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Clinton Applauds Botswana During Sub-Saharan Safari

By John F. Harris
Washington Post
GABORONE, Botswana

President Clinton landed in placid, prosperous Botswana Sunday afternoon with a question for retiring President Ketumile Masire. Is it really true, as Clinton had heard, that the country has one elephant for every 18 people?

That figure sounded about right, a Masire aide assured Clinton. That the summit between two presidents should concern the local pachyderm population suggested that the Botswana trip agenda involved something other than matters of state.

An hour later, in fact, Clinton abandoned most of his large official delegation, as well as most of the reporters following his trip, and flew into the African bush on safari. The sprawling Chobe National Park, where the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will be until Tuesday morning, is home to 25,000 of the elephants that aides said Clinton has been reading up on.

The Chobe excursion was the first lull in a week of blurring travel that has taken Clinton to five sub-Saharan African nations but, according to aides, left him fatigued and suffering a mild cold.

The official business here was decidedly low-key. In Rwanda, Clinton talked about the 1994 genocide, and in South Africa he talked about the nation's emergence from apartheid. But Botswana is a place where things for the most part go well - and have been going that way for a long while.

Diamonds were discovered months after British colonial rule ended in 1966, creating relative affluence. The country has the longest average life span in sub-Saharan Africa (43.5 years for males and 45.6 years for females), and nearly universal primary education for children. Botswana, Clinton noted in a speech on the lawn of the presidential residence here, is doing so well that it no longer qualifies for Peace Corps volunteers and Agency for International Development programs.

The country also has been a democracy continuously since independence, a rarity among African states. Masire, who has been president since 1980, is retiring Tuesday, and Clinton saluted his tenure.

"Africa needs more Botswanas, and America is determined to support all those who would follow your lead," Clinton said. Clinton and Masire also discussed one area in which Botswana's record is not so laudable. Two years ago the government drafted a National Policy on Women, designed to overcome a long tradition of sexism and violence against women.

In addition, Clinton announced that he was directing $4.8 million of the Voice of America's budget over the next two years to pay for new programming called Radio Democracy for Africa. The service, which will promote a free press and report on humanitarian issues, will broadcast continent-wide 22 hours a week.

Clinton was still wearing a dark suit and tie when he landed at Kasane, near Chobe. But these were certain to be quickly discarded. The Clintons have no public schedule at the 4,200-square-mile game park. A few senior aides, such as national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and White House deputy chief of staff Sylvia Mathews are at the park, but nearly all other staff members remained here in the capital.

Before flying here from South Africa, the Clintons attended services at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, the township outside Johannesburg that was a focal point of the anti-apartheid movement. Clinton spoke briefly from the pulpit, as did the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Jackson is special envoy to Africa and a member of Clinton's delegation. While he once had edgy relations with Clinton, Jackson has more recently been an informal spiritual adviser to the Clintons during the Monica Lewinsky controversy. Today, he asked the congregation to "pray for President Clinton, whose bold daring and vision" are helping to "pull down ancient walls."