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Don't apologize, African tells Clinton

Published Mar. 23, 1998|Updated Sep. 12, 2005

Apologies for the African slave trade should come from the chiefs who sold their people and not from President Clinton during his tour of the continent, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Sunday.

Asserting that "black traitors" were more to blame than European slavers, Museveni rejected the view of some African-Americans that Clinton should publicly atone for a traffic that forcibly took millions of Africans to America in the 17th and 18th centuries.

"I don't have time for that diversion or rubbish," he said in an interview in Kampala, Clinton's second stop on a six-nation tour starting today in Ghana.

"African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologize it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today."

He declined to identify the people he had in mind but said: "The black traitors, they are the big problem of Africa, in the past and now."

Uganda is a significant stop on the first substantial visit to Africa by an incumbent U.S. president.

Museveni's growing stature, both as a leader who has transformed his country and as a regional power broker, is likely to be further strengthened during Clinton's two-day stay.

The highlight will be a summit on Wednesday, co-hosted by the two presidents, for leaders from East and Central Africa.

Museveni described Clinton as a wise man and said his visit was evidence of a serious new interest among Americans about Africa.

"(Clinton) has identified the potential of Africa, which is tremendous, and he wants to harness it for mutual benefit between the Americans and the Africans," Museveni said.

Clinton and his wife, Hillary, start their tour in Ghana, which in 1957 became the first former colony in Africa to gain independence. Once known as the Gold Coast, it was a major center for the slave trade.

They will end their African journey in Senegal with a visit to Goree Island, from where about 2-million people were shipped as slaves to American colonies between 1680 and 1786.

Although the White House had previously announced that Clinton would not make a formal apology for the slave trade, Museveni's typically forthright opinion was bound to be welcome in Washington.

Museveni, who is in his early 50s but as the son of illiterate peasants is not sure of his exact year of birth, took power in Uganda in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war.

The landlocked country, known as the Pearl of Africa because of its beauty and fertility, won independence from Britain in 1962. Its post-colonial history was scarred by violent ethnic politics and the brutal regime of Idi Amin.

Under Museveni, it has made exceptional economic progress. He won 75 percent of the vote in 1996 elections in which multiple candidates but not organized political parties were allowed to run.

Museveni declined to say if he would run for a final five-year term in 2001. "I will decide that when the time comes. I haven't decided," he said.

Before the election, a referendum is expected on whether to restore multiparty politics. Museveni said the people would decide, although his view was still that parties in peasant societies like Uganda's inevitably became tribal or religious.

"But if the population said "No, we have heard your views but we still want to go with the parties for better or for worse,' then we would go with them," he said.

Museveni's biggest problem is in the north, where rebels of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army have created no-go areas with Sudanese backing, according to Uganda. Clinton will not be going anywhere close to the region.

Museveni repeated his pledge to return to the northern town of Gulu to help the fight against the LRA as soon as Clinton left for South Africa.

"There is no conflict there, it is terrorism," he said. "A war is not kidnapping civilians, a war is fighting another armed group. So it is terrorism."

Clinton's first Africa trip

President Clinton arrives today on a six-nation, 10-day visit to Africa.

Today: Accra, Ghana; address in front of parliament building.

Tues.: Kampala, Uganda; visits rural health projects.

Wed.: In Entebbe, Uganda, summit with regional leaders; Kigali, Rwanda; meets civil war refugees.

Thurs.: Cape Town, S. Africa; speech to National Assembly.

Fri.: President Madela shows where he was jailed for 18 yrs. on Robben Island for anti-apartheid activities.

Sat.: Johannesburg; tours Soweto, other black townships from apartheid era.

Sun., March 29: Gaborone, Botswana; meets with President Madire.

Mon., March 30: On two-day safari, Chobe National Park.

Wed., April 1: Dakar, Senegal; meets with President Diouf; visits military base.

Thurs., April 2: Visits former slave trading center on Goree Island; returns to Washington.

Source: White House; research by JUDY TREIBLE

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