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Interview in Cape Town, South Africa, With Bryna Bates of Ebony/Jet and April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks

March 27, 1998

Apology for Slavery

Ms. Ryan. Mr. President, you've made it emphatically clear that you will not apologize for slavery. But do you understand why there's such controversy around the issue, and are you prepared for Goree Island?

The President. Oh, yes. I think—it was interesting, because after I spoke in Ghana and then in Uganda, and when I spoke in Uganda about how wrong we were to be involved in the slave trade, some people in America said, "Well, why did you do this in Africa," and "Why haven't you done the same thing in America?" But most of my African-American friends and advisers don't believe that we should get into what was essentially a press story about whether there should be an apology for slavery in America. They think that that's what the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment was; they think that's what the civil rights legislation was; and they think we need to be looking toward the future.

But when an American President comes to Africa for the first time and makes a serious trip and a serious commitment to the future, I think recognizing the fact that we did a bad thing in being part of the slave trade, I think, is important here. So I think we've drawn the right balance, and I feel good about it.

Africa-U.S. Trade

Ms. Bates. Mr. President, does the United States see African-American businesses as a part of the national strategy for participation and partnering with South Africa?

The President. Absolutely. Because, in part, I think African-American businesses are more likely to see the opportunities. There are going to be a lot more other kinds of businesses, all kinds of American businesses here, I predict to you, in the next few years, both selling here, buying from here to sell in the American market, and investing here.

But this is really an incredible opportunity for the African-American business community to get on the ground floor of what I believe will be an explosion of economic activity in the years ahead.

One of the things we're doing here is dedicating the Ron Brown Commercial Center in Johannesburg, and Ron told me years ago, shortly after he became Commerce Secretary, that there was a new Africa emerging and that we needed to be a part of it; we needed to be in on the ground floor. So that's what we're trying to do.

Ron Brown

Ms. Ryan. Do you miss him especially now?

The President. Especially now. I just—I'd give anything if he could have made this trip.

Africa-U.S. Trade

Ms. Ryan. Well, Mr. President, speaking of the Africa package, a different version of that, fast track—are you planning on reproposing that again or introducing that before Chile?

The President. Well, I don't think we can pass it before Chile, so it's not important. We know we have the votes to pass it in the Senate, and we know we don't yet have the votes to pass it in the House. So I'm just going to keep working on it until I think we've got the votes to pass it in the House. It should pass.

But I don't think that that should deter us from passing the Africa trade and investment bill. It's passed in the House now. We certainly have the votes in the Senate to pass it, so it's really a question of getting it up on the Senate calendar. They're not meeting many days this year, and they seem to be, for reasons I don't quite understand, bringing up a lot of issues that are highly contentious and don't have a big impact on the future. So I'm hoping I can cut through the Senate agenda and get—persuade Senator Lott and others to bring it up, because I think the Africa trade bill should pass this year, and I think it will if we can just bring it up.

Ms. Bates. Mr. President, will there be any consideration by your administration similar to the Gray amendment concept, in an effort to mobilize the entire American business community? And are there any concrete plans that we can begin to talk about?

The President. Well, we've announced here that we would be involved in financing support—or supporting, if you will, the financing of American business deals here in Africa through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. And we've already helped to finance the two significant ones here in South Africa in transportation and telecommunications. So we will have way over half a billion dollars worth of support for financing new business investment in Africa. And I think that will get a lot of people involved quickly. I hope it will.

President's Initiative on Race

Ms. Ryan. Mr. President, there is word that the race initiative will end in September, formally. Now, the conclusion—is that because of the fact that the momentum is not there, that you thought it could be? And there was word from some White House staffers that the initiative could last as long as the end of your term.

The President. I don't think we've decided. I think, for one thing, in some form or fashion the initiative will last until the end of my term, regardless, because I want to—I think we have to continue to work on this in a very conscious way, to close the opportunity gaps and also to prepare for living in an increasingly multiracial society. I mean, soon there will be no particular ethnic group that has a majority in America.

