THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dakar, Senegal) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 2, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN DISCUSSION WITH HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
Hotel Le Meridien President Dakar, Senegal
11:00 A.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: First let me say how delighted that I am to have such a distinguished group to discuss human rights and democracy in Africa. I thank our panelists for being here and also let me thank all of those who are here in the audience who have worked on this cause across the continent in your various countries and, in at least one instance, in your particular village.
I think it is clear that there has been some significant progress in Africa in the decade of the '90s. The number of governments that were elected by their people have gone from five to 24. But we have to be clear, there is still a huge human rights challenge, a huge democracy challenge in Africa. We believe that human rights are universal. That's what the international Declaration of Human Rights says. That's why the United States has worked hard to support democracy and human rights in Africa.
Since 1989, we have worked in 46 different African nations. We have invested more than $400 million of our taxpayers' money to support elections, to reform judiciaries, to strengthen the participation of citizens in decision-making that affects their own lives. That support will continue.
I have seen many heartening signsu.
And I want to say a special word of appreciation to the First Lady for the work she's done on these issues, especially beginning at the Bejing Women's Conference and the work that began here in Senegal last year on the issue of female genital mutilation, which I know she had a meeting about this morning.
Would you like to say anything before we begin?
MRS. CLINTON: Well, I, too, would like to welcome all of our distinguished guests and I look forward to the conversation. And I would like also to introduce a group of people who have worked on behalf of human rights and health rights here in Senegal. And I believe that they are an example of how we have to translate the Declaration of Human Rights into positive action in our families, our villages, our communities.
And the people of Malicunda Bambara who are here have taken on the issue of FGM, and taken a stand against female circumcision, and the men and women have joined together and we heard from them this morning. We heard the women talk about how difficult it was to take this stand on behalf of health and human rights. And we heard from the men, two of whom are with us, who have walked from village to village, explaining how this ancient custom needed to be eliminated in order to protect the girls of Senegal. And we also heard from a representative from Mali who spoke about the work that they are doing there.
And if I could, I would like to ask the villagers of Malicunda to stand because if we talk about human rights, we have to translate that into positive action, and I think we have here men and women who have done that. (Applause.) And because of there courage, more than 8,000 people in villages that they have reached and spoken to and done a skit in front of have also agreed to end the practice of female circumcision. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Now, let's begin. There are many issues that I hope we can have discussed today, and they make be covered in the initial comments by our speakers. We want to talk about democracy and human rights. We want to talk about the threat of ethnic conflict to forming a unified democratic environment. We want to talk about how -- the challenge of investigating past abuses and working for justice while promoting national unity and reconciliation; issues of freedom of the press, women's rights. There are a number of things that I hope we can deal with today.
But again, I want all of you to feel free to say mostly what it is you want to say about where you are, what you're doing, and what you believe the United States can do to support your endeavors.
Who would like to go first? Someone volunteer? Archbishop?
ARCHBISHOP NDINGI: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am Archbishop Ndingi of Nairobi, Kenya; Chairman of National Justice and Peace Commission in that country. I am bishop for 29 years.
I'd like to address myself on the issues of democracy, human rights, corruption and drugs, if time allows. While there is a long way to go on issues of democracy and human rights in Kenya, Kenya has made dramatic improvements since 1990. Detention without trial is gone. People can meet, politicians can meet, without seeking permission from the administration. In the past, permit was required even for funerals.
Despite all this notable improvement, however, democracy that has -- a complete lack of separation of powers from the arms of the government. As a result, in Kenya , the executive has and possesses overwhelming legal and extra-legal powers. The judiciary especially -- Sabas (sp) in particular in this case. People can be detained in police stations for months, or in prisons for years before they are brought to court.
There is massive insecurity in Kenya in the form of state-sponsored troubled clashes, crime, more violence. This is largely due to a breakdown on law and order because of the security organizations are not only serious corrupt, but also restrained by higher authority from doing their job, especially where there is political linkage, like in our troubled clashes. There is a spate of violence promoted by state, through violence and brutality of the police, they clash.
There is, unfortunately, also violence against women, which is a special violence, since women go through additional trauma of rape. Wherever there is organized violence against a particular community, women are always targeted for rape on top of everything else. Rape in Acacha (sp) is especially horrible, as it not only leads to serious stigma, but also punishes the men and the entire community. Rape is a sign of being conquered and dominated.
There is abuse of power as political leaders cling to it and try to retain it, no matter what the wishes of people are. Oftentimes, political leadership subverts efforts of reform because of fear of losing power, and, thus, breeds every genuine attempt to better the lives of people, politically, economically, and otherwise, as attempts to remove it from power.
In Kenya, there's a high level of corruption, reaching the highest office in the land. Only 40 percent of our taxes are collected, for example, and only from ordinary people through surtax, VAT, and so on. Corruption -- Kenya has been named number three in Africa -- or in the world -- a position we are not proud of. There is a high level involvement of government officials in the drug trade, directly or by offering protection. Indeed, most drug dealers have the protection of the untouchables. These drug barons are then involved in financing elections.
Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, change has taken place in Kenya, as I said in the beginning, particularly due to sustained education and the information of the people on their rights by religious bodies, churches, NGOs, and pressure from the international community, especially through the diplomatic missions in our country.
Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, and the people of the United States, you can help us in Kenya as we fight for more opportunity to give our people civic education so that they can stand up and be counted. It is necessary for them to suffer a bit to retain their rights. At the moment, we have adopted the method of active non-violence in this country. Here we need your support, Mr. President. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
MR. WOODS: Thank you very much, Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton. Let me first have the opportunity the congratulate you for this bridge-building initiative in Africa. I think this is an attempt at bringing the White House and the town meetings to Africa, and I must congratulate you for that.
I must also indicate that this opportunity reinforces and reaffirms the universality of human rights, thereby, granting us around this table the needed legitimacy, increased visibility for our work, and to some extent guaranteed our own security in our countries.
Having said that, it is important to indicate that many parts of Africa, and particularly where I come from, are plagued with poverty, conflict, and to a large extent some degree of bad governance. However, there are some positive development initiatives that are ongoing. The groundswell of civic initiative in Africa is quite positive. These initiatives have served to challenge and test the commitment of various governments to deliver on the promises. It has served to challenge the political will of various governments to deliver on the promises to ordinary citizens.
Around this table men and women have met this challenge, with sacrifice, with risk. We think that it's important that this initiative be reinforced by the international community, but particularly the U.S.
In the case of Liberia particularly, I want to also mention your discussion in Uganda regarding the slave trade. Liberia represents a particular case in point where free slaves from America repatriated in the 1800s. We have thought and continue to believe that this was an opportunity of redemption by the U.S. and the international community.
A hundred years later we now suffer from devastation, disintegration of a state, and a few years back we had the complete collapse of the Liberian state. Certainly we have had elections. The election did not, in our mind, produce the basis of addressing the issue of justice and true reconciliation. What it provided was wholesale impunity for those who perpetrated violence and crime against ordinary people. And in trying to discuss the issue of impunity, certainly we think that there can be no compromise with those who see humanity as a target for the vain pursuit of power and greed.
However, the case of Liberia is a peculiar case. We have had elections and, to a large extent, the local international community have rewarded crime. This has to be addressed in a different context. The ethical and moral dilemma, therefore, is whether or not these same leaders can preside over a process of prosecution, process of justice, or truth-telling. This is the moral and ethical dilemma we are faced with.
But there are more critical issues that need to be addressed because we believe that those people in leadership are in the minority. Liberia is far greater than the president or any other individual. The ordinary people in the villages, the hamlets and towns need to be attended to. Refugees and returning population need to be addressed. The disintegration of families, massive suffering, the pollution and contamination of young children into a war they do not understand -- we think these young children need to rediscover their humanity. These are critical issues that need to be addressed at this moment.
We, therefore, hope that the U.S. will get engaged in a very cautious way, trying as much as possible to tie in foreign assistance, foreign policy, aid and grants to the issue of human rights, issue of good governance -- trying as much as possible to insist on the establishment of institutions that would serve to safeguard the rights and dignity of every individual in Liberia. That has to do with restructuring of the army, the police, the judiciary, and many aspects of survival in our country.
And the issues of poverty alleviation, the issue of education and health care are very critical. At the moment, we have began a groundswell of activities for providing education and human rights and civic education for our people in the villages and towns, using community leaders, using individual citizen, to recognize that the struggle for justice and peace is not limited to institution or individuals, but that every Liberian, every African, must be a true human rights activist for themselves. In that way, we empower the individual to discover the potential, to identify avenues for redress of the grievances when there are violations.
I thank you for this opportunity, and I hope that this bridge is continuously maintained and nurtured by the continuous support that you provide to people like us to balance the threat on our very society. Thank you for much.
MR. MATCHABA-HOVE: Thank you, Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton. My name is Reginald Matchaba-Hove from Zimbabwe. I would just like to follow up on the point which you raised in the opening statement, Mr. President, and which Sam has just referred to, and that is the question of trying to balance of question of past human rights abuses in countries which are trying to establish democracy and establish national unity.
In Zimbabwe, in my particular case, of course, we have in the western part of the country, between '83 and '87, several thousand people were killed during essentially a political struggle, for political gains essentially to establish a one-party state. And I think the same would apply to a number of other countries within the region.
There is a lot of thoughts on our part that it is important for countries, for nations, for leaders, to go through that process of reconciliation which entails telling the truth, and forgiveness and reconciliation. If we do not go through that process -- and that happened in Zimbabwe after independence in 1980 -- you do run the risk of impunity, where the same types of violations occur. And people always point backwards and say, but you didn't do this in 1980, why should you complain today? So I think it is an important aspect.
But, yes, we've also got to recognize that quite often we're dealing with people who are already in power and they may resist any forms of investigations. And I think the critical balance there is what has been done in South Africa, where perhaps for some sort of crimes there is immunity provided that there is confession, acknowledgement of guilt. And I think that that is a cathartic exercise which is helpful to both these abused and the abuser, and which we do have to go through.
I can assure you today in Zimbabwe and the western part of our country, the people there are bitter -- and this is more than a decade after the event. And yet, we have a National Unity Day and we say that we have national unity. These are issues which begin to grow in the minds and souls of people long after the event.
I would encourage the U.S. government to support those local initiatives to ensure that there is opening up and discussions among society, that there is provision for rehabilitation of people who have been affected, and also, that where it is difficult within the national context to deal with this, to work through and to strengthen regional or continental mechanisms. And you, yourself, of course, referred to international mechanisms, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which we are all signatories to.
I'm a medical doctor by profession, and I recall sometime ago when you made a comment and apology, in fact, about the experiments at Tuskegee, and African Americans and syphilis trials quite some time ago. There are some people who will say it's not important, it was long ago. But I think it is very significant.
