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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

USA: Comments after Clinton Trip

USA: Comments after Clinton Trip
Date distributed (ymd): 980418
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains two articles, one from InterPress Service and the other from InterAction (the national coalition of US international development, disaster relief and refugee assistance agencies), with comments on U.S. Africa policy in the wake of President Clinton's trip. The posting also contains excerpts and links to additional commentary on the trip, selected from more extensive commentary at The White House site with full official details on the trip is at

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

InterPress Service


Concern Over U.S. Policy in Nigeria, Congo

By Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service, Africa Headquarters, 127 Union Ave. Box 6050, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Tel: 263-4-790104/5 Fax: 263-4-728415
E-mail: or

This article reposted with permission by the Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List.
IPS Africa coverage is available (by paid subscription) at the IPS web site (
It is also available in the conference on the APC networks,and by e-mail subscription from PeaceNet World News (for information, send a message to For information about cross-posting, send a message to

WASHINGTON, Apr 9 (IPS) - Human rights activists in the United States, increasingly concerned about developments in the Congo and Nigeria, are frustrated by mixed signals on both countries emanating from the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Clinton, who spoke out strongly for democratisation and human rights during his unprecedented trip to Africa earlier this month, so far has failed to clarify confusing remarks he made about Nigeria in Cape Town, South Africa. Neither has he condemned the crackdown against human rights groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just two weeks after he met its president, Laurent Kabila, in Uganda.

"If you can't get it right in Nigeria and the Congo, then there's nothing we can do about a 'new African renaissance'," said Salih Booker, director of Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations here. Clinton referred frequently to "a new African renaissance" during his 12-day trip to the continent.

"When it comes to U.S. credibility vis-a-vis democracy in Africa, the two major cases are Nigeria and Congo," according to Leonard Dees, who heads African programmes at the government- funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Since Clinton met Kabila during a conference of regional leaders in Entebbe, the Congolese leader, who ousted long-time Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko last May, appears to have launched a crackdown against human rights groups in Kinshasa.

Late last month, soldiers reportedly forced their way into the home of Floribert Chebeya, president of the Voice of the Voiceless, one of the country's leading human rights monitoring groups, took him at gunpoint, and beat him severely in nearby vacant lot.

While some reports have suggested the attack may have linked to a long-standing property dispute, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that it was "indicative of increasing government attempts to stifle independent voices."

Then, last Friday, Kabila's Justice Minister, Mwenze Kongolo, appeared on national television and declared that the Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AZADHO), Congo's main human rights group, had been outlawed and ordered the police to immediately close their offices throughout the country. He charged that AZADHO had violated the law by receiving foreign funding, failing to register with the government, leading political activities, and keeping the letter "Z" in its acronym, a reference to the former Zaire.

HRW declared the decree was the latest in a series of attacks on human rights groups, especially in the eastern part of the country, where Kabila's insurgency began, and more recently in the capital.

The State Department Tuesday "deplored" the banning of AZADHO, saying it sent "exactly the wrong message when the United States government and other donor governments are looking for ways and means to assist the (Congo) in its search for democracy, stability and the rule of law."

In a somewhat more ambiguous statement, it noted that "while we do not endorse all of AZADHO's reports and activities, we believe it serves an important role in the Congo's political development."

"It's astounding that the State Department felt it needed to distance itself from the content of a group's work to affirm its right of association," complained Adotei Akwei, Africa specialist at Amnesty International USA.

He added that Washington's reaction was consistent with a worrisome pattern of criticising recent independent human rights reports about the governments of Congo, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, including those of a U.N. mission charged with investigating alleged massacres committed by Kabila's own forces during last year's insurrection.

If US remarks on the situation in the Congo have disappointed activists here, Clinton's and other officials' handling of Nigeria policy during and after the trip has infuriated them.

These same forces were greatly encouraged by the new Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Susan Rice, who, just before the trip, warned that Nigeria could not expect improved relations with the United States if Head of State Sani Abacha, who took power in a military coup d'etat in 1993, won the presidency in what are seen here as rigged elections scheduled for later this year.

"Electoral victory by any military candidate in the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria would be unacceptable," she said. "Nigerians need and deserve a real transition to democracy and civilian rule, not another military regime dressed up in civilian clothes."

