In anticipation of Barack Obama’s arrival to Ghana today, theGrio reflects on former President Bill Clinton’s twelve-day tour of Africa in 1998.
This trip to Africa was the longest foreign-policy journey of the Clinton presidency—the mission, the White House said, was to nurture a new awareness between the US and this continent.
The first country on Clinton’s agenda was Ghana, where an enthusiastic crowd welcomed him.
The crowd, by some estimates half a million strong, quickly overwhelmed the president. Clinton became angry and worried about a handful of women crushed up against the metal barricades as the group pushed to touch him, literally to kiss his hand.
Despite the 100 degree temperatures, the overcrowding, struggles over drinking water, and children lifted out in the sweltering heat, the huge turnout was an embarrassment of riches for the president and a welcome escape from the hothouse atmosphere in Washington.
“My fellow Americans must leave behind the stereotypes that have warped our view and weakened our understanding of Africa. We need to come to know Africa as a place of new beginnings and ancient wisdom,” Clinton said.
Other than a short visit to Somalia by President Bush, Clinton’s was the first trip to sub-Saharan Africa by a US leader since Jimmy Carter traveled there more than 20 years ago. Advisors acknowledged that this trip was mainly about symbolism, that Africa, its people, and its problems count. But, of course, symbolism mattered at home, too, and the image of the president at work, even overwhelmed by crowds, was more favorable than that of a president besieged by scandal.
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