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At Africa Conference, Clinton Calls for Increased U.S. Aid

By Steven Mufson
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Opening a conference here of 2,300 Africa supporters from across the troubled continent and the United States, President Clinton called on Congress to swiftly complete work on legislation that would expand access to U.S. markets for African textiles and other goods.

Clinton also said the United States must provide greater support for disease control, debt relief and conflict resolution in Africa.

“We must be involved in Africa,” Clinton said, adding that in an era of globalization, all countries are “more vulnerable to one another’s problems.”

Clinton’s speech at the Washington Convention Center came on the second day of a five-day conference organized by the National Summit on Africa, an organization funded largely by the Ford Foundation and devoted to educating Americans about Africa and promoting U.S. involvement in African issues.

Though the delegates warmly greeted Clinton -- the first U.S. president to visit Africa while in office -- many also criticized the United States for its limited involvement in African peacekeeping missions, the reluctance of U.S. pharmaceutical companies to make cheap copies of their drugs available in African countries and the level of U.S. economic assistance to the continent.

In a feisty roundtable held Wednesday night, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former finance minister of Liberia, sharply criticized the Clinton administration for coming to the rescue of Kosovo but failing to act in the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. Ali Mazrui, a leading African scholar, argued that the United States and Europe should not only give debt relief but should also pay reparations for damage done by colonialism and slavery.

Before Clinton’s speech, the secretary general of the Organization of African Unity, Salim A. Salim of Tanzania, lamented that Africa “lacks a strong constituency in the United States.”

“A strong Africa is positive not only for Africa itself, but for its partners,” he said.

Much of the talk at the conference, however, has been about Africa’s problems, not its strengths.