But during a news conference with South African President Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, Clinton surprised his own entourage by saying, "If (Abacha) stands for election, we will hope he will stand as a civilian. There are many military leaders who have taken over chatoic situations in African countries but have moved toward democracy, and this can happen in Nigeria."

Aides quickly tried to undo the damage, but only contributed more to the confusion over U.S. policy, which officially has been under review since Nov. 1995. The State Department insisted that Rice's remarks stood, while others on the trip claimed, somewhat feebly, that the two statements were consistent. Meanwhile, exultant Abacha officials depicted Clinton's words as a repudiation of Rice's tougher line.

Last weekend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Clinton's special envoy for democracy and human rights in Africa further added to the perception that Washington was moving in Abacha's direction when he warned that a confrontation with Abacha could have "awesome" ramifications for Nigeria and its neighbours. He suggested further that Washington use the same kind of "aggressive, assertive engagement" in Nigeria that it uses in China.

"That's essentially the same line that's used by Nigeria's paid lobbyists here," said Dees, who adds that the different policies clearly reflect the existence of two camps within the administration.

"It's just outrageous," agreed Booker, who favours toughening existing sanctions against the regime while engaging it in a more intense dialogue and providing support for pro-democracy groups in Nigeria - the kind of policy Washington pursued towards apartheid South Africa.

"It's going to take a very clear statement by Clinton himself that the transition process in Nigeria is a joke to repair the damage," said Akwei. (END/IPS/jl/mk/98)


Reflections from Africa on Clinton's Trip

Monday Developments April 20, 1998

InterAction, 1717 Massachusetts, NW, Suite 801, Washington, DC 20036;
Phone: (202) 667-8227; Fax: (202) 667-8236; E-mail:
Selected articles from the biweekly Monday Developments are available on the InterAction Web Site (

Monday Developments asked two African NGO coalition leaders for their reactions to President Clinton's historic 12-day trip to Sub-Saharan Africa. Here are their responses:

Madize N'diaye is president of the Forum of Voluntary Development Organizations (FAVDO), a Pan-African NGO network based in Senegal that seeks to facilitate the development of African NGOs.

President Clinton's initiative to visit Senegal was very well received by everyone here. That a US President devoted 11 days to travel in Africa to bring the attention of the American people and of the whole world to our continent is remarkable and was very much appreciated. His way of addressing the people with sincerity (nervousness in Ghana with the huge crowd) everywhere he went was praised since a visit like his in African countries would normally be exclusively marked by formal meetings with red carpet, official receptions and little contact or interaction with ordinary Africans.

The President's message was frank (aid and trade) and well received even if 99% of us think that trade between very rich and very poor countries can only perpetuate exploitation and broaden the gap between the rich and the poor. Mandela's response to the President is really the message from all of Africa which has not totally given up hope. That is the Africa President Clinton seemed to want to talk to. We hope he will keep that in mind; otherwise, his trip would have been useless.

In Senegal, the President's visit to a National Council of Negro Women-funded project was appreciated by the NGO community because of its symbolism (as an African-American women's organization). However, the President also should have devoted a few additional minutes of his time to visiting activities of Senegalese NGOs which are leading the effort to end dependency and build self reliance. That would have countered the general impression that only international organizations are doing useful work. That visit would have strengthened the image of that Africa fighting for control of its destiny, that same Africa that Mr. Clinton seemed to want to promote.

That some elements of civil society met with the president, is a very good thing. However, development NGOs felt frustrated because that meeting was mostly meant for public actors involved in democracy and human rights issues. Development NGOs are 100 times more numerous than these groups and are very active in democratic education at the grassroots level.

I personally have a great respect for President Clinton. I heard the Director of the USAID mission in Senegal recalling the participation of the current leaders of the US in the civil rights movement when, in tears, they marched and sang along with Reverend Martin Luther King We Shall Overcome.

We therefore have no doubt about the sincerity of the words uttered by Mr. Clinton in Africa, especially his commitment to participate in the African Renaissance in his moving speech at Goree Island. At the same time, knowing the complexity of the political games in the US, that speech (may have been) a simple literary exercise, which for a moment, filled our hearts with balm a little hope to be better understood, and nothing more. Even if that were the case, I would thank Mr. and Mrs. Clinton for having tried.

