WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton left Sunday for a 12-day trip to Africa that will take him to the Peace Corps' first outpost and an island once central to the slave trade.

Clinton will also see the headwaters of the Nile, visit the island prison where Nelson Mandela spent two decades and go on safari along the Chobe River.

He'll pay a brief visit to Rwanda, where a half million people were slaughtered in ethnic strife. The president is visiting five other countries: Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal. It's the first such tour by a U.S. president since Jimmy Carter's in 1978.

The president is using the trip to highlight hopeful trends in Africa _ the emergence of thriving market economies and stable, if imperfect, democracies.

The trip is seen as a smart move at home, a symbolic journey to their roots for many of the 34 million black Americans that could create opportunities for them to help Africa, to bring full circle a legacy of suffering and denial as descendants of African slaves.