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Visit to Africa

By Jimmy Carter

With Rosalynn, Jeff, Annette, Gordon Streeb, and Nancy, we had a great trip made possible by John and Becky Moores, who furnished their airplane. Our overall purpose was to help expedite the eradication of Guinea worm, to examine and enhance our Sasakawa-Global 2000 agriculture projects, to help resolve some problems with democracy, and to explore the possibility of inaugurating Global Development Initiatives similar to ours in Guyana.

Mar. 31

After refueling in San Juan and Cape Verde, we arrived in Bamako, Mali, which we hadn't visited since beginning our Guinea worm eradication program several years ago. We had four items on our agenda:

  1. to attend our last biannual global Guinea worm conference
  2. to solidify Mali's commitment to our assistance on a national development strategy (GDI)
  3. to assess our Global 2000 agriculture program; and
  4. to explore the resolution of Mali's political impasse that threatens multiparty democracy.

After a briefing by Ambassador David Rawson and his staff, we met with Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a competent but somewhat hard-line leader of the ruling ADEMA party. He was surprisingly familiar with all our agenda points, welcomed my meeting with opposition leaders, who are boycotting both municipal elections and government involvement, and was somewhat equivocal about GDI.

I then met with General A.T. Toure, the former head of state who has helped us with GW eradication in Francophone West Africa and with our mediation efforts in the Great Lakes region (Rwanda and Burundi). He and I discussed possible reconciliation of political differences that might induce the opposition parties to participate in the now postponed elections in 701 local communities.

We then had a representative of USAID and UNDP plus six Malian cabinet ministers come to discuss our development-planning program. They were familiar with what we had done in Guyana, had some skepticism about our "intervention," but were supportive when we explained that our role would be to advise and coordinate, with all authority retained by Malian officials.

April 1-3

I met first with the six faction leaders (COPPO) who were participating in the boycott. I tried to induce them to accept an agreement to cover the municipal elections, but they insisted on a dialogue between their group and President Konare. I finally asked if they would designate one person to meet with the president and me, and they replied later that their spokesman and one other would like to be'present. Everyone agreed to keep this idea confidential, since it would be inappropriate to embarrass the president, who was in Oslo. I sent him a note to be delivered when he returned the next day, and he later replied that he would meet, but only if other factions were present.

Our Africa regional meeting on Guinea worm eradication was the best we've ever had. It was well attended, and the reports were frank and comprehensive. All countries (except Sudan) have had at least a 95 percent reduction in Guinea worm cases, but in some nations the change from 1996 to 1997 was minimal. This is because there is some self-satisfaction and complacency, funds have been lacking, and because the most inaccessible places and nomadic communities remain.

Sudan has 56 percent of all the remaining cases, but even there, in a war environment, there has been notable progress. In the northern states there was a 65 percent reduction in cases last year and an even greater drop in two states in the south where combat was minimal. We don't know how well the inaccessible villagers have performed, whom we had earlier educated and provided with filters.

With new funding last month from Japan ($2.5 million) and Henry McConnon ($1/2 million) plus commitments made in 1997 by a range of governments and other sources, we can move with renewed confidence and vigor.

Marcel Galiba, who leads our SG2000 agricultural program, is doing a fine job, with more than tripled yields at the sites we visited.

When President Konare returned, I gave him a report on Guinea worm, Global 2000 agriculture (he will meet with our leader Marcel Galiba within a week), and we agreed to proceed with our GDI national development strategy. Also, we finally got everyone to agree that two representatives of COPPO, the parliamentary majority parties, participating opposition, and the president and one of his ministers would meet with me later that night. The president agreed that I would preside.

The meeting was tense and negative at first, but finally a consensus seemed to emerge around a package of suggestions I put forward. I was asked to write them out and distribute them to all the parties. This is the best and only chance for reconciliation before final plans have to be made for communal elections that will probably be held in June. I offered to send a facilitator to Mali if requested.

