Interview of the President by BET

Office of the Press Secretary
(Capetown, South Africa)

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 27, 1998

Interview of the President

Cape Grace Hotel
Capetown, South Africa

Q Mr. President, nice to see you. Thanks for talking to us. Letme start by asking you how you're holding up. I'm having -- iw's my firsttime traveling in the White House press pool; I'm tired of trying to keepup with you. You must be tired.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I have a couple periods during the day stillwhere I get a little tired or jet-lagged. We've been traveling at night alot. But the trip is so exciting it kind of keeps the adrenalin flowing.

Q Let me ask you if I can , Mr. President, o share your impressionsof Africa. You at this point have now visited three African countries,three quite diverse African countries. I'm wondering if you share yourimpressions, is Africa what you expected it to be upon your arrival?

THE PRESIDENT Yes, it's what I expected it to be, but it's even oreinteresting, more fascinating than I thought it would be. It's a placethat's just brimming with energy, and I think, basic goodwill on the partof the citizens of the country that I met. I think it's a place of greatopportunity for the United States. I think it's a place we should be farmore concerned about than we have been in the past, and a place that can bea good partner or us in dealing with the challenges of this new centurywe're about to enter.

Q And to move if I can from talking about the continent to thecontent of some of what you've had to say -- and I'm wonderingspecifically, Mr. President, how you think some of your remarks are goingto play back home, particularly tot hose outside of the African Americancommunity. You've made some rather provocative statements; many AfricanAmericans have been pleased by those remarks. You said in Ghana that weall came out of Africa; folks were surprised to hear you say that to hearyou say that. In Uganda, you said that everyone -- that EuropeanAmericans, rather, had benefited from the fruits of the slave trade andthat we were wrong in that as well. In Rwanda, you said we didn't movefast enough to deal with the genocide happening here. Some provocativestatements, again, pleasing the African American community in large, Ithink, but how do you think those provocative statements are going to playoutside the black community?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would hope that they would play well, at leastI hope that they would prompt all my fellow Americans to think. What Isaid about us all coming out of Africa is, as far as we all know,absolutely accurate. That is, the oldest known species of humanity fromall the archeological and anthropological studies are people who were inAfrica. We just -- I just read an article about two people waling uprightwhere they found footprints that are 2 million years old right near wherewe're doing this interview. So that's just a simple fact.

When I talked about the slave trade, I meant that, when I was inUganda. The Europeans basically organized the slave trade. They yankedAfricans out of their lives and turned them into slaves. But Americansbought them, and therefore, we were part of the slave trade. Quite apartfrom the injury to the slaves that were in America, what we d id to Africawas wrong. And I thought it was important to acknowledge that, that iswasn't just -- that Americans weren't just simply passive in that.

And finally, I think we all recognize that the world was notparticularly well organized for the breathtaking speed of the genocide inRwanda. Take it out of Africa -- if you look at what happened in Bosnia,where many, many people were killed and millions were dislocated, it tookthe international community more than two years to get organized enough forthe U.N. to support a NATO action that NATO took, and then for NATO to comein with our allies -- Russia and the others, many other countries, twodozen other countries -- to stop the killing in Bosnia and effect a peacesettlement.

In Rwanda, where you had a million people killed in 90 days, it issimply a fact that the United States, Europe, Japan and the Whole UnitedNations, the whole world community -- we were not organized for or preparedfor the consequences.

I'm proud of what the United States did when we finally got to Rwanda.We saved hundreds of thousands of people's lives who were refugees --children who might have dies from dehydration and disease, for example.But I think this is the- -- what happened in Rwanda should be a clearmessage to not just Americans, but to the World Community that these arethings that we can stop from happening, and keep countries on a morepositive course if we're well organized.

And it was particularly tragic in Rwanda because Rwanda is not acountry that was created by European colonial map-makers. It was acoherent entity long before colonialism in Africa. And Hutus and theTutsis lived together literally for centuries, speaking the same language,having the same religious practices, dividing their society on lines thatwere quite different from tribal lines. So it was a world-class tragedy.

Q Let me ask you whether or not these, as I termed them earlier,provocative comments that you made were planned. I talked to a lot offolks in the White House pool and no one will tell me that they had anyidea that you were going to make the kinds of statements you've beenmaking. I'm wondering whether or not, then, these statements wereplanned, or whether you got caught up in the moment where the emotion isovertaking you -- were they planned remarks?

THE PRESIDENT: One was planned, and two were remarks that I tough Iought to say to try to get the American people to identify more closelywith Africa, and then to look to the future -- to a common future.

We clearly planned to acknowledge the deficiencies of the UnitedStates and the world community in dealing with the Rwanda genocide. TheSecretary of State had already been here and done the same thing, and Ithough it was important that I do it as well, to focus the attention of theworld on what we have to do to keep things like this from happening in thefuture -- not just in Africa, but everywhere.

The comment about our involvement in the slave trade and what it didto Africa, as well as what it did to African Americans who became slaves,was a comment that I decided to make based on my feeling about thesituation and my reading of what would be appropriate.

