and one to Murmansk.
HUFF: Khodorkovsky has a vested interest. His company, Yukos, has proven reserves of about 12 billion barrels of crude oil—about 20 percent of Russia’s total audited reserves of 55 billion, though some estimates double and even triple that amount. Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS], says that’s why Russia is part of tomorrow’s energy forecast.
ROBERT EBEL: The future is defined by reserves in the ground. And where are these reserves? Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and I would add, Russia.
HUFF: In comparison, 261 billion barrels of petroleum lie beneath the sands of Saudi Arabia, while neighboring Iran and Iraq average about half that. It’s this proximity of key Middle Eastern oil producers that prompts one member of the Senate Energy Committee to ask a complicated question. Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky.
US REPRESENTATIVE JIM BUNNING: The United States is genuinely helping with pipelines and everything in Russia, to bring their crude oil to port, thus I hope eliminating the problems that we have in the Middle East, because of the instability in the Middle East. Do you all think Russia can play a significant part in alleviating, not our demand so much for importing, because that would still be importing, but the instability of the Middle East?
HUFF: Robert Ebel of CSIS confirms the concern, politics is a greater worry than pipelines.
EBEL: Because oil has become a truly international commodity, the United States, as with other oil consuming countries of the world, stands vulnerable to any event , any where, at any time that would affect energy supply and demand.
HUFF: Khodorskovsky the business man argues, Russia has both a political role and economic.
KHODORKOVSKY: [via a translator] Here I think a Russia that enjoys respect in the Middle East will be a much more useful Russia to the United States than a Russia that has no respect in the Middle East. So as a result, Russia needs to understand what its economic advantages here are.
HUFF: Just about a decade after glasnost and perestroika ended the Cold War and just years after the Russian economy nearly imploded in a vacuum of no rules barred rampant capitalism, Russia’s top oil companies—Lukoil, Yukos, Sibneft and others—are now eager to expand, especially into the lucrative American market. British Petroleum finds Russian oil attractive enough to invest $6.75 billion to form the nation’s third largest energy firm. Lord John Brown of BP gave his stamp of approval to Russia’s oil prospects.
LORD JOHN BROWN: This decision to significantly increase our commitment to Russia demonstrates in the very clearest way possible BP’s growing confidence in the improving Russian business climate. It underlines our belief in Russia’s economy and the business transformation that is underway here. It also recognizes Russia’s growing engagement as a major player in the world’s economic system.
HUFF: The former Soviet Union could also be a major player in the global oil market in a second location, the Caspian Sea. Twenty-five billion gallons of proven reserves lie beneath former Soviet republics, like Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. As with the Siberian oil fields, the Caspian reserves are landlocked—hundreds of thousands of miles from deep water ports for easy shipment on supertankers. However, the Siberian oil—like that of Yukos and Lukoil—is safely within the geographic confines of relatively stable Russia. To get the Caspian Sea oil to market, it has to be piped out—across mountain ranges and through some of the least politically stable regions in the world. For example, Azerbaijan is mostly Muslim, with ethnic Azeris threatening battles with Iran over territory, while in neighboring Georgia, Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda hide in the Pankisi gorge. And volatile Chechnya is just a short distance away. Yukos’ chief Mikhail Khodorkhovsky sees no business reason to expand in the Caspian region, instead, favoring his Siberian investments. Khodorkhovksy says Russia will remain a good place to buy oil, because Russia’s economy and its government’s power are far less dependent on oil prices.
KHODORKOVSKY: [via a translator] If the overall state budget of Russia relies maybe 20 percent on oil and gas revenues. The role of oil and gas in the GDP of Russia is even smaller. Well, for Saudi Arabia, these numbers are a lot higher. I expect that we’ll see the same thing happening with Iraq, when Iraq starts to rebuild its economy. Nevertheless, if Russia is not able to build its pipeline system, then naturally, Russia is going to lose that chunk of potential production that would be shipped through those new pipelines.
HUFF: New technology and proposed pipelines could make Russia the linchpin to future oil supplies. But oil analysts agree, the real problem is consumption. Americans need to make the connection between the oil that’s shipped from the Middle East, Russia, and even from Alaska’s arctic wilds, to the lights they flip on, the thermostats they turn up, and the car ignitions Americans continue to turn over. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.
