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Congressional Black Caucus on U.S. Engagement in Africa

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First Lady

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks for the Congressional Black Caucus

September 18, 1998

Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here. I regretted deeply that my obligation to go to Mother Theresa's funeral on behalf of my husband and my country prevented me from being here last year, and I am so pleased that you have invited me back so I would have a chance to address this important gathering about some very important issues.

I want to start by thanking Congressman Paine not only for his introduction, but for his steady and very important leadership over many years on behalf of so many important issues. I feel privileged that I have gotten to know him -- that I have had a chance to travel with him, that I have seen him in action -- and I just have the highest regard and admiration for his leadership and his personal commitment to doing all that he can helping children at home and abroad, particularly in Africa, have the kind of opportunities to lead lives to fulfill their own God-given potential. Thank you so much.

I am delighted to be here with Congressman Hilliard, Congresswoman Brown and Congresswoman Kilpatrick, and my dear friend of many many years, Secretary Slater. It is also very good to see ambassadors from so many of the African countries represented here, as well as representatives from the non-governmental community -- foundation and business leaders, and friend and supporters of the Congressional Black Caucus and of Africa.

I think it is so important that this meeting be held and that this particular subject be given the attention it is today. I know that you are going to be having some very important panels and other speakers discuss all that we can do to raise the visibility of issues affecting Africa and the African people. To connect those issues and those people with us here in America is certainly for the good because we are living in an interdependent, interconnected world. One of the principle reasons that I went first to Africa, and later my husband and I went to Africa, was to bring home to America the importance of that vast continent -- the opportunities that are there to work together with the people of that continent to promote freedom and democracy and peace and stability. And to give Americans a broader view, a more realistic view, of what goes on in Africa.

The Congressman referred to my visit -- I wish it had been 28 days. I had so much I wanted to see and of course couldn't see all the things I was invited to see, but when I arrived in Uganda, I had so many people saying to me all through my trip prior to that point, "When is the President coming? When will your husband be in Africa?" And of course you know what bureaucracy is like, what the White House and the State Department are like, and nobody wants to jump the gun or make a decision that hasn't been well thought out, but I certainly had concluded that the President needed to come to Africa. So, I called my husband.

The night before I made my speech at the now River Center, I said, "Now Bill, I really wish tomorrow I could announce that you are coming to Africa." And he said, "Well, why can't you?" And I said, " Well, I don't exactly have clearance to announce that." And he said, "Oh, yes you do, just say I am coming to Africa."

So, because of the President's commitment and his concern, we were able to make that announcement and follow up with an extraordinary trip. I think all of you who accompanied us, and those of you who followed it from afar could see how significant a trip that was. It certainly changed and transformed my husband's view, and many of the people who were traveling with us would not have been involved in African affairs before, and I think that has really set our relationship with Africa on a different footing.

I want to start by thanking the Congressional Black Caucus and all of you here today. First for focusing on what is important, what will stand the test of time, what makes a difference to the boys and girls growing up here, in our inner cities, in our rural countryside, and the boys and girls growing up in the cities and villages of Africa.

Thank you for working on behalf of the American people for improving our schools, and fixing social security and passing a health care Bill of Rights; and making it possible for every American to believe that he or she will have a positive future in the twenty-first century. The hard work you have done and the example you have set by focusing on what really is significant in the lives of Americans every single day is a lesson to us all. And you have expanded that focus to include Africa. And that too is a lesson to us all, because the invaluable role you are playing in making this country a better place and in connecting what happens here in America with what happens elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa, is a critical message for us all to hear and learn from.

I have said many times that I wish I could take every single American with me when I am privileged to travel abroad either with my husband or on my own. I wish I could take every young American boy or girl to see what it means to be an American in another part of the world and to understand what is happening in the cultures that are different from ours.

I wish I could take them as we look at our development and foreign assistant projects, both from our government as well as from private sector and the not-for profit sector; and the difference they are making in the lives of people throughout the globe. Because if we could, I think that more Americans could understand why you are here and why we have an overflow room this morning, to talk about a place that is still considered exotic and very far away for most Americans.

So by joining you today at this twenty eighth annual legislative conference, I am hoping to help put the spotlight on the future of Africa, and to make clear what my husband and all of you have tried to do time and again to demonstrate clearly that what happens to the future of Africa is directly relevant to our national security, our national interest, our place in the world.

As you know, this Administration, under the President's leadership, is deeply committed to our partnership with Africa, and to expanding the opportunities for growth and democracy throughout that continent. I know you will hear later from Secretary Slater that the President and Vice President will speak at the final session and the dinner tomorrow night, and it is fitting that would be the audience that is addressed; because the Congressional Black Caucus has worked hard to open the opportunity to open the doors of opportunity to minorities and all Americans here in the United States, and has chosen, appropriately, the theme for this conference as, "Opening the Doors in Africa."

