October 29, 1999
Nigeria Gets U.S. Help, but Bigger Plan for Africa Snags
In 2 Leaders' Words: An Outline for Hope in Nigeria (Oct. 29, 1999)
Join a Discussion on Africa in Transition
By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
ASHINGTON -- As President Clinton met on Thursday with Nigeria's recently elected President and
pledged a tripling of aid to the country, his Administration's biggest initiative for Africa -- a bill that could
ease Africa's access to the American
market -- seemed imperiled in the
Clinton's afternoon meeting
with President Olusegun Obasanjo
was an effort to show new American
political support for a country tormented for decades by corruption,
military dictatorship and violence.
But when Obasanjo arrived here,
he joined the parade of new democratic leaders who wanted to talk
tariff rates and debt forgiveness.
And during an afternoon news conference with Clinton, he spoke
about Nigeria's new commitment to
"a level playing ground" for investors, making sure that "investment
can be secure."
Obasanjo's main goal was to
reduce or reschedule more than
$30 billion in debt. Paying down the
interest and the principal takes up a
huge part of Nigeria's gross national
product. At the news conference,
Clinton said, "It is neither morally
right nor economically sound to say
that young democracies like Nigeria,
as they overcome the painful legacy
of dictatorship or misrule, must
choose between making interest payments on their debt and investing in
the health and education of their
But under the debt-forgiveness
plan for the world's poorest nations
that Clinton announced last
month, Nigeria would be only a partial beneficiary. The country has
such large oil reserves that little of
its debt would be forgiven outright.
Instead, payments to the world's major powers and to the World Bank
would largely be delayed.
But even as he was meeting with
Obasanjo Thursday, Clinton was
trying to save the African Growth
and Opportunity Act, which would
reduce or eliminate duties on a range
of products produced in sub-Saharan
Africa, mostly those made with
Until Thursday, the bill appeared to be
sailing toward easy passage. But late
this afternoon, aides to the Senate
majority leader, Trent Lott, said the
bill could be pulled from the Senate
agenda on Friday because of a dispute with Democrats over amendments. This also threatened a similar trade bill for Caribbean nations,
which is attached to the African bill.
On Tuesday, bipartisan support for
the trade bill -- which would mean a
great amount to sub-Saharan countries but would have a barely measurable effect on the American economy -- appeared extremely strong.
The Senate voted 90 to 8 to cut off a
filibuster led by Senator Ernest F.
Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, who fears the effects of African
imports on his state's politically powerful textile makers.
On Wednesday, however, Lott
said he feared that Democrats would
try to to attach a raft of unrelated
amendments to the bill. So he invoked a parliamentary maneuver to
block Democrats from offering
That infuriated Democrats who
had hoped to offer amendments on
raising the minimum wage, a patients' bill of rights and a Medicare
prescription drug bill -- all initiatives that Clinton has supported,
and which Democrats hope to turn
into campaign issues.
Clinton has been calling
around on Capitol Hill -- including to
Lott -- to save the bill. White
House officials are clearly concerned
that he not be accused of doing too
little, the charge that Republicans
leveled after the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty two
The Senate Democratic leader,
Tom Daschle, who supports the bill,
today angrily denounced the Republican procedural tactics. He said the
debate now revolved around any senator's fundamental right to offer an
Aides to Daschle said that
barring a last-minute compromise,
all 45 Democrats would probably
vote against a second motion to cut
off debate on Friday.
About 50 Republicans are expected to vote to end the filibuster, but a
spokesman for Lott, John Czwartacki, said that if the majority could
not muster the 60 votes necessary to
cut off debate, the majority leader
would pull the bill from the Senate
Czwartacki signaled that Republicans were ready to turn
Clinton's own accusations of isolationism against Democrats if the
procedural vote failed.
"If there is no cloture, the Democrats will have succeeded in bowing
to the worst elements of isolationism
in their own party," Czwartacki
Democrats said they were willing
to pay that price to stand up for the
larger procedural principles of the
"This is a sham," Daschle said
on the floor.
"There is nothing deliberative about the Senate today.
want to make this a legislative assembly line.
You take something up,
you vote it up or down, and you move
Thursday night, Lott and Daschle
met to discuss a compromise, but it
was unclear whether they would
reach agreement before Friday's