MCHUGH: India’s riots, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: In India, 80 percent of the population is Hindu, 11 percent is Muslim. One year ago the groups engaged in the worst religious violence to shake India in over a decade. Vicious riots left well over a thousand Muslims dead. And as Aaron Glantz reports from India, the repercussions from this brutality are still very strong.
[The sound of Vinay and Chury, Gujarati music.]
ABIDA BANO: [via a translator] I climbed to the second story of the house. My husband was downstairs. I saw them pull him out. I saw my husband being killed, and cut into pieces and put in the fire.
[The sound of Vinay and Chury, Gujarati music.]
AARON GLANTZ: Abida Bano is holding her 10-month-old daughter, sitting on the floor of a makeshift refugee camp building in Ahmedebad, the largest city on Gujarat. The government closed all the camps here in June. But Abida has nowhere to go. Her house was destroyed in the riots, and her husband and her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter were killed. She has three daughters left. She is thirty years old.
ABIDA BANO: [via a translator] And he was holding my daughter. They killed the child in the same way. I survived because I was on the second floor of the house. All day there was no police. So the crowds kept attacking. In the evening, any of us who were left were taken out.
GLANTZ: Two hundred people lived on Abida’s street in a crowded Muslim district of Ahmedebad. Only 50 survived the riots. Across Gujarat, over 2,000 people were killed and more than 200,000 lost their homes when armed Hindu mobs targeted, looted, and burned nearly every Muslim owned home, business, and place of worship. All with the help of the police and the state government.
[The sound of a truck traveling down a road.]
GLANTZ: This is Godhram, 100 kilometers away from Ahmedabad. This is the city where 58 people were burned alive in a train carrying Hindu fundamentalists returning home from an event in Ayodya. After the train, rioting mobs spread across the countryside. Within a few days, over 4,000 people had flocked to Godhra, many burnt out of their homes and all terrified to return. Rajendrasinh Rana is Gujarat State President of the ruling BJP.
RAJENDRASINH RANA: Not only Muslims who have killed in this Ghodra and after Ghodra incidents, but Hindus are also killed. And the picture was given to the world that whole of Gujarat, the whole of Gujarat is burning. That is not true.
[The sound of children talking and playing at a school in Ahmedabad.]
GLANTZ: In Ahmedabad, two young Hindi filmmakers opened a school to teach women sewing skills so they can start to rebuild their lives after their husbands were killed. In a one-room schoolhouse in a small Muslim community off a busy road, they’re also teaching children to make greeting cards. It’s a small way to bring in income for the desperately impoverished families there.
[A young boy speaks.]
GLANTZ: Sapier is 12. He lives in the community. The mobs burned his home.
SAPIER: [Glantz translates and summarizes as Sapier speaks in the background] This whole place was burned down, he says, and the police were part of it. I mean, he says, they were helping the people burn the place. We managed to run away, but they were following us with bamboos and other sticks. The police was firing at us, he says. The Muslims were forced to run away but not the Hindus. They burnt all the houses here, he says.
[The sound of Vinay and Chury, Gujarati music.]
GLANTZ: Leah Mathew is one of the filmmakers from Bombay who moved to the burnt out Ahmedabad neighborhood for three months and opened the school.
LEAH MATHEW: We needed something positive here, because even now, the children, they don’t show it so obviously, but inside they still think of Hindus as enemies and they still want to become terrorists. There’s a lot of that kind of talk. So we were thinking of doing something positive so that their mind comes away from all that, into, you know, growing and becoming human beings and thinking of their own lives, even it’s just of growing up and earning money, but that is anyway better than becoming a terrorist and thinking of that kind of thing.
[The sound of Vinay and Chury, Gujarati music.]
GLANTZ: For Common Ground, I’m Aaron Glantz with Miranda Kennedy in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.
PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, living up to Angola’s peace treaty.
BISHOP JOSE NAMBI: [via a translator] If these demobilized soldiers are not treated properly, we think there will be security problems. Recently someone set off landmines on the road just outside of Kuito. We don’t know who is responsible.
