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President Clinton Welcomes President Rawlings of Ghana to the White House

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 24, 1999


The South Grounds

10:15 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT CLINTON: President and Mrs. Rawlings, distinguished members of the Ghanaian delegation, my fellow Americans. Mr. President, Hillary and I are delighted to welcome you and Mrs. Rawlings to the United States. Nearly a year ago your country gave us a greeting I will always remember. On that great day it was over 100 degrees fahrenheit -- (laughter) -- and we had a half million people in Independence Square in Accra. We thought we should arrange a similar meeting here today. (Laughter.)

Actually, for the South Grounds of the White House, we have a large crowd of people, young and old, from all parts of America, including a significant number of people whose roots are in your country. And in our hearts, our welcome is warm. In Independence Square, before the largest crowd I had ever addressed, I learned the meeting of "akwaaba," your word for "welcome." It was also written on billboards and on posters -- and unforgettably written in the faces of all the Ghanaian people we saw. Mr. President, Mrs. Rawlings, it gives me great pleasure to say to you this morning, akwaaba; welcome to the United States. (Applause.)

Our trip to Ghana marked an important step forward for Africa and the United States, symbolizing a new beginning for both of us, a partnership built on mutual respect and mutual benefit. On our part, it signaled to the world our respect for Africa's achievements and aspirations after centuries of colonialism and decades of Cold War. On Africa's part, it signaled your readiness to work with us to forge a better future of open societies and shared responsibilities.

Mr. President, under your leadership Ghana has continued to flourish. It remains a vivid example of what democracy and open markets can do for the African people. Over the past five years your economy has grown steadily. You have an independent judiciary, a lively Parliament, a thriving civil society.

Ghana is a partner with other African nations, seeking to preserve peace in the region -- in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where you support the ECOMOG regional peacekeeping forces, and through your partnership in the Africa Crisis Response Initiative. You also send peacekeepers to other spots, far from home -- from Lebanon to the former Yugoslavia. And for that, we are grateful.

The United States needs strong partners like Ghana. It is no secret that hard challenges lie ahead for Africa. Recent headlines that describe the continuing upheaval caused by terrorism, civil war, military aggression -- the senseless cruelty suffered by innocent people caught in a web of violence.

Clearly, there remains much to be done. But equally clearly, these headlines do not tell the full story of Africa, of more than 700 million people who want what people the world over want -- to work, to raise a family, to live a full life, to bring a better future to their children.

A year after my trip to Africa, it is important to highlight what the headlines often don't -- the hard work of the African people toward these lofty goals; the progress we are making in spite of setbacks. In Ghana, as in other African nations, we are deepening our link through growing trade and investment, air travel and Internet access. I look forward to discussing this progress with the President and to talking about how we can build on it.

Something else of far-reaching importance is happening in Africa, something unthinkable last year when I visited Accra. Three days from now there will be a democratic presidential election in Africa's most populous country, Nigeria. For 28 of its 38 years of independence, Nigeria has been run by military dictators. Now it has a chance to start anew.

The friendship between Ghana and the United States grows deeper every year. Ghana received our very first Peace Corps volunteers in 1961, and nearly four decades later new Peace Corps volunteers still make a difference there. Across a wide range of common endeavors, our nations cooperate and learn together. More and more Ghanaians are coming to America to help us build our future. More and more Americans visit Ghana and the rest of the continent to understand the history that binds us together.

Mr. President, your visit underscores the debt all Americans owe to Ghana and to Africa for the brilliant contributions that African Americans have made and continue to make to the United States.

The writer and crusader, W.E.B. DuBois, was a citizen of both Ghana and the United States. Near the end of his life he wrote his great grandson that his very long life had taught him two things: first, that progress sometimes will be painfully slow and, second, that we must forge ahead anyway because, "the difference between 100 and 1,000 years is less than you now think." He concluded, "doing what must be done -- that is eternal."

Mr. President, you have done so much of what must be done. It will live eternally and we will be eternally grateful for the friendship between our two nations. Let us extend it in the new century, for the new millennium.

Mr. President, Mrs. Rawlings, welcome to the United States. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT RAWLINGS: Mr. President, I thank you so very much for the kind words of introduction and welcome. And I'm happy to bring to you, your family and the American people the friendship of the people and government of Ghana.

