October 25, 1999
U.S. and Africa: Unfulfilled Promises and Skepticism
Albright Vows to Increase Aid to Nigeria (Oct. 21, 1999)
Sierra Leone Victims and Rebels Hear Albright's Message of Peace (Oct. 19, 1999)
Join a Discussion on Africa in Transition
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
AIROBI, Kenya -- As
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited six African nations last
week, her twin goals seemed to be to
reassure Africans that the United
States was still interested in the continent's affairs and to persuade
Congress that Africa
Using the backdrops of Sierra Leone, where a peace agreement just
halted a brutal eight-year civil war,
and of Nigeria, which recently
emerged from nearly 16 years of
military rule, Dr. Albright pledged to
assist them with significant increases in aid. Inserting the two
West African countries into the ongoing budget fight in Washington, she
castigated Congress for wanting to
cut President Clinton's $14.6 billion
foreign aid request by more than $2
After a trip to Kano in northern
Nigeria -- where city officials closed
off streets for her visit but were
unable to clear the sides of the usual
mounds of garbage and refuse-chomping goats -- Dr. Albright said:
"They find it pretty hard to understand that we're going around saying
we have the world's greatest economy, and that we have a huge budget
surplus, and they are there digging
themselves out of garbage."
The message conveyed by the Secretary, who returned to Washington
on Sunday, underscored the unfulfilled promises of Clinton's historic visit to Africa in March 1998.
During that trip, the longest ever
to Africa by an American President
and the first in two decades,
Clinton talked of a "new African
renaissance" and a relationship rooted in partnership, not cold war paternalism. "The United States is ready
to help you," he said at the time,
promising a new approach to Africa.
Despite the President's emphasis
on trade, Congress has yet to pass
the Africa Growth and Opportunity
Act, which would grant certain African governments greater access to
the American market. Although
Clinton called for direct aid to Africa
to reach the highs of the cold war,
development assistance has continued to decline, to the current level of
about $700 million, down from about
$870 million seven years ago.
Although he spoke of democracy,
critics of Washington's Africa policy
say the United States has not done
enough to help resolve the many conflicts that have erupted or expanded
in Africa since the President's visit
-- at the same time that Washington
and the West quickly poured billions
into Kosovo and East Timor.
And so during Dr. Albright's first
visit to Africa since the President's
trip, there was skepticism among
many ordinary Africans, in sharp
contrast with the exuberance heard
during Clinton's tour.
At an AIDS awareness event attended by Dr. Albright here, a participant, Stephen Otiemo, 29, said he
had followed Clinton's 12-day
tour very closely on the radio. "We
heard him make many promises,"
Otiemo said, "but we have not
seen much so far. But perhaps we
had been hoping for too much. We
cannot be angry because we cannot
force somebody to do what he does
not want to do."
"But somehow we are also angry
because we have suffered for the
United States," he said, mentioning
the August 1998 bombing of the
American Embassy here, in which
more than 200 Kenyans were killed
along with 12 Americans.
Another spectator, Peter Lasu
Ladu, 32, a Christian refugee from
southern Sudan, asked why Washington was willing to intervene so decisively in Kosovo, but not in his native
country's civil war, where almost 2
million people are believed to have
been killed in the last 16 years.
"He made a lot of promises,"
Ladu said. "But to talk of something
and to implement something is different."
Even as Dr. Albright promised $55
million to Sierra Leone and a threefold to fourfold rise in Nigeria's current $27 million aid -- both will require Congressional approval -- she
argued that the fulfillment of
Clinton's promises had been blocked
by a Republican-controlled Congress.
In line with other senior Administration officials, she blamed isolationism for their resistance.
Republicans counter that they are not isolationist, but out to protect America's
best interests. They and other critics
also say the Clinton White House has
failed to bargain with Congress to
secure foreign policy goals.
Critics of Washington's policy toward Africa say the Administration
shares the blame for what they describe as inattention toward the continent.
"The Administration hasn't made
a particularly aggressive case on
Africa specifically," said Salih Booker, a senior fellow at the Council on
The Administration has raised Africa's profile and followed through
on some issues, including increased
training for African peacekeeping
forces and pushing for debt relief,
But he added: "The
real problem is that without a serious commitment of resources, the
American Government can only talk.
Talking is important, but U.S. credibility in Africa will be eroded if the
Administration can't put money and
human resources, too, where its
Dr. Albright's tour -- which included Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya -- was
clearly intended to regain the momentum on Africa. Asked to assess
American relations with Africa since
the President's trip, the Secretary
said: "I believe that our Administration has spent more time, attention
and money on Africa than any previous Administration. The fact that we
haven't accomplished everything we
want is unfortunate, but it isn't
The sober words were a long way
from what Clinton told half a
million ebullient Ghanaians only 19
months ago: "My dream for this trip
is that together we might do the
things so that 100 years from now,
your grandchildren and mine will
look back and say this was the beginning of a new African renaissance."
The change in tone reflects how
much Africa, and Washington's view
of it, have changed in those 19
months. During Clinton's visit,
the Administration's darlings were a
so-called new generation of leaders,
pragmatic and competent men who
would lead Africa to its renaissance.
But the four men most often regarded as this generation's standard-bearers have all become embroiled
in war since the Presidential visit.
Yoweri K. Museveni, the President
of Uganda, and Paul Kagame, the
leader of Rwanda, backed a rebellion
against the Government of Congo
and President Laurent Kabila, their
former protégé. Ugandan and Rwanda troops even clashed briefly in the
Congolese city of Kisangani recently.
Also, Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and Issaias Afwerki, the Eritrean leader, started a
border war that has claimed tens of
thousands of soldiers.
In 1998, Clinton's plane pointedly flew over Nigeria, the African
giant and its most populous nation, to
protest the repressive Government
of Gen. Sani Abacha. Since then, however, General Abacha's unexpected
death unleashed a sweeping political
transformation that resulted in the
inauguration of the first civilian Government in Nigeria in nearly 16
During Dr. Albright's stop last
week in Nigeria, she heaped praise
on President Olusegun Obasanjo,
who is due to visit Washington this
week. There was no talk of a new
generation of leaders; Obasanjo,
after all, was Nigeria's military ruler in the late 1970's. But Dr. Albright
described Nigeria as a potential "regional partner" for the United States
"Nigeria's success in meeting the
challenges of democracy will be a
welcome inspiration across Africa,"
she said in her keynote speech of the
trip and one of her most upbeat comments. "For our part, the United
States will continue to be a strong
supporter of democratic forces
across the continent."