PORTER: Plus, broadcasting to Zimbabwe.
VOICE OF AMERICA ANNOUNCER ROY CHOTO: Good evening. Zimbabwe is 17 hours 30 UTC, 7:30 pm in Zimbabwe. And you’re listening to Studio Seven, news for Zimbabwe, coming to you from the Voice of America in Washington.
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MCHUGH: Last year Angola ended 27 years of civil war when the opposition guerrillas disarmed and joined the political process. The government agreed to provide the guerrillas of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, with economic assistance and resettlement in their home villages. But as Reese Erlich reports from Kuito, 350 miles southeast of the capital of Luanda, peace presents a new set of problems.
[The sound of a baby crying and people talking in a transit camp.]
REESE ERLICH: At this transit camp for UNITA guerrillas and their families, children play on muddy paths while their parents try to start cooking fires from drenched wood. It pours rain here every afternoon.
[The sound of a hard rain and people talking at the camp.]
ERLICH: The government agreed that once the war was over, it would provide the rebels with temporary food and shelter and they would be given transportation home. The government set up six transit camps to provide services for the former guerrillas. But food and medicine are in short supply. This woman says she hasn’t gotten anything from the government since her family’s arrival two days ago from another town.
FEMALE REFUGEE: [via a translator] Food is the main problem. They received food for the last time there, in Ndele. And the food, the quantity of food they brought here is already run out. So they are now facing a big problem.
[The sound of a hard rain.]
ERLICH: Several miles away, the rain is just as relentless as in the camps. It pounds against the office windows of Jose Nambi, the Catholic Bishop in this province. He frequently hears complaints from former UNITA rebels and their families.
BISHOP JOSE NAMBI: [via a translator] We recognize that the government is making a big effort to support the peace process. But for me there’s a sensitive point: the demobilization process. Those former rebels are not happy with how they are being treated. They are afraid of their future. The settlement kits, which were promised, are not being given to them.
ERLICH: Bishop Nambi worries such discontent could lead to violent, criminal activity.
BISHOP NAMBI: [via a translator] If these demobilized soldiers are not treated properly, we think there will be security problems. Recently someone set off landmines on the road just outside of Kuito. We don’t know who is responsible.
ERLICH: Residents suspect that former UNITA guerrillas may have set off the mines in order to steal money and goods from disabled trucks along the highway. During the war, UNITA soldiers would sometimes kidnap entire villages to recruit soldiers and terrorize the population. Only then they had access to more resources. During the Cold War, UNITA was backed by the US. Feliciano Salamungo, a former UNITA officer, remembers that US support.
FELICIANO SALAMUNGO: [via a translator] I was told that relations between the US and UNITA were very good. This was proven, because I myself saw medicines sent from the US. I used to distribute some weapons from the US to my fellow soldiers.
ERLICH: The US stopped supporting UNITA in 1993, when the rebels lost the presidential election and resumed waging war against the elected government. At one time the Angolan government received support from Cuba and the Soviet Union. But with the end of the Cold War, outside support has withered. An estimated 1½ million Angolans died in the war. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are displaced. In the capital city, Luanda, the Minister of Social Assistance, Joao Kussumua, says the government still faces tremendous problems.
ANGOLAN MINISTER OF SOCIAL ASSISTANCE, JOAO KUSSUMUA: [via a translator] We don’t think it’s possible in nine months to solve all the problems caused by 27 years of war. Forty-five thousand former UNITA soldiers have left the quartering areas and we’ve given 23,000 of them kits with pots, dishes, and other domestic supplies. But you must remember my ministry is responsible for 450,000 Angolans displaced by war.
ERLICH: The minister bristles at criticisms from Bishop Nambi and others who say the government is not paying enough attention to the plight of former guerrillas, noting that many government supporters are also suffering.
MINISTER KUSSUMUA: [via a translator] If we weren’t involved in this huge operation to help the former UNITA rebels, we could build more hospitals, more schools, and reconstruct bridges destroyed by the war.
