President Clinton came close to apologizing Tuesday for what he called his country’s shameful legacy in Africa, including America’s role in the slave trade and its more recent support for repressive anti-communist dictators during the Cold War.
“Going back to the time before we were even a nation, European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade,” Clinton told several thousand children and local residents in this rural town 20 miles from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
“And we were wrong in that.”
Clinton’s statement stopped short of the explicit apology for past wrongs that some blacks in the United States have sought. But it was significant in that this was the president addressing this topic in this place, and, as he noted, “The United States has not always done right by Africa.”
The president offered no specifics of its treatment of Africa during the Cold War, but the history he referred to is well-documented: U.S. support for anti-Communist repression in Liberia, the funding of terrorist guerrillas in Angola and nearly 30 years of propping up Mobutu Sese Seko, who enriched himself at Zaire’s expense.
“But perhaps the worst sin America ever committed about Africa was the sin of neglect and ignorance,” he said. “We have never been as involved with you, in working together for our mutual benefit, for your children and for ours, as we should have been.”
Black Americans traveling with the president welcomed his remarks about Africa and history, though some called for Clinton to say even more.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Clinton’s special envoy to Africa, said he believes that black Americans would welcome the president’s remarks, but what both groups really want to see emerging from this trip is better relations between the nations of Africa and the United States.
“The question is where should we go from here,” Jackson said. “And where we go from here is the move away from slavery and neglect and paternalism and pawns to partnership.”
On his 12-day tour of Africa, Clinton is trying to reverse America’s past stance toward this continent. He hopes to create a new picture of Africa in American minds. Tuesday, he was entertained by songs and dances of children at the Kisowera primary school, where the topic of the day was education.
Clinton praised Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for his efforts to boost education, tripling spending for schools over three years and increasing teacher salaries ninefold.
School enrollment doubled last year to 5.3 million after Museveni’s government began guaranteeing free elementary education for up to four children in a family - and requiring that families with many children send an equal number of girls and boys.
Museveni, who took over in a coup 11 years ago but since has won an election that outside observers deemed free and fair, has rid the country of many of the human rights abuses of the governments of Idi Amin and Milton Obote and instituted press freedoms and broad economic reforms.
Clinton said Uganda, like much of Africa, has come a very long way, and deserves to be treated like a partner of the United States. To that end, Clinton announced a three-part, two-year initiative to help African nations improve their schools, food supply and health care:
The education segment, which would cost $120 million over two years, would provide teaching materials and computers with Internet access to resource centers across Africa. It would boost teacher training, establish links between African and American universities and improve education for girls, who traditionally get much less education than boys in many African countries.
The two-year, $61 million nutrition program aims to better distribute existing crops, increase trade and investment in agricultural industries, attack crop diseases and boost access to modern agriculture.
The effort to reduce malaria, which kills 2 million Africans annually, would focus on a $1 million grant to support a regional center in Mali and boost educational efforts elsewhere.