Beginning in the 17th century on Goree Island and other places along the West African coast, millions of Africans were sold into slavery and shipped across the Atlantic to many countries, including the United States. As you approach the island by boat, it looks deceptively beautiful -- red houses with green shutters, cobblestones streets, magnificent trees. Then you realize that it's a place built by an industry that sold humans.
At the center of Goree Island is the slave compound. There, I looked at closet-sized rooms -- one reserved for children, one for girls, another for young men who tried to escape. I peered through the doorway that people passed through on their way to the slave ships. It is called the "Door of No Return." That door severed Africans from their families and their culture; it severed the slave traders from their humanity. There is nothing remarkable about that door but for the fact that it represents the ultimate depths of the human spirit.
Goree Island also represents the ability of the human spirit to transcend despair. The story of the African people who endured the terrible passage across the Atlantic, and their descendants, includes the record of our country's greatest national shame. Yet it also bears witness to the indomitable spirit of those who brought abut some of America's greatest achievements. While the cruelty inflicted on these Africans who became Americans was unspeakable, their contribution to the United States is immeasurable.
As much as I am here to gain a fuller understanding of America's historical ties with Africa, I'm also here to recognize our common future. Africa has made remarkable progress in the last few years. It's a place that is on the move, with a new generation of political leaders, the fresh air of political reform and thriving multi-ethnic societies.
And that is why the President asked me to make this trip.
Throughout the continent, country after country is turning toward democracy. In the last six years, the number of democracies in Africa has jumped from five to 23.
Africa is growing economically, moving from suffocation state-controlled economies to open markets that give full life to human endeavor. Last year, 30 African countries achieved positive economic growth.
Africa is also forging a new relationship with the United States, one based on shared ideals, mutual responsibilities, integration into the world economy and partnerships for development and conflict resolution.
To be sure, many of the African democracies are new and fragile. Too much of the continent continues to be riven by disease, poverty, injustice, corruption and perilous conflicts. As we have seen over the last two years in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, refugee crises trap millions of people, particularly women and children, in lives that go from bad to worse.
And yet in spite of these challenges, we can say for the first time in a long time that for Africa, there are now grounds for more hope than despair.
I saw that hope in the faces of the young girls I visited at the Martin Luther King School for Girls in Dakar, Senegal. There are many measures for judging the success of a democracy. One is how it treats its girls and women.
Talking with the girls in their simple classroom, packed wall to wall with desks, I saw how Senegal had committed to giving them the best possible education. In doing so, it was sending a clear and positive message that if girls work hard and do their best, they will have the same opportunities as boys to become full members of society. It is an important lesson not just in Africa but the whole world over.
There were other signs of African progress in a village I visited and among the people with whom I spoke. And there was no doubt that America has helped to create a context for that progress. A health clinic supported by the United States Agency for International Development is saving lives and moving toward self-sufficiency. A Peace Corps training center has been training young Americans from all over our country for more than 20 years to serve throughout West Africa.
After Johannesburg and Capetown in South Africa, I will travel to Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Eritrea. In each country, I hope to see -- and learn from -- the many efforts underway to build democracy and a strong civil society. And by being in each of these places, I hope to give the American people a renewed sense of the importance of our commitment to this vastly important, yet vastly underappreciated, continent.
Reprinted with the permission of Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Corporate Council On Africa
March 18, 1997
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November 10, 1999
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December 16, 1998
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March 18, 1997
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