ERLICH: Back in the city Kuito, civilians still harbor a lot of anger towards UNITA. The guerrillas destroyed parts of the city in a series of artillery barrages in the early 1990s. Hundreds of people were maimed in the attacks and by landmines. Today they are provided with artificial limbs from an orthopedic center in Kuito that is run by the government with help from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
[The sound of hammering.]
ERLICH: Aid workers say what’s remarkable is that former UNITA fighters are also able to take advantage of the services provided at the center. Gabriel Shambosi is the center’s director and an Angolan government employee.
GABRIEL SHAMBOSI: [via a translator] They enter here voluntarily. And they are all assisted impartially. They don’t care who is who, where he comes from. They do not care about that. He believes this will help the process of peace and reconciliation.
[The sound of crying babies.]
ERLICH: At the Kuito transit center, 49-year-old Luis Eduardo squats on the damp ground playing cards. He’s known nothing but war since the age of 20. He doesn’t want to talk about the war or his role as a rebel fighter.
LUIS EDUARDO: [summarized by a translator] He didn’t know why the war was going on in Angola. But the most important is now, that people in Angola have understood that it’s important to understand each other and to stop war. What happened in the past doesn’t matter so much.
ERLICH: Eduardo wants the government to come through on its promises to provide land and resources. All he can think about is leaving the camp to start a new life.
LUIS EDUARDO: [summarized by a translator] Okay, he’s optimistic that once he’s in his village, life will, will change. He wants to be trained as a bricklayer because his father was a bricklayer and he wants to follow his father’s profession.
ERLICH: International aid workers note that while major resettlement problems remain, the situation has improved since the end of the war. Francisco Roque, director of the UN’s World Food Program in Angola, says 6 months ago the country faced the likelihood of acute malnutrition. Today that danger has passed. Nevertheless, says Roque, Angola faces a lot of economic difficulties.
FRANCISCO ROQUE: In many ways these are battles which are just as decisive as, let’s say, the military confrontation. Because here we are trying to get people back on their feet, trying to let people to be reliant, self-sufficient, have a degree of human dignity after having terrible, terrible stress.
ERLICH: For that to happen, Roque says, Angola needs more international assistance.
ROQUE: They have a lot of resources in this country, but they don’t have them all together now. And the needs are immense. So I think it is a challenge for the international community as well, to be effective at this time. If we lose this opportunity, I think that we will see a lot of people under stress, under hardship again.
ERLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Kuito, Angola.
[The sound of playing children in a transit camp.]
PORTER: A few weeks ago we asked you to e-mail us with your thoughts on who’s to blame for the rift in US-European relations. All of the responses blamed the United States in general or the Bush administration in particular.
MCHUGH: Neil, who listens to Common Ground on KQED Public Radio in San Francisco, says “the administration has transparently pushed for a war even when it seemed possible to achieve the stated goals peacefully.” He adds, “as a direct consequence of this war, the US domestic scene will be much changed.”
PORTER: Listener Ron in California believes President George Bush is to blame for America’s poor relations with Europe. He writes, “Bush made it perfectly clear that he would not accept any interference with his intention to invade Iraq.” He adds, “no sovereign country should be subjected to this type of bullying.”
MCHUGH: Finally, Judith in Virginia wrote to say she came to age during the McCarthy era, and added, “I feel afraid in a way I have not before.”
PORTER: Do you feel the Bush administration is to blame for the rift in US-European relations?
MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: Two years ago, Zimbabwe gained a place on the list of the top 10 worst places to work as a journalist, due to government intimidation and violence according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York based independent press freedom watchdog. President Robert Mugabe introduced draconian laws curtailing press freedoms after his contested reelection last year. The offices of independent newspapers have been bombed, journalists prosecuted, and some have been tortured in police custody.
MCHUGH: As a result, many independent media outlets have closed down. Hoping to fill the gap in the free flow of information is the Voice of America, the US government funded worldwide broadcasting service, which has just begun a half hour radio show specifically for Zimbabwe, in a bid to provide balanced world, regional, and local news. Catherine Drew has compiled this report on the new service.
VOICE OF AMERICA ANNOUNCER: Good evening. Zimbabwe is 17 hours 30 UTC, 7:30 pm in Zimbabwe. And you’re listening to Studio Seven, news for Zimbabwe, coming to you from the Voice of America in Washington.
