Leading article: Clinton's vision of a new Africa

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WHEN Bill Clinton flies into Cape Town tomorrow to meet Nelson Mandela, two of the world's more charismatic statesmen will have the opportunity to examine one of the world's more intractable problems. How can we lift Africa from the bottom of the economic heap and liberate it from the violence, despotism and famine that have haunted it for too long? Both men share a vision of a new Africa. As President Clinton put it to his audience in Ghana: "One hundred years from now your grandchildren and mine will look back and say this was the beginning of an African Renaissance"- a resonant phrase borrowed from the ANC itself.

It may well take a century to see democratic lion-economies roaring out of Africa. Even so, for a continent that has long been written off as an economic and political basket-case it was a bold statement. What now must Clinton and the West - and Africans themselves - do to stimulate the re-birth of the continent?

The first thing is to recognise that Africa is not a homogenous mass. True there are still states where the familiar post-independence mix of one-partyism, endemic corruption and brutality retains its grip. But parts of Africa are emerging from this model as surely, painfully and slowly they escaped from colonialism. Cruel and capricious "presidents for life' like Amin of Uganda, Banda of Malawi and Mobutu of Zaire have gone. They were propped up by the West in the Cold War era when America's allies were chosen by their hostility to the Soviet Union and their willingness to do what the CIA wanted.

Africa is no longer used as a proxy battlefield by the old superpowers. Apartheid is over. The peoples of half of sub-Saharan Africa's 48 nations now chose their own governments. Old-style leaders like former President Nyerere of Tanzania and President Moi of Kenya want to resist what they call "Coca-Cola style democracy" being imposed on Africa. Quite right. When the British left behind Westminster-style parliaments complete with maces, speakers and wigs they did not long survive as more than dignified curiosities. There can be no question of imposing constitutions. Equally there can be no hiding behind one-partyism as the only way to manage ethnic conflict.

There are new and hopeful exemplars in Africa. It was no accident that Clinton chose to go to a country like Uganda. President Museveni does not run a Scandinavian-style perfect democratic regime. What he has worked for is to give his long-suffering

people a degree of stability without resorting to the worst despotic excesses of his predecessors. In Uganda one sees the beginnings of the freedoms that ensure stability and a political system that accommodates ethnicity and does not exploit it - the rule of law, protection of minorities, freedom of the press and so on. Despite its move to multi-party democracy the intimidation witnessed in the recent elections shows that Kenya still falls far short of the progress of its smaller neighbour.

The Kenyan High Commissioner in London said on television that he didn't care that Clinton hadn't chosen to drop in on Nairobi. Don't you believe it. It hurts. What also hurts is the embargo on aid to Kenya. That is why it stands and should continue. It is also a reason why the West needs to turn its attention to the logical corollary of this approach and look at large scale debt cancellation for countries where the beginnings of good governance are providing the underpinnings for economic growth.

Far away from Gaberone, Cape Town and Kampala the West will soon have an opportunity to extend its initiative beyond pure diplomacy. Next month our own Gordon Brown will tell the World Bank/IMF summit in Washington, and the G7 meeting that follows it in Birmingham in May, about his proposal to relieve debt and poverty in Africa. It will involve transferring some of the burden of debt from those nations least able to bear it to the bigger developing economies. The West has demonstrated what can be done with political will when it came to assisting the economies of the former Soviet Union and, most recently, the far east. As of this week the serious debate on what can be done to help Africa has really begun. President Clinton must now match the excellent pace he has set in the diplomatic field and lead the West in lending urgency to rescuing a too-long neglected and misunderstood continent.