Albright Hails African Changes
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright began a weeklong tour of sub-Saharan Africa Monday to encourage a new generation intent on rebuilding their ravaged nations instead of making war.
She will visit the sites of the 1994 massacres in Rwanda and urge Congo President Laurent Kabila to cooperate with U.N. investigators looking into the murder of refugees during the military leader’s campaign to topple Mobutu Sese Seko in May.
But Albright also plans to promote formerly war-torn Angola’s petroleum industry by visiting an oil rig at Cabinda, and point to African success stories in Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe as examples of what conflict-ridden countries can accomplish with political reforms, even if the results aren’t always perfect democracy.
``In our efforts to help post-conflict societies, we should always bear in mind that democracy provides the best route to long-term reconciliation,″ Albright said before her trip. ``But whether elections are held sooner or later, the international community should strive from day one to help assemble the core ingredients of democracy: free press, political parties, equal rights for women and minorities, and even a new constitution.″
Albright plans to lay out the Clinton administration’s agenda in a speech Tuesday to the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, promoting the president’s June initiative to lower tariffs so Africa can export more goods to the United States. Last year, two-way trade was just $21.3 billion. Then, she’ll visit a school’s ``civic education club.″
In all of the seven countries on her agenda _ Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe _ Albright plans to meet with leaders, but also mix with people, particularly women and children and some recently returned refugees in Rwanda.
The last time Albright was in Central Africa, in January 1996, she watched as the bones of massacred Rwandans were unearthed from a church that had become a mass grave. This is her first visit as secretary of state.
The administration is focusing on sub-Saharan Africa like never before with President Clinton planning a visit next year, the first by a chief executive since Jimmy Carter in 1978.
Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Africa last March. Clinton’s new special envoy to Africa, Jesse Jackson, just paid a visit. And Bill Richardson has traveled to hot spots several times since succeeding Albright as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations early this year.
``There is now more reason for optimism about Africa’s future than at any time since many African countries achieved independence over 30 years ago,″ declared Susan Rice, the new assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who is accompanying Albright. ``While conflicts, coups and corruption persist in some quarters, the larger story is that of a wave of change rolling across Africa.″
The decade has witnessed the end of apartheid in South Africa, the conclusion of wars in the Horn of Africa and Mozambique. Liberia and Angola are now at peace, although it is fragile. On the other hand, governments in Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo have been topped in violent coups.
The Great Lakes region _ the former Zaire, now Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, where fighting continues _ is still a tinderbox, Rice said.
In moving to forge new partnerships with African leaders, officials say the United States also is acknowledging a shared responsibility for the bloody past _ something Albright may address in revisiting Rwanda’s killing fields, where some 500,000 died.
The United States and other nations were slow to respond to the humanitarian crisis as Hutus slaughtered minority Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Then U.N. authorities did not prevent the killers from rearming themselves from the safety of refugee camps that held nearly 2 million people. Historically, the United States propped up murderous leaders, including Mobutu, for decades during the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union.
``The overthrow of Mobutu opens up a whole new world of opportunity,″ said Salih Booker of the Council on Foreign Affairs. ``If we can just get it right this time it could become the engine of growth and prosperity for the whole region. This is the most important change that has happened in Africa since the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa.″
While most observers applaud the United States’ newly aggressive Africa policy, critics worry that American leaders are more concerned about stabilizing the continent than true democratic leadership.
Although about half the sub-Saharan nations have held elections in recent years, most maintain one-party rule, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Kabila, who promised elections in 1999.