I think that really says it all. How do we open doors, and then enable people to walk through those doors themselves? As you know there were many prominent African-Americans with us on our trip to Africa, including of course, Congressman Payne and Congressman William Jefferson and Congressman Rangel and Congresswoman Maxin Waters, as well as Secretary Slater, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Bob Johnson, other distinguished Americans.

And there were many moments of extraordinary emotion during the trip, but one of the most emotional for me personally was on Goree Island, when the President asked our delegation of prominent African Americans to stand on that island that was such a symbol of tragedy and oppression; as it served as a place where slaves were sent forth, ripped from their families, and their homeland. But when Congressman Paine, Secretary Slater and the others stood, the people of Senegal who were there with us just rose as one, because they could see what it meant to open doors. They could see what the promise of opportunity and democracy really meant.

It was an extraordinary moment, because certainly those men and women who were with us who stood, like all other African Americans here, had been sold into bondage through their ancestors and now were coming back as extraordinary leaders of America, and as architects of a new partnership between us and Africa.

We come together today both as Africa is a shining light of promise and has posing problems. We know that. I see Congresswoman McKinney coming in, it is good to see you.

In the wake of the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we have to stand even more steadfastly with our African friends and allies against terrorism, against those who would intimidate and ruthlessly murder people in order to prevent a march toward freedom and democracy.

We know that there is the resumption of conflicts in the Congo and throughout Central Africa, but you know, I have often said to Americans who only know what they see in the headlines and on the TV news about Africa which are pictures of famine, or pictures of conflict, or unfortunate pictures of bombings, I say to them, "Suppose you had been living in Africa in the 1980's, and the conflicts in El Salvador or Nicaragua had been played on the news day in or day out, and that was all you know about North America. Wouldn't you have a rather perverse view about what happened in an entire continent?" Well, we cannot do the same to Africa.

Yes, there are problems in Africa. There are conflicts in Africa, there are setback in Africa. But there are in any continent where human beings live and work. That is the story of human history. And what we are trying to do is to stress that we need a more balanced and realistic picture of Africa. We cannot let the sensational story of the moment determine America's views about an entire continent, just as we would not want to be considered in the wake of stories of the Guatemalan civil war that went on for years, if that had been focused on to our detriment.

It is important to realize that Africa, like may regions of the world is in the process of transition. And we should not, cannot expect this process to be easy or instantaneous. There will be setbacks. That is the nature of progress. And we have to recognize that Africa is a vast and diverse continent. It will not be homogeneous more so than North America, or South America or Asia is.

We have to build on and reinforce these successes so that they take on a life of their own and then influence others to be successful as well. The Administration continues to have two over-arching policy goals for Africa: combating trans-national threats and fully integrating Africa into the global economy. These goals have never been more important than they are now. And I want to say a word about both of them.

Certainly combating transnational threats is something that we are paying a great deal of attention to in the Administration. I look out here and I see people who served in the Clinton administration and the NEC and the State Department -- even in the Defense Department -- who have been working as hard as we know how to work with African leaders to deal with these trans-national threats -- these conflicts that are holding back the development of so many people. And we are committed to doing all that the United States can do to try and work with the people of Africa to put those days behind them once and for all.

When we talk about fully integrating Africa into the global economy we have to, I believe, recognize what the global economy is doing now. We are in the midst of a very severe international financial challenge in many parts of the world. Now it may not be rational, it may not make a lot of sense, but problems in places as far from the United States and Africa as Indonesia or Malaysia or Japan, influence how investors, businesses and governments feel about investing in any developing economy.

If we are serious, as we must be, in helping to integrate Africa into the global economy, we must be realistic about the very difficult challenges which the global economy is posing to developing countries. And we have to do everything we can through the United States government to stabilize the international economic situation in order to provide opportunities for development to occur in Africa.

Now sometimes these issues are treated separately and individually, instead of being seen in a broader context. Like for example, what does the International Monetary Fund have to do with Africa? There are no countries there that are currently being looked at for the IMF funding, but if we do not stabilize those countries that are in financial crisis, I can guarantee you the opportunities for development and investment in Africa will be severely impacted disadvantageously.

It is very important for us to recognize that the IMF, with all of its problems, is the only tool we have in the world today that we have to combat this financial crisis. There is nothing that we can do to say to individual investors who say, "Well there are problems in South Korea, I guess I better pull my money out of Brazil and South Africa." Because of the way they are reacting to the market, other than trying to create conditions through the infusion of both assistance and conditionality, that will send a message to the markets that has such an influence now because of the international movement of capital, that it is safe, it is appropriate to consider investing in places in Africa and the rest of the developing world.

So, the IMF is not one issue you stick over here and say, "Oh, I'm not happy with what they did there and I am not happy with what they did here," and all the rest of it, and say, "Yes, but I really want people to invest in developing Africa." Those two things in today's global economy are integrated together. There is no way to escape that. I wish there were frankly. There are many aspects of the global economy which I think are not good for developing countries in terms of providing the kinds of support that transition economies need.