And I would also like to say once I have the floor now that Mandela said that your visit to South Africa was the, I think, high-water mark of any foreign visit to South Africa. I would want to say that your entire visit to Africa, but in particularly here to Dakar, to Goree Island -- which I understand you are going tomorrow; I went there yesterday and saw photos of the First Lady and Chelsea, Mandela looking very solemn -- these are important gestures in developing reconciliation and building unity. And I personally, and I'm sure a whole lot of other Africans would want to personally thank you for your courage and for your sincerity in that important gesture. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Doctor, very much. I don't want to interrupt the flow of the statements, but I would like to pose a question that we can return to perhaps after you all make your statements, if it's not convenient to address it as you go along. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to which you referred obviously has made a great impression on people all across the world, and it has a great appeal. Yet, thinking about practically how you would do it in another country raises the question of whether it is possible if the leader of the country is not someone like Mr. Mandela. That is, he suffered so grievously himself, he is in a position to come forward and say, this is the procedure I advocate, and if it's okay with me, who are you to say it's not enough?
So, on the one hand, since he was the oppressed, he can make sure -- to go back to something that Sam and the Archbishop said -- he can make sure that the power of government is put at the service of the people who have been abused, something that others may not be able to do. And on the other hand, he can say to those who lost their loved ones or who were horribly scarred or maimed, I can forgive; you should, too. So there is a unique position there.
If you sought to do something like that in other countries and we wanted to support it, as a practical matter, could it be done in a way that would either make the people who had been abused feel that they were at peace, or, on the other hand, reach the consciousness of those who may be duly elected now, but still may have done things for which they should atone. That I think is the problem we have all tried to come to terms with.
Anyway, who would like to go next? Anyone?
MR. HAMULI: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton. On the behalf of the civil society of my country and of the Great Lakes, I would like, first of all, to thank you very much for the Entebbe Declaration. My colleagues asked me to thank you very much for that, because in that declaration there is an important excerpt, which says -- well, I don't recall exactly, but which gives a stand to the civil society in the Great Lakes. That is very important. We have been struggling for long years for democracy and peace in these places and we think that it is important that our leaders understand that the civil society is doing a big job and that we have to work together. So, thank you, Mr. President, for that.
Thanks again for your short visit in Rwanda. We have all wounds of what happened in Rwanda and we are suffering a lot from what's happening in Burundi. The situation in this country has influenced very much the situation in the eastern part of the Congo. So we hope that a commitment to support peace in these countries will certainly help the Congo, as well, to rebuild.
Mr. President, we have been very happy with the support of the United States of America to get Mobutu out from the power, and we were very happy when Kabila came in. We were all supportive in Kinshasa and everyplace where, while the liberation struggle was going on, we were all very happy and we mobilized because we have suffered for long years of incredible dictatorship and a kleptocratic system.
Our country has resources to help Africa, and we have incredible resources. Mr. President, we have been partners of the U.S. for long years during the Cold War, and we can be good partners in this new partnership for progress in Africa. The Congo has resources and a determined people.
For the moment we are experiencing change in our country. There are some positive aspects of this change, but some negative ones as well. Some of the positive ones are like public resources are better managed today. There is more control, financial resources are well looked at, although there are still problems about how to allocate the resources, should resources go to the military now, to the security, should resources go to infrastructure which was completely destroyed. Very little resources go to poverty alleviation, unfortunately.
There is more discipline in public administration. People wake up in the morning, go to the office, 7:30 a.m. they are there, trying to get more organized. But there is an incredible lack of resources, and in some provinces civil servants have not been paid for six months.
There is more discipline in the military. I think the Zairian military was awful and had the reputation of being terribly awful against its own people. But now there is more discipline. The airports are much better. It was awful to land in Kinshasa and get out from the customs, but now it is very well. But the problem within our army is the kids -- so many kids who were recruited during the liberation war. The U.N. says to us there are about 2,000 kids in the army. This is a very dangerous situation. We need these kids to go back home and to go to study, to have professional skills.
There have been some very good officers within the former army. The problem is that there condition is not well handled for the moment. The new commanders are afraid of the former military officers. We don't know exactly how this is going to happen due to the fact that some of the big ones have left the country and are trying to network. They might see some weakness in administration today to put trouble in the country.
There are some bad things that are happening in the country today. First of all, the political parties have been forbidden to work. Political freedom has been reduced very much, and many political leaders are jailed -- the famous one is Johisekedi, opposition leader. He's in house arrest in his village. There are some others -- and all the other people who were active on the political scene.
We think this is a little setback in political life today. Human rights are seriously into question in my country today. We thought that the record was going to be better, but, unfortunately, it looks like the situation is the same. Human rights organizations, whether national or international, are not good friends of the government. Some of our colleagues have even left the country because they were going to be arrested and lots of human rights violations, due to the fact that the army is not well controlled. The country's very huge. The army has no logistics. There are some practices, old practices which are still there. Financial resources lack and so soldiers go by their own, sometimes doing horrible things.
Freedom of press is limited. Civil liberties are not very much cared of, unfortunately. Freedom of press is a reality in Kinshasa, but, unfortunately, the rest of the country lack press, lack a free press. And sometimes, newspapers published in Kinshasa have been forbidden to go in the provinces because they were very critical to the regime -- although there has been no decree to stop free press, but we have seen actions that reduce civil freedoms, civil liberties.
