President Clinton Into Africa
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JIM LEHRER: Four views now: Herman Cohen was Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Bush Administration, he is now a senior adviser to the Global Coalition for Africa, an organization which promotes dialogue among African leaders and donor countries; Suliman Baldo is senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch/Africa, he’s a native of Sudan; George Ayittey teaches economics at American University, he’s the author of Africa in Chaos, he’s a native of Ghana; Callisto Madavo is vice president for the Africa Region at the World Bank, he’s a native of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Ayittey, has an African renaissance really begun?
GEORGE AYITTEY, American University: Well, in a way it has begun, and it’s been–it’s been coming for a long time. It is just now that the momentum has sort of grabbed the attention of the world. And what that African renaissance simply means that Africans are taking charge of their own destiny and looking for their solutions to their problems.
JIM LEHRER: Economic as well as political?
GEORGE AYITTEY: Precisely.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Mr. Secretary?
HERMAN COHEN, Former State Department Official: I agree with that. I think it’s time to look at Africa not as one uniform continent but as a place where there are several Africas. And there are at least a group of 12 to 15 countries which are starting to take hold of themselves, implement good policies, starting to produce wealth, starting to produce democracy. And that’s very exciting. There are a bunch of other countries that are not doing well at all, so we have to differentiate.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Baldo, how do you see it?
SULIMAN BALDO, Human Rights Watch/Africa: Well, I see surely a situation where, indeed, Africa is very diverse. We have different countries with different course. Our concern that the high level of attention–the renewal of the U.S. policy towards Africa, very much take into account adherence to human rights–law, and democracy. This is not exactly the case now. We do have–this visit is going to push the U.S. policy in that direction.
JIM LEHRER: Do you consider when looking at the future of Africa and looking at any word, anything that–any meaning to the word “renaissance,” that political reform is number one?
SULIMAN BALDO: Political reform, economic reform, indeed, and mostly also accountability for human rights abuse–the continent is rife with humanitarian disasters, with recent massacres and recent genocides. We want Africa to take that dark age and leave it behind, and this is only feasible through accountability of all forces involved in such atrocities. This is–what we want to bring–
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Madavo, how does one go about doing that, turning the page on the dark side of Africa before you get to the good side in building the economics?
CALLISTO MADAVO, World Bank: Actually, one does that by building on the elements that constitute the renewal that’s underway. The economies are beginning to grow again. What we want to do is we want to sustain that growth; we want to deepen that growth; we want to accelerate it. We are seeing broader participation by ordinary Africans in both political and economic life. We want to see that expanded. We want to see that broadened. We are beginning to see emergent African continent–a group of leaders who care about development, who care about the future, who care about their people. We want not just five or six of them; we want 48 leaders who lead the 48 African countries to be that kind of leader. So that’s how we turn the page.
JIM LEHRER: What is the number one obstacle, is it the leadership right now? Do you have six countries and 50 nations and you’ve got to get them all before you can move?
CALLISTO MADAVO: Well, leadership is certainly one of the keys, one of the keys to the future. But, of course, the situation is much more complex, and it’s not–there is no one silver bullet that you roll out and bring and it resolves the situation. So we need to address the problems on a broad front. But I would argue that without strong leadership, without visionary leadership, we are not going to make much progress.
JIM LEHRER: You wouldn’t disagree with that, would you, Mr. Ayittey?
GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, yes, certainly I think–I think we’ve had too much focus on leadership, and the emphasis should be on institutions. For example, during the Cold War one of the mistakes that the U.S. and the West made was to emphasize strong leaders and to embrace those leaders who profess themselves to be anti-Communist. The floodgates of aid was sort of open to them. But we should shift from that paradigm to institutions, what institutions. We need institutions of democracy. We need institutions of an independent judiciary so we can have the rule of law. We need to have the institution of an independent media, the institution of an independent central bank. If we shift the focus onto these institutions and establish them–although there’s a great deal of cultural diversity in Africa, the problems are common, common in the sense that many of these African leaders established effective economic and political systems in their respective countries after independence, and we need to change those systems.
JIM LEHRER: And does the United States and the outside world have any part to play in changing the internal structures of these countries?
GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, we have to understand that the solutions to Africa’s problems have to come from within Africa. What the U.S. could do is to help sort of support that African initiative; it cannot supplant the efforts Africans, themselves, are making to solve their problems. The U.S. can’t solve Africa’s problems for them. It is Africans who ultimately must solve Africa’s problems.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, just looking back on history, do you agree with Mr. Ayittey that the United States–not just the United States but the outside world centered too much on individuals who were leading particular countries at any given time, rather than the governments and the institutions that they were presiding over?
HERMAN COHEN: I think that’s, more or less, the case. Of course, as was explained before we started, we were in the Cold War, and we looked for leaders who would support the West, rather than the East. And it was easy for them to manipulate us, even though they didn’t merit our support in many cases. But I would disagree. I think leadership is extremely important, and let’s face it, when you look at Africa, individual African countries, there are good guys and bad guys. There are some very visionary leaders who want to help their countries. Now, one country that the President is not visiting is Mali. There is President Kunari. He wants to help his people. The last time I saw him when he was visiting Washington, he says, I look forward to being an ex-president. He’s decentralizing power. He’s getting people to participate. Now, he’s a good guy. There are some other countries, which I will not necessarily mention tonight, where there are people who are stealing everything, who are running things in a very authoritarian manner.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, the people running the government are stealing everything.
HERMAN COHEN: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: They’re stealing from their own people and their own government?
