Clinton hails Africa's oldest democracy After leaving S. Africa, president calls Botswana a model for continent

March 30, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

GABORONE, Botswana -- President Clinton traveled yesterday from Africa's youngest democracy to its oldest, where he praised the government and people of Botswana as a model for the rest of the continent for 30 years.

"We have seen the promise of a new Africa whose roots are deep here in your soil, for you have been an inspiration to all who cherish freedom," Clinton told a prosperous-looking crowd after arriving here from South Africa, just to the south.

Botswana, the fifth African country the president has visited, epitomizes the "African Renaissance" that Clinton has been praising throughout his trip. It is Clinton's hope that Botswana's success will encourage other African nations, such as South Africa, that face greater obstacles in their paths to stability.

Clinton started his day in South Africa going to services at the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church, which served as a refuge for members of the popular movement that replaced the country's apartheid system with democracy four years ago.

"I am profoundly honored to be in this great house of God, which is also a great shrine of freedom, for it was here that you and the people before you gathered to stand for the freedom of the people of South Africa when it was denied you," Clinton said at the church in Soweto, the sprawling slum outside Johannesburg.

The congregation of about 1,000 gathered in the church enthusiastically welcomed the president, giving him a standing ovation when he walked up to the altar to speak.

Clinton reminded the congregation that the first black South African to win a medal at the Olympics was Josiah Tungwane, a marathoner, and told them he thought that was "fitting" given their long struggle for freedom.

"The fight to make the most of your freedom, to do the right things with your freedom, to give your children the right future with your freedom -- that too will be a marathon," Clinton said. "But we want to run the race with you."

Throughout Clinton's unprecedented 12-day tour of Africa, he has tried to focus on the positive changes taking place on the continent and to dispel many Americans' stereotypical view of ,, Africa.

Half of the 48 nations in sub-Saharan Africa have elected their governments, and many have growing economies. Clinton hopes that by drawing attention to the progress on the continent, he will encourage more African nations to embrace democracy and will spark support in America for assisting them in reforms.

Botswana is the prime example on the continent that democracy can improve lives for Africans and that U.S. investment in Africa is worthwhile.

"At your independence three decades ago, Botswana was among the poorest countries on Earth, with only two miles of paved roads and one public secondary school," Clinton told a few thousand people gathered on the lawn of the State House, the president's official residence in Gaborone, the capital. "Today, you have a vibrant economy, a network of major highways, almost full enrollment in primary schools and the HTC longest average life span in sub-Saharan Africa."

Since gaining its independence from Britain in 1964, the Texas-sized country has held regular, free and fair elections, and it has a remarkably good record for upholding human rights. The current president, 72-year-old Ketumile Masire, is stepping down tomorrow after 18 years as president, and his vice president, Festus Mogae, will take over until elections next year.

Botswana's economy is so good that the Peace Corps late last year decided to end its projects here, and the U.S. Agency for International Development has stopped direct assistance. Trade and foreign investment have supplanted aid from the United States.

Later yesterday, Clinton announced that the United States plans to start a radio service -- similar to the Voice of America -- aimed at promoting democracy in Africa. Then he set off to spend two days enjoying one of Botswana's natural riches: its wildlife. The president and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveled to northern Botswana to go on safari and take a brief break from their hectic African odyssey.

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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