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Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / March 24, 1998 / 26 Adar, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Bill's 12-day safari

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has flown off to Africa this week because Africa is a very important continent and not many people there have heard of Monica Lewinsky or Kathleen Willey.

Actually, that's probably not true. Probably a lot of people in Africa have heard of both of them but just don't care.

Which, if the polls are to be believed, makes them not that much different from people in America.

At 12 days, this will be the longest trip Clinton has made outside the country since being elected. His official purpose is to persuade African nations that by embracing democracy, they will increase their prosperity.

And their prosperity could definitely use some increasing.

"Basically, Africa is a continent that has been left out of this century," Commerce Secretary William Daley, who will be traveling with Clinton, told me. "In the '60s, Africa and Asia were at the same level in terms of economics. But Asia takes off, and Africa goes nowhere."

The Clinton administration now says it is committed to changing that. And not just because it wants to help those left behind in Africa but because it is good for business in America.

"We have a growing stake in Africa's success," National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said. "We have to demystify Africa for Americans."

The White House is using the word "historic" to describe the trip, and it may turn out to be. It certainly is large.

The president and the first lady are traveling with an entourage of 450 and 200 members of the news media to Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal.

"It will be a real privilege for me to be the first American president to visit those countries," Clinton said.

It will also be the first extended trip to Africa by a president in U.S. history. Presidents Carter and Bush made brief visits to Africa during their terms of office, and Franklin Roosevelt made stop on the continent in Word War II.

"We, as a nation, still have much to learn about Africa," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "For many, our impressions are dominated by images of famine and strife, exotic wildlife and vast deserts."

Clinton's trip, she said, is designed to emphasize Africa's "modern cities, first-rate universities, fast-developing economies and hard-working people with aspirations very similar to our own."

It is also designed to promote democracy by convincing African leaders that societies that have free markets, free elections, a free press and tolerance of ethnic diversity have the greatest chance to make economic strides in the coming century.

The United States also wants to wean African nations off aid and get them into trade.

"Obviously, in the view of the president, it would be much better to have economic partners in Africa rather than depending on relationships that go one way, primarily through economic aid," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

But even though Clinton emphasizes "the renaissance that is the African continent today," the nations south of the Sahara Desert, known as sub-Saharan Africa, still have along way to go.

"It is difficult to get an American firm to open a plant in a country when they will only get electricity for an hour a day," Daley said. "But that can also be an opportunity: We are trying to get U.S. power companies to invest in Africa."

While about 100,000 Americans have jobs directly tied to U.S. exports to Africa, African trade is only 1 percent of all U.S. trade, and only 7 percent of Africa's imports are American.

"There are clearly economic opportunities there," Berger said.

There are also political opportunities here. Some 30 million Americans can trace their roots to Africa, and for President Clinton to make an extended trip to Africa, filling the news day after day with sounds, words and pictures from that continent sends a powerful message.

White House advance teams have been working for months to pick dramatic settings for the trip: (Bullets) In South Africa, Clinton will visit Robben Island, where South African President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.

In Senegal, Clinton will not only watch a military exercise designed to show how African forces can maintain peace on the continent, but he will also visit a port that was the site of the slave trade for 300 years.

In Rwanda, where an orgy of killing over a three-month period in 1994 left 800,000 people dead, Clinton will meet what the White House terms "genocide survivors."

In Botswana, Clinton will go on a photo safari in a game preserve and emphasize the importance of protecting the environment.

In Uganda, Clinton will take part in a summit of African leaders in order to encourage "an end to killing, and establish political and social networks based on inter-ethnic cooperation."

Somewhere along the way, the president will also talk about narcotics, global terrorism and land mines.

The event the White House is most nervous about, however, is the joint press conference Clinton will have with Mandela in South Africa.

White House aides are already taking bets as to whether U.S. reporters will have the guts to ask Clinton about Lewinsky, Willey, Tripp and Starr on foreign soil.

And Berger was asked at a press briefing in Washington if Clinton wasn't leaving the country for 12 days just to escape a bunch of ugly questions.

"No," he said sadly and looked out at the reporters in the room. "We're taking you with us."


3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.