HERMAN COHEN: You have military cliques and this–these people could just as well be good leaders, and you cannot build institutions unless these leaders allow them to.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Baldo, what do you do about those folks, the people who are running countries and abusing human rights and stealing from their own people and not allowing their own folks just basic human freedoms?
SULIMAN BALDO: Well, let me start by saying that it’s the failure of good governments who shall left Africa into the dark episodes–Africa, the continent where there is now the highest number of refugees internationally, the highest number of internally displaced, is the continent with rampant poverty, and there is a sort of organic connection between the realities and the failures of our leadership. So to put emphasis on the leadership is really repeating the mistakes of past history today. We would want to see that the speaker–you know, emphasis is going into the building of institutions, into accountability for our leaders, and into promotion of transparency–both on the economic performance and on the human rights–law.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Madavo, the economic side. A lot of people are saying now that for there to be a real new renaissance in Africa, the pattern should be or the goal should be to be kind of what Southeast Asia or replicate the Asia miracle until a few months ago when the Asia miracle started going sour in some places, but is that realistic? Is that the way Africans are thinking right now and should think?
CALLISTO MADAVO: I will not put it in terms of replicating the East Asian experience. I would term it rather in the following terms; that we are celebrating the growth on average of African economies at four to five percent. Population is growing–
JIM LEHRER: That’s an annual economic–annual growth?
CALLISTO MADAVO: Annual growth.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
CALLISTO MADAVO: Population is growing at three percent. You can then see that this space that’s being created for these countries to address poverty, to improve the lives of their people is very small indeed. What we need to do is to accelerate that growth to something of the order of seven, eight, nine, 10 percent. That would then begin to create the space that would allow the governments to address the issues of poverty. But, indeed, the levels of growth by themselves are not enough. We need to worry about the quality of that growth. To what extent does that growth have conveyor belt built into that it that will pull up the poor? The average child–average man, the average woman–provide jobs, provide drugs in health clinics, provide schools and the materials that will help kids learn in those schools–so that’s what I would like to see in Africa, so it is not helping East Asia, it is rather taking charge, accelerating growth, and worrying to make sure that that growth addresses poverty.
JIM LEHRER: In Africa, itself, Mr. Ayittey, when somebody says, all right, to Country A, get your act together, you know, let’s have progress, let’s move economically; let’s move spiritually; let’s move democratically, what African nations do they site as the good examples, as the models?
GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, Botswana is a shining black African economic star.
JIM LEHRER: Botswana.
GEORGE AYITTEY: Botswana; it’s done extremely well. And the reason–you know, Botswana is not–its main exports are beef and diamonds, and 70 percent of the country is almost desert, and yet it was able to do well. Why? Because number one, Botswana went back to its own indigenous African institutions and built upon it. Right now in Botswana cabinet members are supposed to hold weekly village meetings called “gotlas.” That’s so that the people can participate in the decision-making process. Botswana also had in the 1970′s–enjoyed a booming trade in diamonds, and you know, it reaped a windfall in diamonds of foreign exchange, but it did not squander the money as Nigeria did with its oil money. It saved part and also invested the rest wisely.
JIM LEHRER: Do the people have basic human rights?
GEORGE AYITTEY: Yes. Botswana has always been a functioning democracy, and it is also one of those countries, the African country which has the highest foreign exchange reserves per capita in the world. It’s done extremely well. We don’t hear about–
JIM LEHRER: You don’t hear about Botswana.
GEORGE AYITTEY: There are no problems in Botswana.
JIM LEHRER: What model would you cite?
HERMAN COHEN: I would agree with the Botswana. We were just in Botswana last week holding a meeting of the global coalition, and we had Africans from the rest of Africa there participating, and as they were riding around the countryside, they couldn’t believe their eyes–roads, telecommunication–
JIM LEHRER: And 70 percent desert.
HERMAN COHEN: Yes. Of course there are other countries and of course the countries that President Clinton picked to visit was not done by coincidence. I mean, he picked the countries that essentially are role models: Ghana, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Senegal as well, although less effective than the others. These are the good ones.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Mr. Baldo, what do you–do you believe that the answers, would you agree with Mr. Madavo that whether it’s economic or whatever, don’t look at Asia, don’t look to other places, look to places like Botswana, look to places right in Africa, itself?
SULIMAN BALDO: Well, definitely. I think the continent has sufficient resources in its culture and civilization, you know, which could inspire progress on renaissance. It’s that self-assurance in these values which would–should really fit into the–you know, the–of Africa as a modern–you know–modern states–modern continent. I think this is a very essential factor here.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Madavo, what should be used as a criteria for judging whether the president’s visit to Africa–this is the longest trip by any president of the United States in history to the continent of Africa–how should it be judged in terms of success or not?
CALLISTO MADAVO: Well, as we were saying at the beginning of this conversation, Africa is emerging. There’s a certain momentum there. We hope that President Clinton’s visit will, in fact, add to that momentum, that it will encourage the leaders that he’s meeting with to confront the problems that they have to build on the progress that we have seen, to focus on the economy, to focus on democratization, to focus, indeed, on the building of institutions, with which, by the way, I agree, and so on. To the extent that he adds to that momentum this will be a plus for Africa and for America.
But I was also very struck by a sentence that was in the president’s speech in Ghana. He said, “I came here to listen, I came here to learn.” If, indeed, the president can listen to Africa and African leaders, get a sense of where they are taking their continent, get an understanding of that, and then position America to help the Africans as they take charge, this would have been, again, a tremendous success for Africa and for America.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, gentlemen all four, thank you very much.