Mr. President, since May 1997 up to now, we have no constitution. Yes, there is a commission that is drafting a constitution, but the constitution will have to go to an interim parliament and then to the referendum. It might take a long time. We cannot have a country without a constitution. We have seen lots of things in the country for the last six or seven years with Mobutu, prolonging the whole process, and we are afraid that we might have the same situation. We heard that you pressed our President for election in the country in two years. That's very, very good. But if the constitution has to come in two years, that's not good.
There is no parliament. There is no institution that can control the power in the country, so the power today is in the hands of one person. Unfortunately, it is reminding of the system that we had in the past. We have a problem in the eastern part. I've already spoken about it, in the Kivus. The Kivu have a turmoil of social trouble, ethnic tensions. And this does not allow to reconstruct peace in Rwanda. You think it would be a high priority to help Kivu to have peace. And this would certainly help Rwanda have peace, as well.
Mr. President, there are some practical steps that the government of the United States can take to support the reconstruction of the Congo. And we think we can, following our long partnership, we can certainly expect support from the U.S. today.
The first thing is strongly support the democratic process and good governance in our country. Support the organization of the army and the police, as my colleague from Liberia said, as well. We actually have the same demands. Continue pressure on Kabila to democratize. It is important to pressure him. He would probably not, because his office, the cabinet, people surrounding him, half of them have been out of the country for the last 30 years and do not know the realities of the country. They need to be really, really pressurized. Support the building of a state of law, constitution, parliament, and more especially, rehabilitation of local and provincial administrations. The country is very big. A centralized system cannot help the country reconst ruct. And, of course, support civil society leaders and the work we are doing to get our people to participate.
We lack resources. We have been cut off from international cooperation for the last 10 years, and the rest of the money of the country has been picked up by some of our leaders. So resources lack incredibly because we cannot make business -- the infrastructure is cut and it's just a very difficult situation. So we need resources.
Strongly support the peace efforts in the Great Lake area, in the Great Lake region, and the Kivu. Strongly support poverty alleviation programs and the economic reconstruction of the Congo. We are being told today that the international community is reluctant to support us because we haven't paid foreign debt for long years. We have about $14 billion to $15 billion of external debt. But our former leaders have almost the same amount outside. At this time when we are rebuilding the nation, could it be possible to ease this burden on our people?
I think I will add some more in the discussion, Mr. President. Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say very briefly about this. This is very helpful. Any hope we have, I think, of having a regional system for developing the Great Lakes region, and indeed to some extent a larger in Africa, rests on the successful emergence of the Congo as a functioning democratic society. And we have here leaders -- Mr. Royce, the Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee in the Congress, and our Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and Reverend Jackson, my Special Envoy for Africa -- we're all trying to figure out how we can best work with and influence Mr. Kabila, because, as you point out, I think one of their biggest handicaps is so many of them in the government were out of Congo for so long. And then when they came in and started the struggle to replace Mobutu, I think it happened even more easily and more quickly than they thought it would.
But now they're confronted with what has typically been a dilemma, sometimes more imagined than real, for people in positions of governance. They say, well, you know, these countries, they fluctuate between anarchy and abusive dictatorship, so I don't want anarchy, so maybe I'll be a less abusive dictator. You've heard this story throughout your whole lives.
So what we have to do is somehow find a way for other countries from the outside, and people like you from the inside, to show these people who have come into the government, oftentimes from many years away from the Congo, if you will, a middle way. A way to -- and the only way they can succeed -- of empowering people at the grass roots level and working out a less centralized approach.
And we will work very hard on it, because I believe that if the transition of the Congo away from Mobutu to a genuine democratic, functioning government could succeed, as vast and as wealthy as the country is -- and with the horrible history of the last few years -- it would be a stunning example to the rest of the continent, indeed, to places in other continents of the world. So it's a very important issue. And I thank you very much for it.
MS. SIDIBE: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, I am Mrs. Amsatou Sow Sidibe, representing Senegal. I am the Director of Studies at the Peace and Human Rights Institute at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar. In this institute, we are basically looking at publicizing human rights, for the socialization of human rights and democracy, and also to instill the culture of democracy and human rights in Senegal. I'm also the Chairperson of the African Network for the Promotion of Women Workers.
I would just like to say a few words about the democratic expedience and human rights situation in Senegal. In this respect, I'd like to specify that Senegal has a democratic tradition. As far as the institutional aspect is concerned, we do have a constitution which lays out the basic principles of rule of law. We also have a certain number of structures, such as the Election Observation Commission which was established recently and which enables us to show transparent elections. We have a freedom of press. We also have a major network of free press agencies. We also have political pluralism, which allows each Senegalese to participate in a political party and demonstrate his will in the field of political issues. We also have other bodies which allow us to promote human rights and democracy.
But I also wanted to mention that democracy is not perfect anywhere. Democracy is a permanent quest. And in Senegal, democracy is also not perfect. Of course, there are a certain number of difficulties when it comes to implementation of democracy and human rights. In the field of justice, I could quote the fact that justice is so expensive and very often Senegalese do not have equal access to this legal system. I can also mention the case of women who are suffering from discrimination -- a de facto discrimination. There are several laws which are enacted to protect these women, but in practice, discrimination and social cultural constraints do not allow us to implement these women's rights. Women are not represented in the decision-making bodies. They're suffering from violence against them.
