First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Talking it Over
March 18, 1997
As I write this, I am flying from Senegal, on Africa's west coast, to
Johannesburg, South Africa. And even though it's late at night, I am
still thinking about a visit Chelsea and I made early this morning to
Goree Island, just outside the capital city, Dakar.
Beginning in the 17th century on Goree Island and other places along the
West African coast, millions of Africans were sold into slavery and
shipped across the Atlantic to many countries, including the United
States. As you approach the island by boat, it looks deceptively
beautiful -- red houses with green shutters, cobblestones streets,
magnificent trees. Then you realize that it's a place built by an
industry that sold humans.
At the center of Goree Island is the slave compound. There, I looked at
closet-sized rooms -- one reserved for children, one for girls, another
for young men who tried to escape. I peered through the doorway that
people passed through on their way to the slave ships. It is called the
"Door of No Return." That door severed Africans from their families and
their culture; it severed the slave traders from their humanity. There
is nothing remarkable about that door but for the fact that it represents
the ultimate depths of the human spirit.
Goree Island also represents the ability of the human spirit to transcend
despair. The story of the African people who endured the terrible
passage across the Atlantic, and their descendants, includes the record of
our country's greatest national shame. Yet it also bears witness to the
indomitable spirit of those who brought abut some of America's greatest
achievements. While the cruelty inflicted on these Africans who became
Americans was unspeakable, their contribution to the United States is
As much as I am here to gain a fuller understanding of America's
historical ties with Africa, I'm also here to recognize our common
future. Africa has made remarkable progress in the last few years. It's
a place that is on the move, with a new generation of political leaders,
the fresh air of political reform and thriving multi-ethnic societies.
And that is why the President asked me to make this trip.
Throughout the continent, country after country is turning toward
democracy. In the last six years, the number of democracies in Africa
has jumped from five to 23.
Africa is growing economically, moving from suffocation state-controlled
economies to open markets that give full life to human endeavor. Last
year, 30 African countries achieved positive economic growth.
Africa is also forging a new relationship with the United States, one
based on shared ideals, mutual responsibilities, integration into the
world economy and partnerships for development and conflict resolution.
To be sure, many of the African democracies are new and fragile. Too
much of the continent continues to be riven by disease, poverty,
injustice, corruption and perilous conflicts. As we have seen over the
last two years in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, refugee crises trap millions
of people, particularly women and children, in lives that go from bad to
And yet in spite of these challenges, we can say for the first time in a
long time that for Africa, there are now grounds for more hope than despair.
I saw that hope in the faces of the young girls I visited at the Martin
Luther King School for Girls in Dakar, Senegal. There are many measures
for judging the success of a democracy. One is how it treats its girls
Talking with the girls in their simple classroom, packed wall to wall
with desks, I saw how Senegal had committed to giving them the best
possible education. In doing so, it was sending a clear and positive
message that if girls work hard and do their best, they will have the
same opportunities as boys to become full members of society. It is an
important lesson not just in Africa but the whole world over.
There were other signs of African progress in a village I visited and
among the people with whom I spoke. And there was no doubt that America
has helped to create a context for that progress. A health clinic
supported by the United States Agency for International Development is
saving lives and moving toward self-sufficiency. A Peace Corps training
center has been training young Americans from all over our country for
more than 20 years to serve throughout West Africa.
After Johannesburg and Capetown in South Africa, I will travel to
Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Eritrea. In each country, I hope to see
-- and learn from -- the many efforts underway to build democracy and a
strong civil society. And by being in each of these places, I hope to
give the American people a renewed sense of the importance of our
commitment to this vastly important, yet vastly underappreciated, continent.
Reprinted with the permission of Creators Syndicate, Inc.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Trip to Africa