So it will continue in one form or fashion, regardless.

And insofar as how the Advisory Board should conclude its activities and when, I haven't made a final decision on that. So there isn't—you know, my staff may be of different views on it, but I haven't heard from any of them, and we haven't made a final decision on it. We still have a lot of work to do on the agenda that has already been laid out just for this board. And we've got several things planned. When I get back, we're going to do kind of a townhall meeting on ESPN with a lot of athletes, which should be very interesting.

Ms. Ryan. Michael Jordan?

The President. I don't know if they've signed up yet. As bad as he beat me when we played golf together, he sort of owes me one, so maybe I can get him to do it. [Laughter]

And we are going to have a serious discussion on public television, which I think will be very, very interesting—the PBS. We're going to get some really bright people in and talk about where we're going on that, with the race matters. And then we're going to have a week in which we attempt to have a serious discussion of race on every college campus in America. So those are our next big things coming up when I get home.

Q. So April seems to be a real big month for your race——

The President. April is a big month. April will be a big month for it, but we're still rolling out policies. We've got some significant things that are in budget process which will have a huge impact on the opportunity gap issues. We've got a provision in our budget to more than double the number of empowerment zones. Secretary Cuomo has got some very impressive proposals to set up development banks and other things to create jobs in inner cities and other isolated areas where the unemployment rate is high still.

So we've got a lot to do this year, and we'll see along about September where we are and in what form we should proceed. But I haven't made a final decision.

President's Visit to Africa

Ms. Ryan. The minority community seems to be really in your favor at all times, and especially now. In the African-American community, there seems to be the biggest love for President Bill Clinton ever, especially with this Africa trip.

What is this Africa trip meant to send to the African-American community, as well as the Latino community and the Asian community?

The President. Well, I think that the trip has special meaning for African-Americans. But if I can first say, I think all Americans should strongly support this trip. There are 700 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Within 25 years, the population will nearly double. This is a huge place. It's bigger than the United States and Canada put together—considerably bigger. And the population has been kept down in the past because of disease, primarily, and abject poverty. Now, better health care, better investment, better education, and better economic growth are going to increase the importance of Africa to every country and all kinds of people. And America's ties to Africa need to be strengthened and deepened. So I hope every American supports it.

But African-Americans in particular should take a lot of pride in this. And I found it inconceivable when I took office that no American President had ever taken a long, comprehensive trip to Africa. And when I go to Poland, Polish-Americans identify with that. When I go to Ireland and there's over 100,000 people in the streets in Dublin, the Irish-Americans identify with that. And I think that it's high time that African-Americans had this same opportunity that other Americans enjoy to know that their ethnic heritage has a present meaning and a future for the United States and African nations in partnership.

Ms. Ryan. Mr. President, it's been noted that you are very, very tired. Why did you put so much on the front end of the trip? I mean, we've watched you in some of the shots—I mean, you look like you are about ready to just fall out.

The President. Well, I just have so—it's a long way from America, and I have so little time, and I just am trying to make the most of it. And we've had some—the days have been very long, and we arranged to travel a lot late at night. And I try to sleep when I'm on the plane; it's not always possible. But I'm feeling better now; I'm kind of getting my sea legs, and I think I'm—I was less sleepy today during the middle of the day than I have been on any day so far on the trip, so I'm getting adjusted.

But I find that if you have a very hard-driving schedule, then you get tired. But if you don't do very much, then when it's over, then you say, gosh, there's 15 things I wished I'd done I didn't do. So I think, on balance, the American people are better served by having me be a little tired the first 2 and 3 days and keep driving through the schedule and getting done as much as possible.

Ms. Ryan. Thank you.

The President. Thanks.

NOTE: The interview began at 5:34 p.m. on March 27 in the Cape Town Hotel, and it was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 31. In his remarks, the President referred to NBA Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan.

William J. Clinton, Interview in Cape Town, South Africa, With Bryna Bates of Ebony/Jet and April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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