Children, too, do not have their rights proclaimed. Though Senegal has ratified the Convention on Children's Rights, in practice, the convention is not implemented. And the civil society in Senegal, it is not well-organized. And this, of course, is a constraint because civil society, as you know, can play a tremendous role in the promotion and protection of human rights.
And I should have started by relating the difficulties involved in education and training because we cannot talk about development. We cannot talk about promotion of human rights and democracy if the people are not educated. But in Senegal, despite all the efforts made by the public authorities, as far as education is concerned, as far as training is concerned, well, we still have some limitations. And we really believe that people governing our country should enhance the educational system operated.
Of course, in the wake of all these problems and in the presence of the American President and his spouse, I would like to, of course, make a few suggestions, ask for some support from the United States of America. Support, first of all, when it comes to the teaching problem, education, because education, training, according to us, is of paramount importance. It is the essential priority. Without the proper education, without proper training, we cannot validly talk about development, we cannot talk of democracy, we cannot talk about human rights because people will continuously be poor; they will be unemployed; they will never know their rights. And if such is the case, we cannot progress. But we would really like to request the United States assist us to make education a reality in our country.
We would also like to suggest to the U.S. that they support us in the follow-up of the Beijing Declaration for Women -- that women should have an access to the decision-making bodies, that women should not suffer from any more violence. They're victims of violence, which is, of course, contradictory to development. It goes against a proper implementation of human rights. We are also requesting the United States support human rights organizations and institutions, try and build their capacities further to make sure that these organizations could be valid correspondents in front of the state and other human rights organizations.
The United States should also allow and enable the Africans to have an easier access to various communication agencies because without communication bodies, Africans might actually be left out or left behind. And we really believe that Africans have their word to say in the globalization process.
And I thank you for your attention.
MS. YAI: I'm Constance Yai from Cote d'Ivoire. Well, I'll not give you a very comprehensive development of the situation in Cote d'Ivoire because the situation is quite similar in our different countries; namely, the existence of a national law or legal system, as well as lack of proper implementation of the law.
And I also note that traditional practices and customs -- and I really thank Mrs. Mimuna Vinsep (sp) for the assistance that she has given us through the WorldNet discussion. A question was raised in Washington, we were in Abidjan, regarding the impact of customs on women's rights. And I have thanked Mimuna (sp) because that discussion had already been undertaken in our country. And I would also like to thank President and Mrs. Clinton.
And with the assistance of the American government, our organization has systematized information and sensitization of the local population, and we have realized that the populations are not hostile to women's rights implementation. Because when the government heard that I was coming to Dakar and that I was going to have the privilege of sitting at the same table with President and Mrs. Clinton, they said that they'll never miss this golden opportunity that she has been given to criticize the government. But I'd also like to explain that unless it is revolutionary, a lot of governments do not have the political means to implement the changes at the population's level, at the grass-roots' level.
I am extremely proud to take the floor here in front of you, Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, because I know a lot of women are actually waiting for me back home, and one of them told me that once I greet President Clinton that I shouldn't wash my hands because she wants to touch my hand after that. So I'll have to go straight from here to the airport and go back to Abidjan.
But I'd like to inform you that there is a complicity between the African governments and populations which are hostile to changes for women. We call it the anti-women conspiracy in Cote d'Ivoire. Whether you are in Senegal, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, in Camaroon, everywhere, we have a lot of ethnic strife. We have refugees, we have conflicts. But, above all, there is an absence in women in decision-making bodies. We are women, we are mothers, and if people asked us about our opinion, I'm sure a lot of wars could have been avoided. I'm sure that problems of families and children would have found solutions if we had participated in government affairs.
Forced marriage, for example, which is quite common in most of the modern countries in Africa, leads to problems. We know that female circumcision is a very serious problem. Young girls are forced to marry people. In the most modern countries in Africa, girls are taken out of school to be married off. We have Abidjan, which is a big African city, where girls are taken away from school before they graduate just to be married off.
We hope that this forum, which is most welcome, will help us in generating new ideas. I am a very passionate woman, and that's not my fault, but I am a lawyer for women's rights, for children's rights, and I really hope that our problems will be taken into account because women's opinions are not heard. And all governments, whether they are parties of the left of the right, tend to marginalize women's rights.
MS. OBE: Thank you Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton. I am Ayoola Obe. I'm a private legal practitioner. I'm also the President of the Civil Liberties Organization, which is Nigeria's oldest indigenous human rights organization, which is to say that we're 10 years old, we're in our 10th year.
In your opening remarks, you did talk about the improvement in much of Africa. I think that the tragedy of Nigeria is that where others have been progressing, and some of the things that people are enjoying now -- such as freedom of press, freedom of expression, and so on -- are things that we have, perhaps, taken for granted in Nigeria and which are now being removed from us to the extent that we're poorer now than we were. We have fewer freedoms, possibly 16 journalists in detention or serving jail sentences for simply carrying out their trade.
The Civil Liberties Organization, when it started, it wasn't political -- it had not a political agenda. It was simply a human rights organization. The first focus was the fact that many people were in jail simply for non-political things like being locked up for wandering, but not having trials and being left there for 10 years or more. And that was what we started off with.
We come to understand that the reason why all of these various human rights abuses continued in Nigeria is because of the lack, in fact, the increasingly smaller space for democratic freedoms. And I think that, without wanting to repeat much that everybody else has said about what human rights abuses constitute and so on and so forth, of course, you may be aware that in Nigeria it's translating into an almost complete economic collapse. I left Lagos in the grip of fuel shortage. I had come from Abuja, also in the grip of fuel shortage. And the week before that I was in another part of the country, also in the grip of fuel shortage. This in oil-rich Nigeria, with four refineries.