The comment about how we all came out of Africa was -- I think isjust, to the best of our knowledge, is simply an anthropological fact andthat Americans ought to know that. I don't think -- I got interested inthis because Hillary spent a lot of time over the last two years studyingthe origins of humankind, and I learned a lot through her extensive readingand study. And I think that it's one more way to make all Americansidentify with Africa and with the common humanity we share with peopleacross the globe.

Q I know you're leaving in just a moment to go speak to Parliamenthere in Cape Town, South Africa, so let me squeeze out a couple quickquestions and I'll let you go. I'm wondering whether or not you think thistrip is going to dispel negative stereotypes and myths about Africa.You've said repeatedly you want to put a new face on Africa for Americans.

My sense is that a lot of what's happening here, certainly much ofwhat's happening here, in my own judgement is not being portrayedaccurately by the American media, some things being taken out of context.I'm think now specifically of the incident in Ghana when the crowd lungedfirst. I know you were portrayed by the American media as accurately as itshould have been. I'm wondering whether or not you think that the tripultimately will dispel the myths about Africa that you're concerned about,or do you think that what you are trying to do, your efforts are in someway being overshadowed by some press people who insist on raising questionson other matters that have nothing to do with why you are here in Africa.

PRESIDENT: Oh, no, Well I think that the trip is getting, I think,basically constructive, positive and accurate coverage back home, as nearlyas I can tell. Now, in Ghana, where we had a half-million people -- andmore if you count the people who were right outside the square there --there was a little metal fence dividing me from the people. And when I wasshaking hands, the enthusiasm of the crowd was such -- and this hashappened to me in America, not just in Ghana but it's the biggest crowdI've ever spoken with --- there were two women there who were -- and it wasover 100 degrees. Keep in mind it was very hot and they had been out therea long time, and they couldn't breathe, they were literally being crushedagainst the fence. So what I was worried about was that just the crowd,the enthusiasm and the happiness, the ardor of the crowd wouldinadvertently cost those women their lives. And I was just trying to helpthem. But it was a wonderful, wonderful event.

I think basically this trip will end a lot of the stereotypes that thepeople have. I think people tend to think that -- who don't know muchabout Africa -- that all they ever read is when there are troubled tribalsocieties and they're fighting with each other, or there's one moremilitary coup or one more failed democracy. And half the countries insub-Saharan Africa have elected leaders of their own choosing. They'remore and more interested in market economies. They're struggling toprovide basic education and other service like health. And they'reinterested in being a part of the world of the 21st century. And thepeople are so energetic, and they're intelligent people who are looking tothe future.

And what I want Americans to do is to imagine what we can do withAfrica in the future as partners. I believe that this trip will contributeto that, and I certainly hope it will.

Q Let me ask you, finally, Mr. President -- I mentioned earlierthat you are headed to speak to Parliament as soon as we leave here -- assoon as you leave here. I am told that you may, may, inn fact, speak tothe issue of apartheid and America's complicity in that certainly for many,many years. How would you respond to particularly African Americans backhome who ask of their President, respectfully, how he could addressapartheid in Africa and not address America's vision of apartheid, thelegacy of slavery and segregation, back at home.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would say that we are addressing the legacy ofslavery back home, that this race -- we addressed apartheid with the CivilWar, with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments; later with all the civilrights legislation. I think it's plan that there is a deep determinationin America to overcome the mistakes of our past and the injustice we did.

But the race initiative that I set up on America is focused on thefuture. I think the same thing should be done here. While it is true thatthe American government for many years, in effect, was complicit in theapartheid here by the sanctions, the legislation that swept cities andstates across the country that the Congress eventually put forward at thenational level.

So I think Mr. Mandela would say that American of all racial andethnic backgrounds had a lot to do with creating the international climateof opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

But what we need to be doing today in South Africa and in the UnitedStates is dealing with the legacy of apartheid here and slavery and racialdiscrimination there, insofar as it still needs to be stamped out, but ourfocus ought to be on the future. The only way we can liberate people fromthe problems of the past is to focus on tomorrow. And that's what I'mgoing to do in my speech today and what I'm trying to do with the raceinitiative back home.

Q Mr. President, thank you for your time. It's nice to see you.

MR PRESIDENT: Thank you. It's really good to see you.

Africa Trip Speeches

First Lady Remarks at December 31st Women's Movement Daycare Center

First Lady Remarks at Makerere University

Remarks to the People of Rwanda

FINCA Women's Project

Remarks to the People of Ghana

Opening of the Ron Brown Center

Remarks at TechnoServe Peace Corps Project Site

Interview by the Discovery Channel

Remarks to the Community of Kisowera

Remarks at Reception

Photo Opportunity with the Presidents

Remarks in Photo Opportunity

Remarks with Village Business Owner

African Environmentalists and Officials

Remarks at Regina Mundi Church

Photo Opportunity with President Abdou Diouf

President Clinton and President Mandela

Remarks Upon Departure

Remarks at the Entebbe Summit

Remarks during visit to Victoria

Remarks in Robben Island

Interview of the President by BET

Africa Trade Bill

President to the Parliament of South Africa

Videotaped Remarks to the People of Africa

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