- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

President Clinton's whirlwind, symbolism-heavy, achievement-light African tour closed yesterday with a fitting image: daughter Chelsea rushing to board an idling Air Force One in Cairo after an extended sightseeing tour.
White House officials quickly denied that Miss Clinton had held up the departing presidential entourage, but her rushed trip across the tarmac mirrored Mr. Clinton's rush tour of Nigeria, Tanzania and Egypt this week.
"Certainly there was far less advance buzz about this trip than about the 1998 Africa visit," said Joel Barkan, an African political specialist who teaches at the University of Iowa. "I think the limited purposes of this visit reflect a little more realism on the part of the administration about the African renaissance."
That 1998 trip, a six-nation, eight-day affair that required 98 air-cargo missions to accommodate a U.S. delegation of more than 1,300, became a focus of controversy in Congress when a General Accounting Office study put the cost of the excursion at $42.8 million excluding security expenses.
Cost estimates have not yet been calculated for the latest, far more modest African tour, expected to be the last of Mr. Clinton's presidency.
Miss Clinton was returning from a visit to Cairo's 1,100-year-old Ibn Tulun mosque, arriving at the airport in a chauffeured Mercedes about 10 minutes after Mr. Clinton had boarded.
The president stopped in the Egyptian capital for a brief meeting with President Hosni Mubarak on the status of the Middle East peace process. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters in Cairo that the president had been receiving a last-minute briefing from special envoy Dennis Ross on the plane and was not being delayed by his daughter.
U.S. African specialists said yesterday that the symbolism of Mr. Clinton's trip worked better in Nigeria than in Tanzania.
Snubbing Nigeria's military dictators two years ago, Mr. Clinton made it a point of proclaiming his support for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected last year.
"You can't point to anything very concrete, but I think it was definitely worth it for the president of the United States to visit Nigeria, to show U.S. support for Obasanjo's efforts to cut corruption and put his country's house in order," said I. William Zartman, director of African studies and conflict-management programs at the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
"It matters a lot in the African context for Obasanjo to be able to show he has the big boys behind him when he tackles corruption in his own system," Mr. Zartman said.
U.S. officials see a stable, democratic Nigeria as a key to their African policy, given the country's population and military and political influence, its willingness to organize regional peacekeeping missions, and its huge oil reserves.
Mr. Clinton's one-day stop in Tanzania was equally symbolic, but its practical effects were far more ambiguous.
Mr. Clinton's stop was the first ever to Tanzania by a U.S. president, and comes two years after a terrorist bomb exploded in the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam.
But the hoped-for high point of Mr. Clinton's visit the witnessing of a peace accord for civil war-torn Burundi brokered by former South African President Nelson Mandela was marred by the refusal of a number of warring factions in the seven-year conflict to sign the deal.
As of yesterday, four smaller parties representing factions of the minority Tutsi in Burundi were still balking at the power-sharing accord strongly backed by Mr. Mandela. Ethnic strife between the Tutsis, who dominate Burundi's government, and rebels from the country's majority Hutu tribes has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives since 1993.
"The whole visit was a curious affair," said the University of Iowa's Mr. Barkan. "It was like a Hail Mary pass on Mandela and Clinton's part to solve a very intractable problem."
White House officials maintained the Tanzanian peace mission was worthwhile, even if a final accord proved elusive.
"We should not have the illusion that this ends all of the problems in Burundi," National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger told reporters during the trip.
This story was based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide