Magazine article Newsweek

Losing Africa, Yet Again

Magazine article Newsweek

Losing Africa, Yet Again

Article excerpt

Six months ago, Clinton declared a new partnership with the continent. Today, that initiative is in shreds.

In africa last spring, bill clinton brimmed with rosy rhetoric. On his first stop, in Ghana, he said he hoped the visit would mark the "beginning of a new African renaissance." Meeting with Central African leaders in Uganda, he declared: "We have agreed to work together to banish genocide from this region." He told the South African Parliament that, until recently, "when American policymakers thought of Africa at all, they would ask, what can we do for Africa, or whatever can we do about Africa? The right question today is, what can we do with Africa?"

In Washington last week, Nelson Mandela recalled that speech in a defense of the embattled U.S. president. But six months after Clinton's trip, his Africa initiative is in shreds. Washington's closest allies in the region are at each other's throats. The new conflicts--between Eritrea and Ethiopia and among giant Congo and its neighbors to the east and south--stretch across a huge swath of Central Africa that Washington relied on as the springboard for proxy war against fundamentalist Sudan. Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, 33, a protege of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is widely seen by African diplomats and U.S. experts as bright but inexperienced and inflexible. The administration's centerpiece Africa legislation, a tariff reduction bill, has died in the Senate. To top off all the troubles, a new history of the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which Hutus massacred Tutsi civilians is reopening debate over why Washington blocked steps that might have curbed the bloodletting.

The new book, Philip Gourevitch's "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is no antiadministration screed. France, which supplied the Hutu-led government with arms even after the killing of Tutsis began, comes off far worse than the United States. Most of the narrative deals with the internal causes of the genocide. Gourevitch argues convincingly that the Hutu-Tutsi conflict was not rooted in ancient history, but derived from a colonial theory that Tutsis are related to whites and thus superior to other Africans. The book's power is in a detailed retelling of how Hutu officials persuaded ordinary people to turn on their neighbors with almost unbelievable cruelty.

But Clinton is not spared. Gourevitch chronicles the pitiful evasions his spokesmen used to avoid pronouncing the word "genocide." A 1948 U.N. convention obliges members to "undertake to prevent and punish" such acts. …

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