Clinton pledges an African Renaissance
President goes down a storm in Africa. Mary Braid reports from Accra
Tuesday 24 March 1998
The brother needed to chill out. US crowd control in Ghana? It is almost a contradiction in terms. No one would stand where the Wall Street mannequin ordered; Ghanaians clearly lacked the American sense of order. Three hours in and already this manic? They were taking bets on the chances of him having a heart attack before Uganda - the second stop on this six-country tour.
"He is a relative and he is welcome," shouted a man from the back to laughter. "But we must teach him how to behave in Ghana." Yesterday Ghana welcomed President Clinton on behalf of a downtrodden, poverty-ridden continent at the start of a tour which Africa hopes will change its fortunes. Despite the presence of the huge White House team - 600 political aides and businessmen and 200 Washington-based journalists - Ghana did it its way, and what a show this West African nation put on.
From the early hours, tens of thousands streamed out of Accra's ghettos and in from the countryside to line the streets and fill Independence Square for a visit which Mr Clinton later admitted was long overdue. Traditional chiefs swathed in colourful tente cloth arrived on horseback, bringing their own thrones to sit on and massive cloth canopies for shade. The drums began and dancers took to the stage for a display executed with precision timing. Hillary Clinton's head bobbed; Bill's toes were tapping. The response from a crowd who had waited for hours in 40C heat was rapturous. They came seeking hope and that was what the President gave them. "One hundred years from now your grandchildren and mine will look back and say this was the beginning of an African Renaissance," he promised, saying the US believed the face of Africa had changed in the past decade. Dictators were being replaced and half of sub-Saharan Africa's 48 nations now chose their own governments. Mr Clinton said it was time for "Americans to put a new Africa on our map". He was more upbeat about the continent's prospects than many analysts, but he hedged his bets. It was early days. Democracy had not taken a permanent foothold even in the countries he was visiting.
But the Clinton visit reflects the West's softening attitude to democracy in Africa. Governments speak more of good governance and respect for human rights than multi-party elections. Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, sharing the platform with President Clinton, came to power through the barrel of a gun. But he has since been democratically elected. "If he had not staged a coup when he did, who else could have held Ghana together?" asks a supporter. "Whether he came through the window or not, he is leaving by the front door. I think the West is beginning to appreciate these issues."
There is no end of speculation about the reasons for Clinton's visit to a continent which the world's last superpower previously considered unworthy of a visit. Yesterday the President said that the US had good reason to help Africa, for one in 10 Americans traced their roots there. "Let us find the future here in Africa," Clinton said, "the cradle of humanity."
It is 40 years since Ghana became the first African country to win independence from European colonial masters. Then socialism was the panacea of the day. Today, Africa is fed stringent economic structural readjustment programmes and offered international loans by the IMF and the World Bank provided it meets economic and democratisation targets. Most of the countries on Clinton's visiting list - Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal - are being rewarded for complying with IMF and World Bank rules. "We have done all the hard work," said a lawyer in the crowd. "We hope America will help."
Yesterday, President Clinton had a taste of African hopes and desperation during a miniature walkabout. The crowd surged forward as presidential guards struggled to maintain control. At one stage, the President himself was screaming at the crowd to back up. For a moment it seemed that Mr Clinton would be swallowed up by the clamour of a continent which places great store by his promise that the US will do all it can to make sure that Africa is not left behind in the march towards economic globalisation.
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