Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Africa News: Bushmen Victory, Annan Departs U.N.


I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

In this week's Africa Update, a high court in Botswana rules that the Bushmen of the Kalahari can stay on ancestral lands. And Kofi Annan prepares to leave his post as U.N. secretary-general. How do Africans feel about his performance?


With us now is Charlayne Haunter-Gault, NPR's special Africa correspondent. Thanks for joining us, Charlayne.

CHARLAYNE HAUNTER-GAULT: You're welcome, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So there's a lot of news, as usual, on the continent. And there was a hearing on Wednesday in a highly emotional case in which the San Bushmen have sued the Botswana government for ousting them from the Kalahari Desert. That's their ancestral homeland, and they had been there as a people for some 20,000 years. Can you give us the background on this and then tell us what happened?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, there was some 240 Bushmen who brought this case back in 2002. They wanted to remain in their ancestral home. They were saying after the Botswana government said they want to relocate them and, in fact, had relocated some 2,000. They were saying that their ancestors were angry. They didn't want to live somewhere other than where they have been, as you said, for 20,000 years.

And the government maintained that they just couldn't afford to provide them with the necessary services like schools and hospitals and so forth. But at any rate, the Bushmen were arguing that the real reason the government wanted to move them was to make way for diamond mining. As you know - we've talked about this on this program before - Botswana got out of poverty because of the diamonds it has there. Thirty million carats of diamonds are mined there - 80 percent of their total exports. So that was the charge that the Bushmen made about why they're being moved, and so that is the background of Wednesday's decision.


CHIDEYA: Give us a sense of what happened in the case and what this means moving forward.

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, it kind of remains to be seen what it means moving forward. Of course, this is a major victory for the Bushmen, but there's still a lot of problems. Up to this point, so many of them have had difficulties maintaining a living. There's a history of problems with alcoholism. It just remains to be seen how much Wednesday's victory is going to help with a long-standing problem of how you maintain this kind of lifestyle in an ever-encroaching modern world, and also in a world that's hungry, let's face it, for diamonds.

CHIDEYA: One of the last times I saw you outside of the United States was at the World Conference Against Racism and all of the festivities around that. And there were a lot of indigenous peoples marching saying - you know, with similar claims - you know, we're being push off our land. Our ways of life are disappearing. I wonder how you can frame that in terms of this whole conflict, which we talked about last time, about blood diamonds and about, you know, the Kimberley Process. Will that help at all in this case, or is it a very different situation?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, that's a matter of debate. I mean, diamond miners and the industry insist that this process that they put in place - it's a voluntary process to insure that they don't deal in diamonds that abuse human rights or foment war, and they insist that they have brought down the trading and conflict diamonds to less than 1 percent. I mean, this is challenged by a lot of the human rights organizations like Amnesty. But at any rate, they say they have it under control.

CHIDEYA: So finally, Kofi Annan has ended his decade-long tenure as secretary-general of the U.N. So how do Africans view him in the job he's done?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, he is an African. And Africans are very proud of him. Someone was saying to me recently that he gave Africa confidence. He stood up there with the world's leaders, and he was at the helm of leadership of the international community. And now Africans are very concerned about his leaving the helm, because for whatever problems he may have had during his tenure, Africans - many of them, I don't want to generalized too much - but I get the sense that they believe that he put their issues on the front-burner in a way that they would not have been had a non-African been at the helm.

CHIDEYA: So what would you or what would people in the region point out as his specific achievements?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, they talk about the fact that he's visited the continent. He was here for the launch of the African Union. And he also pressed issues that they're concerned about, like getting a permanent seat on the Security Council. It hasn't happened yet, but South Africa's going to be on there for two years.

Moreover, you know, the millennium development goals are aimed at cutting poverty in half by 2015. Now, Africa won't meet those goals, but if you heard Kofi Annan speaking the other day, he talked about the fact that there are more girls in school, which was one of the items on the agenda. I've done stories showing in many countries, girls are on a now at par with boys, especially in elementary school. So, I mean, these are sort of the kinds of things that Africans point to that they feel were positive steps during the tenure of Kofi Annan.

CHIDEYA: And were there any significant criticisms of him?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, of course, you know, when he was head of peacekeeping, there was a problem of Rwanda and the genocide. And people, you know, criticized him for not taking action. But, of course, there are those who defend that as well, saying well, you know, he did have, you know, the international community there - and sometimes it's hard to move a body like that. But I think that would be one that will be in a negative column for sometime to come, although not as secretary general.

And then, you know, there are other criticisms that he wasn't strong enough on Darfur, and that Zimbabwe still stands out there as one of the sorrow childs of the African continent. But on the whole, I think most Africans that I've talked to give him, say, maybe a 7 out of 10. And, again, they are proud to have seen an African leading the international community, which, as you know, is a very difficult community to lead at the United Nations.

CHIDEYA: That's an understatement. Well, Charlayne, thank you so much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne Hunter-Gault is NPR's special Africa correspondent. She and I speak regularly in our Africa Update about news on the continent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.