And this is really a symptom to our mind of -- unlike in the popular wisdom is that, well, at least with dictatorship you have an efficient system. What we found here is that with dictatorship you just have corruption and inefficiency. And the only issue that agitates that dictatorship is its own security, its own continued stay in office.
The Civil Liberties Organization, having, as I said, seen this connection between the human rights abuses and the political situation, became involved in the umbrella organizations such as the Campaign For Democracy, along with other human rights groups, which spearheaded the protests in 1993, when the June 12 election was annulled by General Babangida. We led the demonstrations. We didn't have enough political savvy, perhaps, to translate that, and so we sort of had General Babangida stepping aside, as you said, but we then left the politicians and they negotiated the victory away.
I remember being in Washington in 1993, in May, and talking about what we then expected to happen, and saying that while we don't expect genuine democracy to come out of Babangida transition, but what we do expect that -- and I use the football analogy that -- the playing field will not be leveled, but at least the goalposts will stop moving, and it's after the goalposts have stopped moving that we will then start the work of leveling the playing field, which is to say putting in place restored respect for the things that one takes for granted in other countries, such as freedom of the press, access to the courts, and so on and so forth.
History is not quite repeating itself in Nigeria, however much the Abacha government may be trying to give the impression that we are going through another, but slightly better transition. In fact, now we are not so much in a situation of trying to fix the goalposts -- okay, we know where the game is going to be, but we really don't know whether we're turning up to play ice hockey or whether we're turning up to play football, simply because -- (laughter) -- we don't have the constitution.
We had a constitutional conference which in itself was flawed, but we didn't have -- up until now we don't have any idea of what that constitution contains, because at the end of the day it is a military dictator who will say, well, I accept this recommendation, I don't accept that, I'm putting this in, I'm taking that out.
So that we are how many months away -- maybe six months away from a handover to democratically-elected government. And yet, all the people who have taken part in the elections which have taken place so far don't really know what they're going there to do. Of course, many of the people who ought to be involved in Nigeria's political life are outside it. Apart from the yet to be declared presidential campaign of General Abacha, we have only two other people who have expressed an interest. And as has been pointed out, four years ago, 23 people said they wanted to be President of Nigeria. Suddenly now, everybody has found -- oh, the Senate is a very much more interesting place and probably a safer place for them to be.
So I think that the five political parties -- political pluralism is certainly important for Nigeria because it is so diverse. But I think that the five political parties which have been correctly described as the five leprous fingers of a diseased hand, which is to say that they are all created by the government, they are all beholden to the government, and they have no individual ideology, which is why they find it very easy for people in one party to just move to what they think is the winning side and to move to what they think is also the side that government favors or the side where they think they can have access.
I think that the problem with Nigeria -- and when it comes to an issue of what can the United States do, of course, the Nigerian government, being one which look with quite some equanimity on the suffering of the people, is not really very amenable to the issues of even sanctions, even sporting sanctions -- we all know how football-crazy Nigerians are -- but even, sporting sanctions, the government would take it and say that, well, if this is what it means for us to be able to be able to have "our own independence", then they're ready to put up with it.
But I think that one area where they are amenable to pressure is from their fellow African countries. And I think that, although it may seem a somewhat indirect route, that it's very important that the United States makes it clear to other countries that they also are expected to have a voice in the Nigerian position. Because just as with the case of Zaire, the Nigerian sickness spreads throughout the region, although Nigeria has had some beneficial effects in Liberia and Sierra Leone, nonetheless, when Nigeria is in a mess, the region cannot really be at ease. So I think that that area -- South Africa has led in this regard, but people tend to think of South Africa as somewhat different. So I think that's it's also important that other neighboring countries also are encouraged.
The issue of support for civil society has been mentioned. It's very important for us. We don't have a lot of funds. So I won't say much more about that because it's been covered. But I also should thank you for the opportunity and for your visit to Africa.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say just very briefly before I ask John to speak that in all candor, the question of Nigeria has been the most difficult for us to deal with because it is the most populous country in Africa, because it has this incredible irony of having the vast oil resources and all the poverty and dislocation at home, and because every avenue we have tried to try to deal with the government of General Abacha has been frustrating to us.
And we even had -- I think it's fair to say we've had some fairly heated debates among ourselves about, well, should we just continue having nothing to do with this man, should we try to at least deal with him in the way we're working with President Kabila? What should we do? Because it is an incredible tragedy. You have this huge, diverse, rich country, in effect, being driven into the ground by political oppression and mismanagement.
And we have said that if there were a release of the political prisoners, if there were a genuine political process that was real, not just a military government in a suit and tie, that we would try to work with it. But by your comments, you know how difficult it is to exercise any constructive influence. And yet it's a great tragedy.
I mean, when I was in Ghana, and we were discussing energy problems -- just to take the energy issue -- I learned that the oil production in Nigeria is continuing to burn off the natural gas instead of to save it and to sell it to Nigerians or to others, when everyone who know anything about energy knows that the natural gas is not only just a valuable as oil, but less damaging to the environment and could help to provide huge amounts of money to Nigeria to alleviate the suffering of the people and lift the condition of the people. I just give that as one example.
We will continue to do what we can. We will continue to look for other avenues, and we will continue to encourage the other African governments to do the same. And the point you made about expecting it from South Africa but needing if from the others I think is a very important one.
