Africa's Dreams Begin to Take Root Clinton's Trip to Still-Troubled Continent Highlights Growth of Democracy, Markets

By Kate Dunn, | The Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Africa's Dreams Begin to Take Root Clinton's Trip to Still-Troubled Continent Highlights Growth of Democracy, Markets


Kate Dunn,, The Christian Science Monitor


The main streets of Mozambique's capital, Maputo, are still named for Karl Marx and Mao Zedong. But they no longer show a socialist direction in the government, the path taken by most African countries when the post-colonial era began in the 1960s.

Today they are just signposts of a disastrous past that Mozambique wants to put behind it as it embraces free-market capitalism and democracy, Africa-style.

President Clinton came to Africa on a trip that ends April 2 to celebrate the "African renaissance," a term coined by South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki. From Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) to Dakar (Senegal), democracy is gaining strength, business is growing, and peace is making progress, Mr. Clinton said in a speech to the South African parliament. "In coming to Africa, my motive in part was to help the American people see the new Africa with new eyes," he said. Of the 48 sub-Saharan African states, the State Department now counts 23 as democracies, compared with five in 1989. Annual economic growth in such notoriously poor places as Mozambique and Uganda tops 7 percent, outstripping the rates of Canada and the United States. "Africa is not a backwater, a jungle with bodies floating down river," says Susan Rice, US assistant secretary of state for Africa. In a landmark speech last year, Mr. Mbeki described his "African renaissance" as the "third moment" in African liberation. The first, he said, was the struggle for independence from overt colonial rule. The second was the struggle for release from neocolonial rule - gross mismanagement by Africa's own leaders. Mbeki said East Asia's leap out of poverty, ignorance, and impotence could be repeated in Africa. In 1960, for example, Ghana had a per capita gross national product equal to that of South Korea. Today, South Korea's is 10 times larger. The "African renaissance," Mbeki said, depends on good governance and decent education; fair access to world markets and information technologies; and the emancipation of women, the backbone of Africa's subsistence-farming economies. Focusing on 'trade, not aid' Cynics say Clinton came to sunny Africa only to get away from the grim grind of scandals and accusations at home. But in fact, he has been boosting Africa for the past year. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited 11 African countries on her 1997 tour. That was followed by the US House of Representatives passing Clinton's African Growth and Opportunity bill in early March, which awaits action in the Senate. The bill signals Clinton's determination to make "trade, not aid" the basis of the US-Africa relationship. It has been criticized here for offering Americans more advantages in African markets than it does Africans in American markets. "Our trade with Africa is 20 percent greater than our trade with all the former Soviet Union," Clinton told listeners in Johannesburg, with people back home clearly in mind. "It supports 100,000 American jobs. The average annual return on investment - I hope they're listening back in America ... is 30 percent." In that speech he also promised to try to alleviate some of the huge foreign debt owed by African countries. The administration's budget request, he said, would permit up to $1.6 billion in bilateral debt relief for Africa. "I challenge others in the industrial world to offer more relief, so that we can free up resources for health, education, and sustainable growth," the president said. After years of wars and disastrous economic mismanagement in many countries, Africa's 740 million people have nowhere to go but up. Between the end of colonialism and the end of the cold war, they lost everything from dependable infrastructures to social cohesion. Despite decades of (usually misguided) foreign assistance, African countries still occupy the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. …

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