A policy for Africa U.S. choice: Old enemies gone, challenges of development remain to be addressed.

September 19, 1999

WHAT'S most important about U.S. policy for Africa is that there be one. Ignoring 700 million people would not be good political sense. Disregarding the biggest oil exporter to the United States would be worse.

Just because the Cold Warended, apartheid (which charged Americans' moral batteries) ended, and democracy and prosperity hit setbacks does not mean that Africa deserves low priority.

For starters, the Senate should approve the House-passed African trade bill, which would allow 10 years of quota-free and duty-free import of some African goods of which the United States now imports very little.

That, at least, would establish that the United States wants to be a trading partner for more than just oil from Nigeria and Angola. Forgiveness of debt for the poorest countries would also help them jump-start growth.

It is in the U.S. interest to halt wars and civil strife, to keep countries from breaking up, to encourage democracy and human rights, to support African diplomatic resolution of African problems, to help solve public health crises such as AIDS and to join in saving the environment. None of these can be accomplished by pretending Africa doesn't matter.

Many people who attended the eastern regional summit on Africa at the Baltimore Convention Center earlier this month came away with clearer policy ideas. This was part of a national movement, culminating in Washington in February, to stimulate awareness and enlarge the constituency for Africa policy.

Africa is more than bad news. Democracy is taking hold and civil order coming back in Nigeria, the most populous country and leading oil exporter to the United States. African diplomacy is brokering an end to the international and civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo. Ghana, Ivory Coast and Botswana are keeping out of the headlines through quiet and orderly growth of the economy and democratic institutions.

The world is a small place and the health of each continent is essential to all of them.

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