MR. MUKELA: Thank you very much, Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, for this very rare opportunity of being here with you.
My name is John Mukela. I am from Zambia, so I'm actually wearing two hats. Although I'm from Zambia, I actually live in Mozambique and I run -- I'm Executive Director of a media training institution. So it's been nice listening to what people have had to say. And I think it encapsulates the whole crisis of Africa, that we have a continent which is really kind of suspended in mid-air without this sort of institutional frameworks and mechanisms to make it work in this sort of new era we're going into the 21st century.
And speaking from a media perspective, I think that the media, as we all know, is one of the fundamental institutions to sort of enforce and ensure that the sort of things we've been talking about this morning can be realized and can be corrected and we can put ourselves on the right track. The media, as you know, Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, in Africa, is emergent. Just as many of our institutions, our own democracies, are very, very new, in many respects, very early in concepts, we are trying to grapple with these issues. And the media itself is very weak. And what we see in Africa is the need to sort of strengthen this very crucial arm of the democratization process.
While there have been obvious advances and obvious victories, countries like Mali, countries like Nigeria have traditionally had a very independent media, but we are seeing at the same time backward movements in this whole process. We are seeing governments which are becoming more and more aggressive in trying to stomp down on this area. And I think any government worth its salt, if it's going to try to maintain its position in government, would try and tromp down on the media. And the media is at the forefront, I think, of this battle to try and survive. And if I were Minister of Information, I would certainly put roadblocks in the establishment of a strong, vibrant media. So this is the practical aspect of the where we see ourselves going.
And this means that we need to support the growth, we need to ensure that the problem areas are addressed. And there are various problems areas. The media, repressive legislations which we see in Africa are being strengthened. In my own country, Zambia, for example, we have a fairly decent media. I am one of the people who have been in the forefront of establishing this new scenario. But we also see that in countries like South Africa, where we have movements towards the implementation of Freedom of Information Acts, that this could indeed be replicated.
But I think that in many of the countries, they do not have the capacities to get these legislative practices scrapped. So that's one area where the American government could, perhaps, lend support. We are seeing very visible signs of clamping down on the media -- not in a very sort of a crude way, but in subtle ways, where, for example, high taxation on media inputs -- newsprint, for example; printing presses, you can't get printing presses.
We need to also make sure that the actual capacity of media to exist is improved. Poor business and management skills in the media, which need to be emphasized in order for it to survive, it must be able to survive in a competitive atmosphere. But many journalists do not have the capacity to manage and to make sure that the paper or the radio station survives. So that's one area where my institution is trying to put some effort into.
A number of instances can be looked at, but I would just like to say that the absence of professional skills, journalistic skills, actually reporting and being able to analyze a situation, where you find that the media in Africa is incapable of actually critically looking at the real issues, it is urban based, urban biased. We're looking at rural communities which are not represented. We're looking at the need for the establishment of radio, not just state-run radio but local community-based radio. We're looking at the empowerment of people in the rural area, women who are the bulk of the agriculturally-based countries in Africa, dependent on labors from women. We're looking at all of these inequalities, and we're looking at also the inequalities of the global new information age, where Africa, I think, is on the way to becoming even more globally marginalized.
The Internet, for example, how many Africans can have a computer? Even in African cities, the people who have access to computers, you can count them on one hand.
But these are the challenges. I think, Mr. President, that what the American government could do -- Mrs. Clinton -- would be to try and get this whole institutional framework issue on the agenda of American policy, because I think if you look at, for example, the media, the support has been more or less ad hoc. There has been no consistent sort of focused support to support the media. And I think that this is one area, for example, through training, through the support of training institutions, that we could, perhaps, have more meaningful progress and input by the American government.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me just, if I could, pick up on a couple of suggestions you made. First of all, the comment you made about radio struck me as particularly important. As we traveled around the country and got into some of the rural areas, I thought about that myself. But for all of you who are interested in this, I think that it is important that people like you get out ahead of this and come up with ideas about how you could use it in a beneficial way to advance democracy and human rights. Because one of the things I worry about is that in this ongoing struggle, that some of the people that are most hostile to what you believe in could one day hit upon the instrument of the radio to drive wedges between people.
That's been one of our biggest problems in Bosnia, where we're seeking to make peace, is that instruments of the media -- the radio and the television -- came totally into the hands of basically the people who had a stake in keeping the various ethnic groups at war with one another. And so they relentlessly use the radio to abuse the privilege of the airwaves, which in every country should belong to the public at large. It should be used for larger public purposes.
So I think that this is a cause, John, which you might make a common cause with other human rights groups around the continent, because I think it's very important. In the places which have no communications, including some of the villages that I have visited, it will come, and it's very important when it comes, how it comes. I cannot overestimate that to you, the importance of making sure that when this happens to the general population, that it is an instrument of education and enlightenment and bringing people together and empowering them, not just one more blunt weapon to beat them down and keep them apart.
Now, let me just say one other thing. When I listen to you all talk and putting this into the context of the larger trip, it is obvious that many, many great things are happening in Africa; that if you look at them, you think there's an African renaissance. If you look at some of the problems you mentioned and you realize some things we haven't talked about in great detail -- the education, environmental, and economic problems --there's still a lot of crisis.
