Clinton Soldiers On in Troubled Africa : Many problems, but also hopeful changes U.S. can nurture

The huge, and growing, commitment oS. troops, logistical support, equipment, food, water and millions of dollars to shattered Rwanda is particularly laudable in the aftermath of the bitter U. S. experience in Somalia. For most Americans, the defining memory from Mogadishu remains that of a mob dragging the body of a dead American pilot through the streets. That insult, instead of deserved thanks for the massive outpouring of U.S. aid, has fueled isolationism and caution in Washington and beyond.

THE SOMALIA JINX: Somalia soured many Americans on lending a hand in Africa where war, drought, disease, famine, mass starvation and poverty are recurring crises. In the aftermath of that controversial mission, Washington and the rest of the West hesitated to respond to the massacres in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands of the Tutsi minority died before France, once a hated colonial power in Africa, finally took the lead in June and intervened to provide safe havens. Visiting Rwanda this past weekend, U. S. Secretary of Defense William Perry promised more aid, including 3,000 U.S. troops.

Rwanda looks to be no Somalia. The fighting appears to be over. Though the Tutsis have prevailed, they have included members of the Hutu majority in the new government. The new leaders appear willing to include all Rwandans--not just those who pledge allegiance to the Tutsis. These leaders say all Rwandans may return. U.S. aid in Kigali, the nation’s capital, may speed that process, and save refugees from the epidemics decimating the camps.

Rwanda, perhaps, has reached the bottom and improvement can be hoped for. But civil war and large-scale violence threaten other African nations such as the Sudan and Burundi. Somalia, of course, remains embroiled in conflict. And Nigeria could be next; its military rulers refuse to relinquish power or allow democracy.


The potential for chaos is considerable in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. If this large West African nation blows up, one out of four Africans could be affected, because they live there or in a country along Nigeria’s borders. And the impact could widen exponentially and internationally, especially if oil refineries are sabotaged. Nigeria produces 10% of the world’s oil.

Striking oil workers, other labor unions and students have paralyzed Lagos. That paralysis is sure to spread unless the recalcitrant generals free the jailed Moshood Abiola, the apparent winner of last year’s annulled presidential election. He should be president, not an inmate.

Fortunately, the Clinton Administration is paying attention. The White House last week sent the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Nigeria; after consulting with both sides, he recommended a special U.S. envoy to broker a resolution between Abiola’s supporters and the generals. Early intervention is worth trying to prevent another civil war, another explosion of refugees, another grave humanitarian crisis.

THE POSITIVE DOMINOES: In spite of these demanding trouble spots, there is hope in Africa. Democracy now rules in more than half of the countries on the continent. The transition to majority rule in South Africa is one outstanding example of the positive possibilities. Democratic rule in Namibia is another hard-fought victory worth saluting. And Angola, though wavering between democracy and a relapse into chaos, has also received recognition and support from this Administration. These successes, if nurtured by the West, can provide inspiration for their neighbors.


After Somalia, the Clinton Administration could have walked away from Africa without sacrificing much public support. But the United States is the last superpower with the clout to help on the scale needed in Rwanda. That Washington has done so speaks well of the Administration’s efforts in this part of the world.