TOPICS > Politics

Assessing the Impact

April 2, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SPENCER MICHELS: An island in the Atlantic ocean, evoking painful memories of slavery, was the last stop on President Clinton’s 11-day, six nation visit to Africa. It was the most extensive tour of the continent ever made by an American president and covered agendas that ranged from America’s centuries-old relationship with Africa to such modern issues as trade and economics, education, and environmental protection.

But it was to the most troubling part of the past that Mr. Clinton returned today, Goree Island, off Senegal’s coast, where millions of Africans began forced journeys to the new world that ended either in their death or in slavery on plantations in America or islands in the Caribbean. In these dramatic surroundings, Mr. Clinton delivered the final speech of his African tour.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Goree Island is as much a part of our history as a part of Africa’s history. From Goree and other places Africa’s sons and daughters were taken through the door of no return, never to see their friends and families again. America’s struggle to overcome slavery and its legacy forms one of the most difficult chapters of that history. Yet, it is also one of the most heroic, a triumph of courage, persistence, and dignity. The long journey of African-Americans proves that the spirit can never be enslaved. (Applause)

SPENCER MICHELS: From the start of the trip in Ghana, where the Clintons received an enthusiastic welcome, to the end, Mr. Clinton mused about the present and the past. The President and First Lady were presented an African kente cloth. In Uganda, the President and First Lady were again received in celebratory fashion, but in one speech, Mr. Clinton dwelled on what he called historic neglect of Africa in the past.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think it is worth pointing out that the United States has not always done the right thing by Africa. But perhaps the worst sin America ever committed about Africa was the sin of neglect and ignorance. We have never been as involved with you in working together for our mutual benefit, for your children and for ours, as we should have been.

SPENCER MICHELS: And in a brief stop in Rwanda, where a genocidal war occurred in 1994, killing hundreds of thousands, the President spoke of the failure of the U.S. and the international community to intervene sooner.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. W should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. (Applause) We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.

SPENCER MICHELS: In South Arica, the president traveled to the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for nearly two decades by the white apartheid government before his release that paved the way to black majority rule. At a news conference earlier that day Mr. Clinton was asked if the slowness of the U.S. and the West to act in Rwanda was due to racism.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don’t believe there was any racial element in our slow response. I do believe that generally America has been, and the whole American policy apparatus has been less responsive and less involved in Africa than was warranted. I think that’s a general problem. But I think in the case of Rwanda, what I believe we have got to do is to establish a system, hopefully through the United Nations, which gives us an early warning system, that gives us the means to go in and try to stop these things from happening before they start.

SPENCER MICHELS: But not all of the trip was policy and work. The first couple had a break in Botswana and went on a safari. Back at work in Botswana and then Senegal, the president called for stronger environmental protection, and he reiterated his support for an international peacekeeping force to head off future conflicts and civil wars in Africa. The President and the First Lady are returning to Washington late today.