I had a meeting with young leaders in South Africa to discuss this, and I said that just observing all these places -- and I went to two villages, I went to three different townships and neighborhoods in South Africa when I was there, apart from the cities and the official work. And it seems to me that there is a crying need for -- you have a lot of leaders and potential leaders, not only people like you who have good educations and backgrounds, but the people who stood up and were applauded here -- they're leaders, too. And we would like to focus more on building the structures necessary for leadership to work.
There are the national structures you talked about -- the press, the education system, all of that. But there's also the need to figure out how you can best channel the resources that might come from outside at the grass-roots level. We went to Dal Diam, the village here, yesterday, and we saw people essentially reclaiming the desert because someone gave them enough money to build a well. So one little village, they reclaimed 5 hectares of the desert. That's the way you reverse the growth of the desert -- people do it, because they have to find a way to sustain their life as they do that.
So before we have to break up here, I would just like to say to all of you, I do not want this trip of ours to be an isolated event. I want it to be the beginning of a much more comprehensive and constructive role for the United States. So as you think about the structural issues -- not just what can the President of the United States say to the leader of some other country, I want you to feel free on your own behalf and for others with whom you come in contact, to contact us with very specific suggestions about what we can do to help people in your countries change their own lives -- what kind of structural changes, supports, can be built in to build organized efforts such as the one we have celebrated today with the women and men who are here from the village that Hillary visited. I think it's very important.
We're about out of time, but I wonder if any of you have any other -- any of you would like a second round of comments based on what you've heard before we adjourn. Is there anything else you would like to say to me or to each other?
MS. SIDIBE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton. Very quickly, I would like to ask a few questions. You've more or less answered the first question of mine, which was to know what the United States could do to help promoting social, economic and cultural rights in Africa; what the U.S. could do for peace in the Cassamance region in the south of Senegal; and one last question -- apparently, the U.S. has not signed and ratified two conventions,convention on children's rights, and the Ottawa Treaty of 1977 on antipersonnel mines. I'd like to know what's the reason.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me, first of all, answer an earlier question you made. You made a lot of points about education in your earlier remarks, and we have announced a new initiative there. And I hope that -- let me follow up on that just to say I hope you will think of other specific things we can do in that regard.
On the children's convention, the Senate of the United States has not ratified that because of a concern about one particular provision in it and how it relates to the sovereignty of our states in the United States. But we fully support its objectives, and always have.
On the land mine issue, I don't know about the '77 convention. I can tell you that we, the United States, spend more than half of the money the whole world spends to take land mines out of the ground. We have already destroyed 1.5 million of our own land mines, and we are in the process of destroying our whole supply -- with the single exception of those that are in a very carefully marked plot of land in Korea, at the border of North and South Korea. We leave them there -- first of all, they're not near any residential area, they're not near any children, and the area where they are is heavily marked with warning, and no civilian has ever been hurt there -- because the North Korean army has vastly larger forces on the border of South Korea than the South Koreans and the Americans have facing them. And it's only about 18 miles from the border of North Korea to Seoul, the largest city in South Korea. And the land mines are thought to be the only presently available deterrent should an invasion occur, and no invasion has occurred.
We are there pursuant to the United Nations resolution of the conflict between North and South Korea. I think there is some encouragement that that may be resolved, that the final peace may be made. And when that happens, then the last remaining land mine issue will be resolved.
In the meanwhile, we will continue to do everything we can to end the problem of land mines for people everywhere. We will continue to spend the money that we're spending, to use the people that we're spending -- we, actually, not very long ago, lost a crew of our Air Force -- you may remember -- in a tragic accident off the coast of Africa when they just deposited some American forces to take land mines up in Southwest Africa. It was an airline accident, but they were there to deal with the land mine issue.
It is a very, very important thing to me, personally, and to our country. And we are trying to increase the number of people trained to take the mines up, and also increase the amount of equipment available. And, interestingly enough, for the first time ever our Defense Department has just recently purchased a machine made in South Africa that aids in the extraction of land mines from the ground. So we are working very, very hard on that.
Q I know we are short of time. I just wanted to make one quick comment. And that is to say I know we have pointed out the problems in Africa and I'm glad that you did mention there is element of hope. I wanted to say that as an African I would want to reassure you that the way you've conducted this visit and your opening statements, that "I've come here to listen and not to tell Africans what to do" -- you asked us what could we do to support reconciliation. And she said, go through the African mechanisms, local mechanisms -- the Archbishop, the churches, systems regional, systems like Accord in South Africa for conflict resolution and so forth, working through the OAU and strengthening the OAU mechanisms -- I think that is something which we would want to encourage you to support.
And this is one thing I think we, as Africans, saw in your visit, that you came to listen and not to tell us what to do. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the things that we have learned the hard way, just from trying to solve social problems in our own country, is that there is a sense in which the people are always ahead of the leaders. And, therefore, partnership is all that works. And certainly it's true for us coming here from a totally different experience.
I believe the United States, as I said when I got here, tended to view Africa too much through the very limited lens of the Cold War for too long. And I believe that the world over has seen too much of Africa only in terms of the problems, when something bad happens. So I think -- what I'm trying to do is to get the scales right, to see the problems and the promise and to develop a partnership that makes sense, that will outlive my presidency, that will fundamentally change forever the way the United States and Africa relate to one another.
It's heartbreaking to me that there are some situations for which I don't have a ready answer -- the most painful and the biggest one being the one that we discussed with Nigeria. But I'm positive that if we have a consistent, ongoing effort, and if we continue to listen and work together, that increasingly, the promise will prevail over the problems.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 12:20 P.M. (L)