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Western Press Review: Clinton In Africa Reflects World View And Home Politics

  • Don Hill



Prague, 23 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary in the United States, Great Britain and Germany is treating U.S. President Bill Clinton's African tour, beginning today, with a mixture of skepticism and optimism. Elsewhere in the West, the press appears to be greeting the trip with quiet indifference.

NEW YORK TIMES: 'If you're in trouble, go abroad'

James Bennet comments today in The New York Times that some in the United States perceive Clinton's itinerary less as a journey to Africa than as a voyage away from his political and legal problems at home. Bennet writes: "President Clinton left the country (yesterday). And you had better get used to it. The 12-day trip to Africa (isn't) merely the longest foreign visit of his presidency; it is also the first in a series of trips that will sweep him away to four continents in four months. Those travels will keep him out of the country for more than four weeks between now and early July. All in all, not a bad itinerary for a fellow under fire from an independent counsel, assorted lawyers and a pack of congressmen who have taken to occasional mutterings about impeachment."

The Times' writer says: "Cynics, wags and Republicans have been quick to invoke a time-tested political rule to explain presidential wanderlust, citing the example of President Richard Nixon's 1974 visit to Egypt during his Watergate turmoil. 'If you're in trouble, go abroad,' said Lyn Nofziger, the former strategist for President Ronald Reagan. 'It changes the subject pretty thoroughly. But Clinton's advisers dismiss that notion. With eyes rolling in exasperation, White House aides insist that weighty matters of foreign policy -- not the tangled wranglings of domestic politics and legal actions -- have turned the President into a rolling stone."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Ultimately it is not Africa, but only the United States, that really counts during the six-country swing

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung this weekend, commentator Michael Birnbaum casts the Clinton bow towards Africa as a salaam towards his own Afro-American constituency at home. Birnbaum writes: "Clinton's arrival in Ghana (today) will begin the first trip to sub-Saharan Africa by a U.S. president in two decades, and black leaders at home have already registered their support." Birnbaum says: "So ultimately it is not Africa, but only the United States, that really counts during the six-country swing. Yet it is also certainly true that neither side wants to let the other go completely: Africans recognize the United States as the richest, most powerful country in the world, while Africa remains something special for Americans -- especially black Americans, who continue to see it as the place where their roots lie.

"It was from Africa, of course, that their ancestors were shipped to the United States and other parts of the New World as slaves, and on Clinton's first day in Africa he will meet Ghanian President Jerry Rawlings in a slave fortress; the current presidential residence in Accra once housed the last dungeons where some slaves were held before their shipment to the American colonies. In his last stop in Africa, in Senegal, Clinton will visit the former slave island of Goree."

The German writer says: "Yet Clinton does not want to overly emphasis the slavery connection. (His) primary intention is to send another signal -- one that will also go over well at home. He will tell Americans that he is visiting a hopeful Africa which has freed itself of despots and where democracy has struck roots in countries as different as Ghana, Uganda and South Africa."

WASHINGTON POST: It is the season for Africa

Washington Post columnist Stephen S. Rosenfeld contends in today's International Herald Tribune that the U.S. President simply is meeting his responsibility to a legitimate national interest in Africa. Rosenfeld writes: "It is the season for Africa. With the cold war over and apartheid gone, the continent has receded from high-profile American attention except when it's on fire." The columnist says attention to national interest is "why Bill Clinton is investing a prodigious 11 days of presidential presence in Africa."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: The process of democratization is moving along at an encouraging pace

Clinton is visiting an Africa that is reforming at "an encouraging pace," writes Bob Dean in an analysis in the Atlanta Constitution, in the state of Georgia in the American South. Dean writes: "In South Africa and another two dozen countries across sub-Saharan Africa, democracy is beginning to take root where colonialism and totalitarianism long reigned. When President Clinton arrives in Ghana (today), to kick off a 12-day, six-country Africa tour, he will praise the democratic revolution sweeping much of the continent, encourage young Africans like Hlatshwio to further those gains and urge those resisting the trend to embrace political reforms." The writer says: "In a host of nations Clinton plans to visit, including Botswana, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal, the process of democratization is moving along at an encouraging pace."

TIMES: Clinton promotes democracy and trade on a continent cursed with conflict

In an editorial today, The Times of London is less upbeat about African democracy. The newspaper says: "Clinton will notice that the muggy air hanging over the Rwandan capital's flowered verges has an unusually sweet flavor when he visits Kigali for a few hours on his African tour, which begins in Ghana today. Four years after the Rwandan genocide, the ghosts of a million victims, buried under only inches of soil, still seep out in the unmistakable odor of death.

"During a six-nation visit to promote democracy and trade on a continent cursed with conflict, it might seem ironic that half his hosts came to power by the barrel of the gun, and only one has taken part in multiparty elections.

"But by sticking to anti-corruption promises and free trade, the leaders of Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda have won the hearts and minds of many in Washington who see a rich future for American industry in the 700 million potential consumers in Africa, which coincidentally has the world's largest unexploited mineral reserves."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The first sounds of skepticism are being heard

The Financial Times today carries an analysis by Michela Wrong and Michael Holman that recognizes the widespread encouragement noted by the Atlanta Constitution's writer, but notes a creeping skepticism in line with the view from London of The Times. They write: "(Ugandan leader) Yoweri Museveni once described himself as a fat, balding man with a silly hat. But such self-deprecation, rare among African leaders, does little to obscure the fact that when President Bill Clinton flies into Entebbe (today) he will be greeted by the most influential sub-Saharan head of state after Nelson Mandela. And as Mr Clinton 'reaches out to his peers' the United States will signal its approval of both the Ugandan president and the new breed of African leader he represents in the eyes of Western administrations searching for signs of hope on a continent tainted by despair."

They write: "But amid all the bonding that can be expected in Kampala, the first sounds of skepticism are being heard. Increasingly, human rights activists and analysts question whether the new breed are as mold-breaking as supporters profess, or whether, in describing a country such as Uganda as a beacon of hope, as Madeleine Albright, secretary of state, did recently, the United States is being dangerously naive.

Wrong and Holman write: "One reason for the wariness is the deteriorating human rights records. (And) at the same time, the new leaders' economic recoveries, impressive when departing from rock-bottom, are beginning to look less miraculous."

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