Ezra Mbogori is executive director of MWENGO, a regional network that seeks to harness the capacities of NGOs in Eastern and Southern Africa.

No one can discount the value of the symbolism represented by Clinton s visit in terms of marking a positive shift in the attitude of the US towards Africa. The hard part translating all the rhetoric into reality is yet to come. After all, is it not said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating? The message that many in Africa got from the visit seems to suggest that there is indeed some pudding. We now need to partake of it. One cannot wish away the cynicism that has built up over the years and assume that the pudding does indeed exist and that it will be great to eat. We now must look to seeing it and, hopefully, eating it!

(During the president's trip, many Africans raised objections to the African Trade Bill supported by President Clinton and recently passed by the House.) It is my view that the extent to which these objections are taken into account, will constitute a measure of the extent to which the pudding does indeed exist and if this is available for eating. After all, the pudding could have been fake all along. These days even plastic flowers adorn scenic locations!

Selected Quotes from Africa press sources
Africa News Online (
Full stories available at Web addresses listed.

African Press Review on Clinton's Trip Pan African News Agency
(March 27, 1998)

Nairobi Daily Nation

"He is making the right utterances but are his actions and those of donors matched by this? The answer is no."

Times of Zambia "Africa applauds Bill Clinton for showing the continent is part of the global nation. But Africa will give Clinton a standing ovation and his trip becomes indelible if on his return to Washington, he can match his zeal, show by the trip, to his action to uplift the well being of the continent."

Lagos Guardian "a watershed event in the gradual refocusing of American policy on Africa. ... [but] No meaningful visit to Africa, to discuss meaningful business, should be deemed successful without Nigeria."

The Monitor (Kampala),
Commentary by Mahmood Mamdani,
A. C. Jordan Professor of African Studies at the University of Cape Town
(April 10, 1998)

Those who are not in a position to make ends meet are also not in a position to voice dissent, except maybe in back-room whispers. This is why the dissent was far more audible in South Africa than in any other country Clinton visited.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki struck this chord with his rhetorical question in a radio interview: Could there be a single economic recipe for a continent as diverse as Africa? When does aid facilitate trade, and when does it undermine trade? When does the liberalization of foreign markets undercut the growth of local ones? When does foreign trade undercut foreign investment? And when does the liberalization of financial markets undermine national sovereignty? Not all of these choices are real for all African countries. Neither is the consequence of these tension-ridden relationships the same for all.

Yet the Clinton administration and Congress -- in seeking a uniform approach with a heavy emphasis on liberalization of financial markets and trade -- seem to have missed the point. One question does concern every country: Who will be in a position to define the choices and make them, and who will not? After a decade of liberalization, the issues for Africa are no longer those of the Cold War, of socialism or capitalism, but those that expand the boundaries of meaningful choice in the era of globalization. Seen from the southern tip of Africa, the world seems divided into two: countries that can restructure out of choice, and those that have structural adjustment imposed on them by others.

The U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, which passed the House of Representatives on March 11, just in time for Clinton's travels, seemed to tilt the balance of reform away from choice to an external imposition. Rather than a helping hand, it read like a set of terms that every African country must meet before getting ease of access to the American market. This was the first big worry about the Clinton agenda. ...

Many people here wonder whether the United States is opting for popular regimes that are willing to impose economic reforms designed in Washington, even if the same regimes deny the opposition the right to organize, a right without which there can be no self-correcting mechanism in a democracy, and thus no self-sustaining popularity. If the era of single-party politics taught us one thing, it is that monopoly is as corrupting in politics as in the economy. This is the second big worry about the Clinton agenda. ...

A regional peace is obviously in the interest of everyone. But peace on whose terms? There has been talk of a Pan-African force for at least a decade now, ever since the cost of endless civil wars became clear. It is not the lack of vision, but of resources,that has prevented it from being put in place. ... Would not a U.S.-outfitted African deployment force be Pan-African in name only, its aims set surely by those providing its resources? This is the third big worry about the Clinton agenda.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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