CATHERINE DREW: Two Zimbabwean journalists anchor the half-hour show, called Studio Seven, from the VOA headquarters in downtown Washington, DC.
VOICE OF AMERICA ANNOUNCER ROY CHOTO: Thank you for joining us, live from Washington. I am Ray Choto.
VOICE OF AMERICA ANNOUNCER NDIMYAKE MWAKALYELYE: And I’m Ndimyake Mwakalyelye. Coming up on tonight’s show, President Robert Mugabe speaks out against Britain and the United States.
DREW: Behind the scenes, four other producers, reporters, and editors make up the small team which begins work before seven o’clock in the morning to make sure the half-hour lunch time show makes air. In Zimbabwe it’s half past seven in the evening.
VOICE OF AMERICA ANNOUNCER ROY CHOTO: Later on in the program we’ll update you on world news and sports—coming up on Studio Seven.
[The sounds of the reporters, editors, and producers working together behind the scenes to prepare the broadcast.]
DREW: The time difference is just one of the challenges facing the team, which must also deal with bad telephone lines and slow Internet communication with their stringers in Zimbabwe. And as co-host Ndimyake Mwakalyelye explains, many government officials with the ZANU PF ruling party are not particularly enthusiastic to talk to the Voice of America.
NDIMYAKE MWAKALYELYE: A lot of times we’re received with a lot of caution, which is understandable I guess, you know. A lot of people have this preconceived notion of what VOA does. So it’s very frustrating. And in fact, I was just speaking to somebody from the Ministry of Information today, and I was trying to explain to him, “This is the problem, you know. If there’s breaking news and I’m trying to call you and you tell me to fax you a request. Deadline, you have to respect that. I can’t wait for your opinion if that’s the case, I have to go with who can speak there and then and that’s how I’m going to do it.” But then it comes back to bite us because it looks as though we’re not being objective. So it’s a double edged sword. It’s very hard to try and reconcile but you know, we just have to do the best we can.
[The sound of a stringer calling in a report from Zimbabwe.]
DREW: The program has five or six stringers working from Zimbabwe, mainly in the capital Harare. While some do not use their real names, the VOA believes the Zimbabwean government may be aware of them, and says as with all its stringers, it is concerned for their safety.
[The sound of anchor Ray Choto reading the news.]
DREW: Someone who knows about the dangers of reporting in Zimbabwe, is anchor Ray Choto. Formerly he was a reporter for the Standard newspaper, an independent publication in Harare. He and his editor were arrested in January of 1999 and severely tortured after he reported that a group of military officers had tried to stage a coup. He refused to reveal his sources, and eventually the government dropped criminal charges against him. He says this stand for press freedom helps Studio Seven today.
ROY CHOTO: When I was arrested they tried to afflict pain on me, by way of torturing to force me to reveal my sources. I refused to reveal my sources. That stance really got a lot of backing from the international community, local journalists, and other media organizations so my association with Studio Seven will actually make the station a credible one in Zimbabwe.
DREW: And this credibility issue is important. While the Voice of America charter states its mission is to provide balanced and accurate reporting, the service is funded by the US Government. The VOA provides about a hundred hours a week of programming in seven languages to Africa, which is usually aimed at different regions. But the VOA does have a handful of country-specific projects, in nations where the independent press face particular challenges—for example in Angola and Rwanda. Mr. Choto says critics of the service will realize it’s objective when they listen to the show.
CHOTO: People have got the right to judge what type of information that they are getting. They might say this is propaganda but if they listen to that, obviously by the end of the day they will realize that the information they are receiving is not propaganda. It’s just genuine information, which is needed in the country. So the propaganda issue, I think it will fade away with time.
DREW: Gwen Dillard, who oversees the VOA’s Africa service say they do have an agenda.
GWEN DILLARD: The agenda is to give Zimbabweans credible, balanced objective, disinterested news and information. The point of the project is not to bash the Zimbabwe government or to criticize Zimbabwe as a country. It’s to provide Zimbabweans with the information they need to make their choices about their country and their future.
