Features

The colonial trading co.

International | But trade, not aid, may be key to Africa's future

Issue: "Promise Keepers breakdown," March 21, 1998

Following a strict diet of constant motion to ward off bad press, President Clinton makes a grand excursion through Africa this month.

Pachyderms may be foresworn, but in other ways the trip recalls the elaborate tours made by Western monarchs in the colonial days. Mr. Clinton will travel with more than 1,000 people in his delegation. They include an undisclosed number of lawmakers, a large contingency of business people, and 200 journalists. Heralded as "a trade and democracy mission," the trip also recalls Mr. Clinton's 1994 trip to Indonesia, when his business entourage signed $40 billion in contracts with Asian firms. As with the Indonesia trip, the administration has said it will not release names of the members of the delegation.

Mr. Clinton's African connections are not likely to benefit American businessmen nearly so well as his Indonesian ones, but the upbeat theme for the trip follows on an administration effort to sell economic development in the brighter spots of the Dark Continent. The five-nation tour includes Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, and Senegal. All but two of the countries-Ghana and Senegal-enjoy "mostly free" rankings in the 1998 Index of Economic Freedom, and all five have stable political climates (in marked contrast to their neighbors) that make them ripe for American investors.

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The journey also follows House passage of a bill to encourage investment and exports to Africa. While making some imports duty-free, the bill falls short of granting the kind of "fast-track" negotiating authority President Clinton failed to win from Congress last year. It nonetheless received bipartisan support, suggesting that American lawmakers are ready to move away from their traditional approach to doing business with Africa-which has involved truckloads of foreign aid and little else-to a more constructive and expanded one, beginning with free-trade agreements as a means to spur economic growth.

"Traditional foreign aid has not led to the level of economic development and improved living standards that we would like to see on the African continent," said Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.), who heads the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade and was a main sponsor of the legislation.

"Active participation in the global marketplace is essential to stimulating Africa's economy," said Mr. Crane. "With a combined population of nearly 600 million people, sub-Saharan Africa should become a major export market for U.S. goods and services."

Noblesse oblige has a sinister ring in Africa, however, and Mr. Clinton may not be in for an entirely easy ride. Two weeks ago, African foreign ministers meeting in Ethiopia rejected a Clinton plan on peacekeeping missions. At last summer's G-7 economic summit, Mr. Clinton called on Western leaders to train African peacekeepers for conflicts, in the wake of Hutu-Tutsi battles involving Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi said the Western-backed initiative was an attempt "to divide Africa," and he received wide support for rebuffing Mr. Clinton. If there's a call for outside troops, he said, it will be addressed to the United Nations.

Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, heads another emerging democracy. He took power 12 years ago after the brutal reign of Idi Amin and his successor dictators, Milton Obote and Tito Okello. The guerrilla leader brought peace to his country along with-according to African standards-prosperity. From 1985 to 1995, the Ugandan economy grew by over 6 percent, ranking it 15th among the world's economies for rate of expansion. Mr. Museveni has renewed economic ties with neighboring Tanzania and Kenya. He has ingratiated himself with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, forging a high rate of return on their loan assistance. But he is quickly provoked by the "irritating paternalism" of "racist" foreigners who press for democratic reforms.

Mr. Museveni defends his "one-party democracy," which has allowed free elections at the local level but no opposition at the presidential level. Mr. Museveni, who says he became a born-again Christian at an early age (see sidebar), has loosened many restrictions-on worship, the press, and the right to assembly-throughout the country, while holding tightly to power.

Only Uganda and South Africa were on the original itinerary for the president's trip. Mr. Clinton was slated to visit Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe before several foreign-policy experts weighed in, including George Ayittey, associate professor of economics at American University.

"We said, 'You cannot be meeting leaders who are phony liberators who shot their way to power,'" Mr. Ayittey told WORLD. "'You cannot hail them but preach democracy.'"

That view prevailed with the Clinton administration, but African leaders may have found a way around it. According to Mr. Ayittey, Uganda will host 22 African leaders during Mr. Clinton's visit as a "back-door" way to win time with the American delegation. For Mr. Clinton and his business friends, it could lead to charges of cozying up to dictators, as they have faced in the Pacific. And it may mean Mr. Clinton cannot escape critical press attention, even an ocean away.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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