Extensive Africa tour is a first for any U.S. president

Clinton trip makes history

'It's not a jungle.  It's not bodies floating down rivers.   It's a vast and diverse continent,' says one U.S. official.


    Bill Clinton is the first president to attempt to introduce Africa to Americans whose views of the continent have been molded by gruesome television footage featuring people who are starving, diseased or dead.
    By visiting urban centers, new businesses and schools, Clinton will show that "Africa is not a backwater," Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for Africa, told members of Congress last week.  "It's not a jungle.  It's not bodies floating down rivers.  It's a vast and diverse continent, where people are doing their very best to achieve their potential and where there are exciting opportunities for American investment."

Clinton's Longest Tour

    Even critics laud Clinton for taking the trip, the longest foreign tour of his presidency.  Only three other sitting presidents have been to Africa, all of them briefly, according to the National Security Council. George Bush reviewed U.S. troops in Somalia in 1992.  Jimmy Carter whisked through Liberia and Nigeria during three days of 1978.  And Franklin D. Roosevelt met Winston Churchill off the coast of Gambia, then a British Colony, in 1943.
    But detractors charge that the administration's hopeful rhetoric about a new Africa is not backed by the kind of dollars that will be necessary to make a real difference.  In 1992, the United States contributed $840 million toward development in Africa; this year, it is spending $700 million and the administration has requested an additional $30 million for 1999, according to the administration.
    Brian Atwood, of the U.S. Agency for International Development, conceded that the $1.3 billion the United States sends to sub-Saharan Africa in the form of development and humanitarian aid is "less than a penny a day per American and less than a B-2 bomber."
    "The rhetoric and the framing of the issue is fine, but the resources needed to make a serious new start in Africa are simply not there," said Salih Booker, director of the Africa Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    Administration officials counter that they are committed to Africa, not only through direct aid, but also in the burgeoning area of trade.
    One recurrent theme of Clinton's trip will be support for a bill, passed by the House this month, which is intended to increase trade and investment between the United States and countries that establish marketbased economies.
    Opponents say that the bill will hurt Africa by supplanting aid with trade, and that it will cost American jobs - charges the administration disputes.
    Besides the trade issue, Clinton will press for ways to end ethnic conflicts, speed movement toward democracy, improve human rights and increase economic cooperation during a meeting with several African leaders in Entebbe, Uganda.

Worries About Scandal

    A tricky part of the trip will come in South Africa, when Clinton is scheduled to hold a news conference with President Nelson Mandela.
    Aides say Clinton views the elder Mandela as a real-life hero, a victor in the long struggle against apartheid, who has successfully negotiated a peaceful shift to democracy.
    But as the two leaders stand before reporters, aides fear Clinton will be dogged with questions about the sex scandal at home, an embarrassing personal issue that could eclipse the president's attempt to forge a new relationship with much of a continent.
    The otherwise well-orchestrated trip, on which the president will be joined by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, will include some powerful and emotional moments dealing with some of the more shameful pieces of Africa's distant - and recent - past.
    In Rwanda, Clinton will meet with survivors of the 1994 ethnic slaughter that killed more than 500,000 people and forced 2 million more to flee.
    During a trip to the region in December, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized to African leaders for the world's failure to stop the genocide.
    In South Africa, Clinton will visit Robben Island with Mandela, who was jailed there for two-thirds of the 27 years he was held as a political prisoner. Clinton will end his trip with a speech on Goree Island, Senegal, where, for nearly three centuries, Africans lived in bondage until they were herded onto slave ships heading for the Americas.
    On the lighter side will be a photo safari in Botswana and a visit with Peace Corps workers in Ghana, the first nation to receive volunteers when the program began in 1961.

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Des Moines Register
Sunday, March 22, 1998, Page 3A