Clinton in Africa: A titanic flop?

Author:Vesely, Milan

US President Bill Clinton's visit to Africa was widely touted as the start of a new era of mutual benefit between the two continents. But how did Americans react to the tour? We asked our US-based correspondent, Milan Vesely to find out. This is what he discovered.

Hollywood held its annual Oscars extravaganza on the day that President Clinton's Air Force One jet touched down on the baking hot Ghanaian soil. Perhaps significantly, while the recently released African slavery movie Amistad was ignored by the industry, the huge-budget Titanic swept away all before it. Ironically, it also sank the start of President Clinton's historic African visit.

Relegated to item five behind the Arkansas school shooting, failure of the Congressional Campaign Reform Bill, more charges of sexual misconduct, and an Oregon white-water rafting accident on most evening newscasts, the history making tour, in Hollywood parlance, simply didn't sell.

Senator Lott of the Republican Party expressed American attitude on 21 March when he appeared on 'Meet the Press,' a current affairs TV programme. "I'm not sure that Clinton's visit is appropriate at this time of important issues coming to a head," he said in response to presenter Tim Russet's question on the significance of the first tour of Africa by a sitting president since Jimmy Carter's in 1978.

This less than positive attitude is not shared by the Clinton administration (obviously), or some African-Americans, but has otherwise been rife in America. It has also manifested itself in Africa.

President Nelson Mandela of South Africa was forthright after meeting with President Clinton on 27 March. In rejecting the United States' proposed Africa Growth and Opportunity Act which the Clinton administration is promoting as the linchpin of its future relations with Africa, he stated: "It is better sometimes to say this is a matter over which we have serious reservations. This legislation is not acceptable to us." A more blunt assessment was volunteered by Cape Town businessman Richard O'Malony: "The Clinton administration has not grasped what Africa is about," he said, exasperated by the Bill's Congress-approved conditions. "One sided trade agreements excluding us from US markets will not cut the mustard any more. We demand more equality for our continent's manufacturing industries."

Calling to mind the title of the movie which rivalled the Oscar-sweeping Titanic, President Clinton's visit to five African nations was viewed...

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