Africa goodwill tour sidestepped crises

Clinton administration officials are making much ado about little in toasting Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent tour of Africa as an overwhelming success. No doubt, it’s certainly time the administration starts taking seriously its first-term commitment to giving the continent the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, the two-week, six-country tour of the area hardly sets the stage for the kind of increase in economic growth and spread of political stability Mrs. Clinton claims can soon be achieved by mainly helping to cultivate the region’s emerging democracies.
Of course, the important investments the United States is already making in some African countries cannot be discounted. In Uganda, Mrs. Clinton announced a new $8 million grant for primary education to overcome illiteracy. And in Zimbabwe, the first lady visited U.S.-funded clinics that are effectively helping the nation cope with an escalating number of HIV-infected citizens. In fact, combating the spread of AIDS has become a top target for U.S. assistance. At a clinic in Uganda, Mrs. Clinton renewed the administration’s promise to provide financial and medical resources to the country as well as Zimbabwe. Both nations are struggling to slow the rising number of AIDS-infected babies whose mothers have either died or abandoned them.
The need for initiatives that encourage social development and work to curtail the spread of AIDS in some African countries cannot be underestimated. But Mrs. Clinton made a point of saying that African economies on the whole are growing at a remarkably steady pace, and she praised the countries she visited for the strong foundations for democracy they have built. Her remarks, however, irresponsibly deflect the reality that the United States has failed to address many of the major issues confronting the African countries. And because the first lady chose not to visit some of the countries that aren’t likely to experience a surge in economic development or a democratic awakening any time soon, her travels reinforced some of the administration’s unacceptable oversights.
Zaire has been disintegrating for weeks and is about to explode. Its president, Mobutu Sese Seko, is refusing to talk to the rebels who have taken over several small towns in the eastern part of the country. And to make matters even worse, Zaire continues to face a serious refugee problem from Rwanda, with thousands still waiting to be resettled.
In Africa’s largest country, Sudan, the Islamic government has made a policy of persecuting religious minorities, especially Christians. The nation continues to permit slavery, and its leaders are known for supporting terrorist violence. The U.S. is trying to provoke a shift toward a more democratic political system through economic sanctions, but the policy has been less than forceful on the issue of human rights.
These are only a few of the tumultuous matters that are destabilizing the African continent. The administration should credit Mrs. Clinton’s tour for calling attention to some of the progress and some of the challenges facing parts of Africa. But her two-week sojourn must not serve as a substitute for the important policy decisions the Clinton administration has neglected to address for more than four years.