April 3-5

We departed Bamako Saturday morning, refueled in Gabon and arrived in Pretoria, South Africa. We were surprised when our grandson, Jason, joined us that night, having made the journey on native "taxis." We proceeded northward from Pretoria the next morning on a 4-hour fast drive on excellent roads, through Pietersburg then eastward to a location for Black people near Tzaneen. This has been the Peace Corps center, where Jason and his class have trained and where their training will be completed and they will become official volunteers on April 7. This is the second class of about 40 in South Africa, and they will now be going to their individual sites and working to improve elementary education and strengthen the ties between the schools and the community. Jason will work with 60 teachers in 3 schools, about 12 miles from the Swaziland border. I spoke to the group, all of whom we had met in Atlanta in January.

Peace Corps workers are out in remote areas, and it's obvious to them and us that South Africa is still an almost completely segregated society, with social and economic changes taking place very slowly. Relatively small villages where white people live are prominently marked, while enormous nearby "locations" for blacks are barely named.

April 6-8

We made an early morning visit to Nelson Mandela's home in Johannesburg. Our entire group enjoyed a discussion about projects of The Carter Center in Africa, some regional developments, and the Peace Corps. Jason had a surprisingly fluent conversation with President Mandela in Zulu or SiSwati, the local language he will be using for the next two years. Jason was thrilled when Mandela complimented him on "mastering" the language.

We then flew to Maputo, Mozambique, where we had one of our most interesting and productive visits. The nation has shown remarkable progress, with sustained peace, 6 million refugees resettled, a multiparty democracy, 8 percent annual economic growth, and inflation under control at 2 percent. Despite these accomplishments, this is still one of the poorest of nations, and their democratic system is endangered.

We had three goals:

  1. to conclude an agreement to help prepare a national development strategy similar to our GDI in Guyana;
  2. to initiate massive expansion of rice and maize production, based on our SG2000 agriculture demonstrations; and
  3. to encourage the resolution of political differences between the majority party (Frelimo) and the main opposition party (Renamo).

President Chissano, his ministers, UNDP, the World Bank, and other major donors all agreed on our particular role in preparing a GDI plan for the future of Mozambique.

With SG2000 director Wayne Haag, we visited one of our agricultural sites near Macia, a 7,000 hectare land basin irrigated naturally by small springs. This was an enormous Portuguese rice plantation, but only about 120 hectares of land is in use, most of which is in our test plots. These are producing 4 tons per hectare, while the nearby traditional yields are only 1.1 tons. There are several million farmers (many returned refugees) who had experience before the war and who are eager and hard working, large tracts of arable land available (4 times as much as in S. Africa), and the donor community is poised to give assistance if coordinated with government ministries. Mozambique's potential even exceeds what we have experienced in Ethiopia. I shared these ideas with the president and other leaders in the government, all the major donors, and with NGOS.

The recent terrible war was between Frelimo and Renamo, who concluded peace in 1992 and held elections in 1994. Frelimo won the presidency and 129 of 250 parliamentary seats. Renamo gained most of the other seats, and the legislature is functioning well. However, an election law was passed which puts the voters' list and conduct of future elections under the control of civil servants. Since almost all of these owe their jobs to Frelimo, this is grossly unfair to the minority parties, so Renamo president Dhlakama is threatening to boycott the local elections now scheduled for June.

In my speech to the parliament, in my press conference, and in my private meetings with Mozambique's leaders and the international diplomats, I suggested ways to prevent reversion to a one party government like those in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and other African nations. Chissano, Dhlakama, and others listened carefully, but the issue is still very much in doubt. The other potential for multiparty democracy to survive is for Frelimo to split, a real possibility.

April 8-9

After a brief stop and tour of the city in Libreville, Gabon, we proceeded to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. I had a good briefing on West Africa from Ambassador Lannon Walker, and we enjoyed a superb lunch with President Bedie and Foreign Minister Esse. They expressed a desire for ECOWAS leaders to reduce Nigerials control over ECOMOG when a new chairman is chosen in July. Nigerials Abacha was reelected last year when no consensus was reached on his replacement. In effect, he has used ECOMOG as his own unilateral force since then, including the current engagement in Sierra Leone. They think that ECOMOG troops need to stay in Liberia for an extended period but should be careful to avoid any verbal or military confrontation with President Taylor.

