President Clinton's on-again, off-again African safari was finally confirmed late in February. However, it will now be truncated and will avoid some of the most important, if sensitive, African nations. What message will this send to the continent as a whole? Milan Vesely talked to a number of people to gauge reactions.
"President Clinton will travel to Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, Rwanda and Senegal."
To an African continent desperate for US leadership, the 11 February White House announcement that President Clinton is to visit only six countries during his African tour is a major disappointment. Much anticipated by a continent in turmoil, the abridged 22 March-2 April visit is now viewed by African democracy proponents as a patched together afterthought by a pressured administration. "Africa is experiencing a political metamorphosis," says ex-Makerere University professor Joseph Omondi, "and President Clinton is avoiding a leadership role and playing it safe."
Though Ghana and Uganda are regionally important, South Africa is the only major player on the itinerary. By including two countries that are insignificant to American interests, the tour pointedly avoids nations in the fore of Africa's political and human rights convulsions. "Not only is Clinton by-passing major players such as Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Zimbabwe, where his stops were expected to boost economic and democratic reforms," says Rwandan activist Mr Antoine Habimana, "but by omitting them he has actually dealt the process a regressive blow."
The tour as it now stands represents a missed opportunity for President Clinton to build an African legacy. As the first American president to visit Africa since President Jimmy Carter went to Nigeria and Liberia in 1979, the US president's visit could have strengthened the democratic processes on the African continent in the new millenium.
By avoiding Kenya, Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe where repressed and restive populations had expected President Clinton to pressure presidents Moi, Kabila, Chiluba and Mugabe in face-to-face talks, the nascent democratic movements in these countries feel abandoned. "We are very disappointed," says an official of Kenyan opposition leader Mr Mwai Kibaki's Democratic Party. "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Reverend Jesse Jackson telling Moi that his violent repression must stop is welcome, but achieves nothing like the impact it would have had coming...