But we have to -- as the President said in a very important speech in New York on Monday -- we have to create new architecture of financial stability, to replace what has been through attrition, undermined because of the changes in the global economy since the Second World War when we created that international system which consisted of the IMF among other things.

So I am here in part to say that we cannot talk about Africa as a separate entity and a separate challenge apart from what is going on in the rest of the world. We do not, for example, in the United States government fulfill the President's call to replenish the IMF, so that the IMF, our only tool available, will be ready to step in and prevent financial crisis in other developing countries that I believe the prospect for enticing development into Africa are severely undermined. This goes hand in hand together and every one of us must urge our Congress to fully fund the President's request of $18 billion for the IMF.

Are there problems for the IMF? Yes, there are. Are there different tactics of strategies that they should fulfill? Yes, there are. But when the house is burning that is no time to reorganize the fire department, we need to make sure that we go ahead and do the funding necessary to provide the tools and then, we -- and when I say we I mean the United States, both our government and our private sector -- have to work hand in hand to create a better response and different kinds of strategies that will enable us number one of course to maybe foresee some of these problems, and intervene and help more quickly, and then to have better remedies for them when they occur.

Now we also have another piece of legislation that is in the Congress, and that is the African Trade Bill. I hope that what I have just said about the IMF demonstrates that again, you can't just take the African Trade Bill and put it up and say, "Let's just focus on that." We have to see it in context. And I would certainly urge this Congress, before it recesses, to act on the African Trade Bill.

And I would make the argument again, it is not a perfect bill. I for one have never seen a perfect bill. There is an old saying about two things that you should never watch being made: legislation and sausage. You know, I do not believe that there is such a thing as a perfect bill that does all the things that all of us would like to envision. We know that any piece of legislation is a result of compromise and give and take; and that is one of the hallmarks of the democratic system. And that's not all bad.

But in that bill we have so many more tools that will encourage our private sector to take that leap of faith and invest in Africa. And we have good arguments about why they should take that leap of faith if they are given the incentives and the opportunities to do so by having our government, in a sense, provide through that trade bill, the sort of encouragement that they need.

We know that there are good stories about development occurring all over Africa. There is all kinds of evidence about the effects of micro enterprise and small scale business that demonstrate clearly that there are good, hard-working, committed people working at the grassroots level throughout Africa who have given some assistance and help, both financial and technical, can help build another future for themselves.

We know there is a commitment to self-sufficiency. There are leaders who are speaking the language of self-sufficiency and independence that is the music to the ears of every person I know in the United States. If they will open their ears and hear that message they will be more inclined to go and invest in Africa. So there is tremendous potential for trade and investments. We saw that time and time again on the President's trip. So the African Trade Bill will pry open the ears and the eyes of so many different business interests, and I believe would lead to significant investment in Africa.

Now there are many signs of progress throughout the continent. It is very encouraging that Nigeria is once again moving toward a return to democracy. That very important country has such an opportunity in the twenty-first century if only it would see its self-interest. And that is what we hope will occur, because democracy is the clearest root to fulfilling self-interest -- political and economic --and we hope that Nigeria will continue to make such steps.

Regional efforts brought down a brutal junta in Sierra Leone and brought back a democratically elected government. And some of those who perpetrated the ethnic slaughter in 1994 are now being brought to justice before the international criminal tribunal.

So there are many signs that the African renaissance is alive and well. It is not going to be an easy task, we know that. Nothing as challenging as a transition from many of the conditions that kept African countries down over the last thirty years will be easily wiped away. But I would like to remind all of us that in the 1960's, the prevailing economic opinion in looking both at African countries and at Asian countries was that African countries had more resources both natural and people, and were better positioned to be better economies that Asian countries.

Now what made the difference? Why did the standard of living in Asian countries rise continually? And despite their current problems why were the conditions put in place that would enable them to create large middle classes and provide a higher standard of living to the majority of their people, when many African countries did not fulfill that particular prediction?

Well you know as well as I do that leadership had a big role in determining how effective African development was. And anyone who believes in this global economy that only the economy is important is forgetting the lessons of history. Political leadership and good government policy is critical to making sure economies work well. What we are finding in the Asian crisis is that the lack of good government policies and good political leadership that created conditions of transparency created conditions that were against corruption, that they really were unprepared to deal with the problems despite their economic well being.

You cannot separate political policies that create good conditions for economic development from the economic development itself. So now we are finally in the position in many parts of Africa where we have the leadership. We have political leaders who understand what it takes to create the conditions for economic success.

And we should do everything we can to stand with those leaders and encourage others to join their ranks. Because if we work with Africa to build a stronger future for the people of that continent, we are building a stronger future for ourselves.

So the President is a number one cheerleader for our partnership with Africa. There are strong members of Congress who understand why this is in America's interest -- in their constituent's interest -- and not just members of the Black Caucus, but others as well. What we have to do is take that message of realistic progress and make it the cornerstone of a policy that delivers on this partnership, and I hope that all of us will be committed to that and looking for creative strategies to bring that about.

Thank you very much.

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