Clinton to offer Africa a new deal

The United States is to embark on a major initiative on Africa, designed to shift the focus of policy from aid and development towards trade and investment.

The policy, whose key word is "partnership", was presented by President Bill Clinton with great fanfare from the White House yesterday and concludes months of consideration in the US Administration about how and whether the US should play a greater role in the continent.

Last year, the then Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, made the first tour of Africa by a US official of that rank, and Mr Clinton's wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, toured investment and aid projects in several African countries this spring.

The announcement of the Africa initiative came as the US was making final preparations for the annual summit of the Group of Seven industrialised countries - this year called the Summit of the Eight because it includes Russia - which opens on Friday in Denver, Colorado.

The timing was seen in Washington as a move by the US to pre-empt criticism from other G7 countries, notably France, that it was not doing as much as it could to assist developing countries in general, and African countries in particular.

Last year, US overseas aid fell below the level of France for the first time. However, yesterday's announcement was also seen as an attempt to concentrate discussions at Denver, where a session will be devoted to Africa, on the successes among African states that have adopted free market principles. Last year, these countries achieved an average growth rate of 5 per cent.

Analysts said the US might also be concerned to divert attention away from what one called "the few" African countries experiencing civil strife.

They noted that France, and perhaps some other G7 members might see Mr Clinton's initiative as an attempt to steer summit discussions away from their concerns about stemming poverty and resolving conflicts in Africa. The five-point initiative includes the redirection of already agreed funds towards infrastructure projects, among them telecommunications - and backing for private investment. The US will also implement a debt reduction agreement that was reached in February, to lessen the debt burden on the poorest African countries.