April 9-10

In Liberia we found a lot of commercial activity on the streets but slow progress in rebuilding Monrovia, which was almost totally destroyed in the war. we met with Archbishop Francis and Koffi Woods (human rights leaders and peacemakers), ECOMOG commanding general Timothy Shelpidi, news media leaders, human rights activists, opposition political leaders, and then with President Charles Taylor.

Slow and difficult progress is being made since the successful elections that we monitored last July. Liberia is peaceful, with ECOMOG troops controlling Monrovia and Taylor's forces the rest of the country. Liberia has just received a commitment of $220 million in aid from the donor community, human rights violations are infrequent, and the press is relatively free, although journalists said their self-censorship was restrictive in editorial commentary. The Carter Center sponsored a recent conference that advocated farreaching reforms to strengthen the human rights commission, and I delivered a copy of their recommendations to Taylor. The opposition political parties are dormant, and I urged them to become active.

We promised to help ship a used printing press to Liberia, which has been located and is badly needed to help insure publication of newspapers in the country. Also, we learned that there are no texts or library books at the university. Perhaps we can assist with this.

There is confusion, and potential trouble exists because of uncertainty about the training of a Liberian defense force. General Shelpidi thinks ECOWAS leaders mandated ECOMOG to do the training, but Taylor insists it be done by almost anyone else. He mentioned the Ghanaians or the United States. Additional friction results because ECOMOG forces are in Sierra Leone to put down the RUF rebels (former friends of Taylor), having reinstalled elected president Kabbah to power. Their airplanes are operating from Liberian fields, over the objection of Taylor, and he is being accused of assisting Sierra Leone revolutionary forces (which he denies).

The U.S. has an interest in monitoring progress in Liberia's political stability, human rights, and economic progress, and also in restraining Nigerian leader Abachals hegemony over the region. Predictably, Taylor strongly supports the ECOWAS leaders' expressed plans to extend their common control over ECOMOG forces. This will not be easy, because Nigeria has long furnished most of the money, troops, and weapons. Since the U.S. is interested in establishing trained battalions in ACRI (African Crisis Response Initiative) and is doing so in West Africa in Senegal, Ghana, and Mali, it may be advisable to perform a similar operation in Liberia. This would establish a U.S. presence, help to-monitor what Taylor is doing, and limit Abacha's control over ECOMOG and the region.

Realizing at the last minute that it was Good Friday, Taylor canceled a state banquet and substituted a small religious service in his home chapel for us and the families of a few dignitaries. It was made unforgettable by a 3-minute sermon and the performance of a remarkable ecumenical choir. At our urging, the president and his wife agreed to lead a comprehensive child immunization effort, since Liberia is one of only four nations that have not had a nationwide polio vaccination program.

April 11

We flew from Monrovia to Abidjan, and then on to Conakry, Guinea. We were overwhelmed by the enormous reception, with honor guards, ministers assembled, and thousands of people lining the streets. I had not realized how estranged Guinea had been from the French and how they cherish their 40-year diplomatic relation with America, even when the oppressive communist dictator Sekou Touref was in power.

President Lansana Conte was surprisingly taciturn, but listened carefully to my comments and responded without equivocation to my numerous questions, often with a "ouif" or "no." He did come alive with his comments about our 100 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers — "the best in the world!" He has formed a surprisingly competent cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Sidya Toure, who came to Guinea three years ago from his home in Côte d'Ivoire. They are now equaling Mozambique in controlling inflation (2 percent), and are averaging a 5 percent annual growth in GDP.

Concerns remain over national elections to be held later this year, as the government refuses to set up an elections commission, the opposition is in disarray, and the government controls the only radio station, the primary means of communication.

Our SG2000 agricultural program in Guinea has the full support of the government and is doing well under the direction of Tareke Berhe.

After an Easter sunrise service at the residence of Ambassador Tibor Nagy, we departed for home with a planeload of African souvenirs.

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