Clinton leaves on latest trip to Africa

WASHINGTON - President Clinton left Friday on a weekend trip to Africa to give Nigeria's fragile democracy a boost and encourage efforts to maintain peace among warring factions in Burundi.

Clinton flew out shortly after the White House made known that he is adding a Monday stop in Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a Middle East ally.

''The two leaders will discuss the latest developments in the Middle East peace process,'' White House spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was meeting with Egyptian officials Saturday in Alexandria, Egypt.

Clinton, accompanied by his daughter, Chelsea, climbed the steps to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base and was met at the top by another member of the American delegation, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stepped aside to let the president pass.

The trip is Clinton's second to sub-Saharan Africa and probably his last trip to that region as president. Although brief, it is weighted with symbolism.

While in Nigeria, Clinton plans to tell President Olusegun Obasanjo that the United States supports Nigeria as it secures its democracy. He plans to announce additional help for primary schools and disease prevention, fattening an aid package that has grown from $7 million to $108 million in two years.

Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, said the aid is necessary because Nigeria's political development is at a delicate stage. The country has been trying to restore public faith in government with an aggressive attack on corruption and efforts to manage the nation's oil wealth in a more responsible way. It also faces tensions between its diverse religious and ethnic groups.

''This is a make-or-break transition, not just for Nigeria but for Africa,'' Berger said. ''If Nigeria succeeds, this can help lift the whole region to prosperity and peace. If it fails, it can swamp the whole region in turmoil and misery.''

Clinton hopes to discuss with Obasanjo how to make Nigerian oil production more efficient and offer the suggestion that Obasanjo work on closer cooperation with his legislature. He also hopes to address the institution of Islamic law in several northern states, which threatens to plunge Nigeria into a constitutional crisis.

Outside of that, Clinton is expected to speak with the Nigerian leader of problems throughout the African continent: debt relief, the fight against AIDS and stopping conflicts in the Great Lakes region, which includes Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.

During his stop, the president will see very little of Nigeria, only Abuja, the gleaming new capital, and a village just beyond the city's outskirts. He then moves to Tanzania to show solidarity with former South African President Nelson Mandela's efforts to broker peace between warring Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi.

Noting that Nigeria has spent $10 billion in the past decade on peacekeeping, Berger said the United States will begin this week helping train five Nigerian battalions to serve in Sierra Leone.

''We have an interest in helping Nigeria bear this burden,'' Berger said. ''To the extent the Nigerian military becomes a professional military, not a political military, it is good for stability and democracy in Nigeria.''

Clinton's delegation includes mayors Wellington Webb, Denver; Ron Kirk, Dallas; Marc Morial, New Orleans; Dennis Archer, Detriot; and Sarah Bost, Irvington, N.J.

It also includes 12 Democratic members of Congress: Reps. Charles Rangel, New York; Jim McDermott, Washington; Donald Payne, New Jersey; William Jefferson, Louisiana; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas; Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania; Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas; Julia Carson, Indiana; Carolyn Kilpatrick, Michigan; Greg Meeks, New York; Barbara Lee, California; and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio; and Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama.


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