Buoyed by the biggest crowd of his presidency, President Clinton hailed “the new face of Africa” and its growing peace, prosperity and democracy as he opened a historic six-nation tour on Monday
While poverty and war still trouble parts of the continent, Clinton said Americans must shake off “the stereotypes that have warped our view and weakened our understanding of Africa.”
Dictatorships have fallen in many countries, Clinton said, and half of the 48 nations of sub-Saharan Africa now have elected governments. Where business was once stifled, “now Africans are embracing economic reform,” the president said on a mission to applaud political reforms and open the door for U.S.-African trade.
Clinton’s message was almost lost to a few seconds of dramatic video that showed him being jostled by an enthusiastic crowd.
After waiting for hours in temperatures that hovered near 100 degrees, the massive crowd roared at the sight of Clinton in Independence Square, a sprawling parade ground alongside the Gulf of Guinea. After weeks of sex-scandal publicity back home, the White House happily passed along Ghanaian government estimates of more than 500,000 people, although that number seemed high.
Clinton’s press secretary said the audience was “the largest he’s seen as president, maybe one of the largest any American president has ever seen.” Last July’s visit to Bucharest, Romania, had been the previous benchmark.
But the huge turnout and intense heat brought problems. Crowds surged toward Clinton to shake his hand, endangering people pressed against metal barriers. An obviously alarmed Clinton waved crowds to stop, and he shouted, “Back up! Back up!” Spokesman Mike McCurry said Clinton was worried about the people in front being injured.
Fights broke out in the crowd over scarce bottles of water. Police and military security whipped people with belts and canes to keep order. Thousands of people drifted away from the square as the ceremony droned on.
Accra, once an Atlantic port for slave traders, was the gateway for Clinton’s 12-day, 21,000-mile journey to Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal. Over the course of the trip, he will spend about 42 hours on Air Force One.
The United States sees Africa as a huge potential market, with per capita income rising in 31 countries. The population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double to 1.5 billion in 27 years.
Clinton’s journey is the longest foreign trip of his presidency and the first time an American president has visited any of the six countries on his trip map.
“It is a journey long overdue,” the president said.
“I want to build a future partnership between our two people and I want to introduce the people of the United States through my trip to the new face of Africa.”
Clinton and his national security aides were distracted by news from Moscow that President Boris Yeltsin had fired his Cabinet, though the president said there was no reason to believe that U.S.-Russian policy would be affected.