Clinton goes to Africa on historic trip

The president is emphasizing progress on a continent torn by war and disease.


    Washington, D.C. - President Clinton embarks today on the first extensive trip any U.S. president has ever taken to Africa, a six-country tour that will seek to replace American images of a continent ravaged by war and disease with one of new democracies and inviting markets.
    While taking note of a history racked by the slave trade, genocide and apartheid, Clinton will spend most of his 12-day journey painting an upbeat picture of vibrant nations that exemplify a "last frontier" for trade and development.
    "We have to demystify Africa for Americans.  We have a very one-dimensional view of the dark continent," said National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.  "There's a sea change going on, and there's opportunity."
    Clinton's tour will be the first of any sitting president to South Africa, which was politically off-limits during years of apartheid, as well as to each of the other countries on his itinerary: Ghana, Uganda, Botswana, Senegal and Rwanda.   He is visiting the first five countries to highlight their progress following periods of turmoil; he is seeking to pay homage to victims of genocide in Rwanda.
    The trip largely will be a celebration of what has been called all "African renaissance" led by a new generation of presidents who, freed from the burdens of the Cold War, are ushering in varying levels of democratic and economic reforms.  Clinton will champion sub-Saharan Africa as an untapped market that deserves American support and investment.
    But even as Clinton strives to spotlight progress, he will be engaging in something of a balancing act as he sidesteps areas that are still engulfed in conflict, run by military dictators, teeming with refugees and shattered by AIDS.
    Enormous problems plague much of the continent.  According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, half the children in Africa's 48 sub-Saharan nations get no schooling; half the adults can't read; AIDS is still sweeping the continent and is likely to reduce an already low life expectancy by 20 years in some nations; women have few legal rights; infant mortality rates are twice those in Asia and Latin America; and fertility rates are the highest in the world, with the population expected to nearly double by 2020.
    Of the world's 30 poorest countries, 22 are in Africa, said agency head Brian Atwood.

Des Moines Register
Sunday, March 22, 1998, Page 1A