But first and foremost, if I've kept some of you waiting in this cold weather for this long, let me take the blame for it and apologize for it. When the President visited Africa we gave him a treat of the African sauna bath. (Laughter.) I was looking forward, just by all the advice that has been given to me, to put on this heavy jacket. I said, no, I wanted to get a feel of the air-conditioned atmosphere of the American weather. (Laughter.) So, ladies and gentlemen, here I am with you, and enjoying your weather, even if you don't. (Laughter.)

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Ghanaians from all walks of life still cherish memories of your historic visit to Accra last March -- that's the President and his wife -- at the start of your African itinerary.

That visit, no doubt, provided us with the opportunity to discuss issues of interest to our two countries. Ghana, as you must be aware, and the U.S. share commitments to democracy in Africa, to conflict resolution, and regional peace and security -- and most of all, to expanding ties between Africa and the U.S.

We in Africa, as well as in Ghana, look forward, Mr. President, to following up on our discussions on these issues, and of exploring ways in which to expand the scope of our relationship. We also intend to use this opportunity to share with you our vision for our future, as we move towards a new century.

Ghana, like several other African countries, has no doubt committed itself to programs and policies intended to improve the living conditions of our people. What African countries require today is an increase in trade and investment opportunities to boost our efforts towards sustainable development.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Mr. President, as the century draws to a close, we wish to see the United States making a greater commitment to end hunger and starvation on our continent. Or better put, I am here, on behalf of my fellow citizens from this continent, to invite America to join us to put an end to hunger, deprivation, starvation and conflict on my continent. (Applause.) Mr. President, it will be a pity to allow the painful reality of hunger and human deprivation to follow us into the new century.

The new millennium offers the opportunity for the U.S. -- not just the U.S, but the U.S. and other Western countries, to put some meaningful measures in place for a new partnership with Africa to go beyond rhetoric and become a reality. In this regard, we are hopeful that the African Growth and Opportunity Act will contribute to improved trade and investment opportunities between Africa and the U.S. (Applause.)

Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Ghana is very much interested in a constructive dialogue on how trade and investment might be combined with other measures, such as debt relief. And here I would like to take this opportunity to give a great acknowledgment and thanks to that great boxer, Mohammed Ali, for the efforts that he's making starting from the U.K. -- I'm sure he must have started in the U.S. -- about what needs to be done about the debt relief that Africa needs in order to reduce the burden on our resources for the benefit of our own development.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I'm saying so because this is necessary in order for us to promote mutually profitable U.S.-Africa relationship. Otherwise, whatever investments all of you make into Africa will be meaningless unless we can secure a very stable economic, as well as political atmosphere.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we would also urge sustained commitment on the part of the U.S. and her Western allies to end conflict on the continent. And we in Africa are prepared to be on the front line. All we're asking for is a little logistic support. We must not forget that there is a strong linkage between conflict and under-development.

We appreciate the many ways in which the United States has worked with us in seeking to prevent unresolved conflicts at the regional level. But the challenges that we face remain formidable and have stretched our limited resources to the very breaking point. Nigeria, that has contributed so much, being the sixth country in the world -- so much endowed with oil -- is lining up for fuel at her petrol stations. That should tell you how much she's having to bear to help us maintain peace and stability in our sub-region. And this is something that you must keep in mind.

In this regard, Mr. President, I would urge the United States to honor its financial commitment to the United Nations and also restore its contributions to the U.N. population fund. This is because these, no doubt, have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the world body in addressing issues of concern to Africa, including peacekeeping and peacemaking. The broad development agenda, including women's reproductive health, are all features that hold us back if we do not take the appropriate steps to deal with these issues.

Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is in the long-term interest of both Africa and the United States to work to contain conflicts on the continent. Tragic strife in several parts of the continent do not only seriously undermine the political and economic renewal taking place in Africa, but hinder the expansion of American economic interest on the continent and elsewhere.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I hope I will have the opportunity to dilate on these issues in the talks that I will be having later, in the next few days. However, let me conclude by once again thanking you, Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my wife and my delegation, for your invitation to us, and for the warm reception we have received since our arrival -- despite this cold weather. And we look forward to fruitful exchanges in the interest and the welfare of our two continents and our peoples.

Thank you, and may God bless you. (Applause.)

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