DREW: Gwen Dillard admits that it’s sometimes difficult for some of the Africa service staff, many of whom have come from areas of conflict, to be completely objective. Mr. Choto says it’s something he’s very aware of.
CHOTO: As a journalist, as a professional journalist, when I am doing my work I try to make sure that I sort of distance myself from whatever subject I am dealing with. As a journalist I see myself as a mirror and a mirror is there for society to look at both its ugliness and beauty.
[The sound of co-host Ndimyake Mwakalyelye reporting the news.]
DREW: But his co-host Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, who left Zimbabwe 11 years ago says she does find maintaining journalistic objectivity a challenge at times.
MWAKALYELYE: I’m aware of so much that’s going on. I mean I hear my family saying this and I hear people saying that and I’m reading that. And you know, a nation of 12 million there’s some truth in there somewhere. And it is really upsetting when every time you try to get comments from the government or you try to get comments from people who are in a position to comment on that and they always, you know, kind of deny or lash out. So definitely I think, you know, the role we have here, it’s hard sometimes to keep a balance. But of course, even as we’re being objective, we try to really show that you know, it’s not all dandy and it’s important that issues must be addressed.
DREW: While the Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United States has been interviewed on the show several times, he rejects the premise that there is any need for such a service, insisting there is a free flow of information in Zimbabwe, with both a private and government owned press. Ambassador Simbi Veke Mubako says the real reason the service was introduced was to give the American government an outlet for it’s propaganda in his country, and he rejects the VOA’s insistence it is editorially independent from it’s funder.
ZIMBABWE AMBASSADOR SIMBI VEKE MUBAKO: If you are owned by a government, you are there to put across the policies of that government. Within that kind of parameter, you may be allowed some latitude of objectivity. But every country has got the right to own it’s own media. The United States does it. The British government has got the BBC. The Zimbabwean government has got it’s own media. So there’s nothing wrong with that. But the only question is that one shouldn’t claim that one is independent and completely objective. You can’t be independent to the extent of differing from the policies of the government that pays for you.
DREW: The Ambassador says he has not had time to listen to the show yet, which is available on the VOA’s Web site. All of the Studio Seven staff are only too aware of the grim and seemingly intractable problems facing Zimbabwe—the current drought and famine, the violent land reform process which has brought food production to a standstill, alleged government corruption, and alleged intimidation of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, and their supporters.
DILLARD: We don’t want to be known as the VOA grim half hour.
DREW: Gwen Dillard says the team tries to address these issues, while at the same time not overwhelming the audience with depressing topics.
DILLARD: A lot of the issues that are affecting Zimbabwe are grim issues. We cover those issues. But I think about fifty per cent of the program is what might be called pleasant listening that anyone would want to tune into just because it’s enjoyable to hear. We do a lot of music. We do sports. We’re going to begin to carry contests because people like to participate in contests.
[The sound of musical programming from Studio Seven.]
DREW: Anchor Ray Choto says the program has got positive responses from listeners, so far. He says many have written in to express pleasant surprise that the program is not critical of the Zimbabwean government or people. While it is a temporary project, the VOA hopes the program will continue for as long as it is useful to the Zimbabwean people. So far audience figures are not yet available. Program producers say they hope to extend their reach into rural Zimbabwe, where support for the Zanu PF Government is traditionally strong, and where the VOA says access to independent information is difficult. In a bid to help this process, the VOA will soon begin broadcasts in two other local languages, Shona and Ndebele. However Ray Choto admits that even when these services are up and running, the VOA will still face great challenges just to reach the Zimbabwean people.
CHOTO: The penetration needs to be done in the rural communities and unfortunately it’s not easy for everybody to have access to a radio. Also the batteries, if they have the radios, batteries are quite expensive. The economy is just in tatters and people cannot afford to go and buy batteries. They would rather prefer to go and buy food, so that is the biggest challenge we are likely to continue facing.
[The sound of a Studio Seven broadcast.]
DREW: The VOA says it hopes eventually to be broadcasting three hours of programming every day of the week—one hour in the three different language services. For Common Ground Radio, I’m Catherine Drew in Washington
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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