Room for Optimism in a Churning Africa ; Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Today Begins 10-Day Tour - Her

By Lara Santoro, | The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Room for Optimism in a Churning Africa ; Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Today Begins 10-Day Tour - Her


Lara Santoro,, The Christian Science Monitor


When President Clinton came to Africa a year and a half ago, he came to embrace a "new generation" of African leaders whose commitment to the principles of democracy was to drive the continent forward, into a "renaissance" of unimagined potential.

Today, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright embarks on her third, lengthy tour of Africa, most of the leaders Mr. Clinton singled out for greatness are not only involved in wars, but in wars against each other.

Still, the Clinton administration, which has paid more attention to Africa than any other administration in recent history - says there is room for optimism. Beneath Africa's post-cold-war turmoil, analysts have identified a strong trend of democratization and growth. Military coups have become the exception rather than the rule, they say.

"We're not blowing smoke," Dr. Albright said recently about the Clinton administration's commitment to Africa. In her 10-day visit to Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, and Tanzania, she is likely to focus attention on the two different directions Africa is being pulled: war and poverty on one side, growth and prosperity on the other.

"Africa is a market of 700 million potential consumers," undersecretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice said last month at a ministerial gathering on Africa's growth prospects in Atlanta, Ga. Return on US investments in Africa was extremely high, she said, averaging 30 percent. More than 16 percent of US imported crude oil comes from Africa, almost as much as from the Middle East, Ms. Rice noted. And she said that Africans are buying $6 billion worth of US products annually - twice as much as India's 1 billion people. Yet Africa still accounts for only 1 percent of US trade and less than 1 percent of US investment, a figure Rice said had to change in order to haul Africa into the global economy.

As the US attempts to bring Africa into the global economy, it faces many challenges in the coming year.

In the Horn of Africa, for example, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki, both past recipients of millions of dollars in US aid, have consistently balked at peace initiatives aimed at ending their 15-month border war.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that spans half the continent, seven African armies are enmeshed in what Tom Wolpe, Clinton's envoy to the region, called "the widest interstate war in modern African history." Among the warring parties are Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Vice President Paul Kagame. Both were seen as belonging to Africa's new brand of democratic leaders.

Unfortunately, there's more.

To the north of Congo, there is Sudan, whose 16-year-old civil conflict has left 2 million dead. To the west, there is Angola and the 500,000 casualties of its 25-year-old civil war. In Burundi, deadly nighttime raids by antigovernment rebels on the capital have resumed again, an indication of how fragile that country's peace process really is. Meanwhile, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research has found that Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan are mortgaging their crops to buy arms. Angola also is acquiring military equipment on loans mortgaged against the 1.4 million barrels of oil a day it hopes to produce by 2003.

"There are six major, major conflicts which are not just destroying those countries and their infrastructure but are also sucking in the surrounding countries," says Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, a London-based publication focusing on African affairs. "However, one wants to be as optimistic as possible," he adds.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and to many its greatest hope, has successfully completed its transition to democracy after nearly three decades of corrupt military rule.

In South Africa, Thabo Mbeki's succession to the presidency after Nelson Mandela's long good-bye was as smooth as countries in the West had hoped. …

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