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Remarks at Goree Island, Senegal

April 02, 1998

Thank you, Mr. President, for that magnificent address. Thank you so much.

Now, all my friends will have to tell me if the translation is working. Yes, it's working? [Applause] Hurray!

Mr. President, Madame Diouf, the ministers and officials of the Senegalese Government, Governor, Mayor; to the students who are here who have sung to us and with whom we have met from the Martin Luther King School, the John F. Kennedy School, the Miriama Ba School here on Goree Island, and the Margaret Amidon Elementary School in Washington, DC; the residents of Goree Island, the citizens of Senegal, my fellow Americans and our delegation, ladies and gentlemen. I'd also like to say a special word of thanks to the curator, Boubacar N'diaye, who toured me through the Slave House today. Thank you, sir.

Here, on this tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, Africa and America meet. From here, Africa expands to the east, its potential for freedom and progress as great as its landmass. And to the west, over the horizon, lies America, a thriving democracy built, as President Diouf said, through centuries of sacrifice.

Long after the slave ships stopped sailing from this place to America, Goree Island, still today, looks out onto the New World, connecting two continents, standing as a vivid reminder that for some of America's ancestors the journey to America was anything but a search for freedom, and yet still a symbol of the bright new era of partnership between our peoples.

In 1776, when our Nation was founded on the promise of freedom as God's right to all human beings, a new building was dedicated here on Goree Island to the selling of human beings in bondage to America. Goree Island is, therefore, as much a part of our history as a part of Africa's history. From Goree and other places, Africa's sons and daughters were taken through the door of no return, never to see their friends and families again. Those who survived the murderous middle passage emerged from a dark hold to find themselves, yes, American. But it would be a long, long time before their descendants enjoyed the full meaning of that word.

We cannot push time backward through the door of no return. We have lived our history. America's struggle to overcome slavery and its legacy forms one of the most difficult chapters of that history. Yet, it is also one of the most heroic, a triumph of courage, persistence, and dignity. The long journey of African-Americans proves that the spirit can never be enslaved.

And that long journey is today embodied by the children of Africa who now lead America, in all phases of our common life. Many of them have come here with me on this visit, representing over 30 million Americans that are Africa's great gift to America. And I'd like them to stand now. Please stand. [Applause]

A few hours from now, we will leave Africa and go on home, back to the work of building our own country for a new century. But I return more convinced than when I came here that despite the daunting challenges, there is an African renaissance.

I will never forget as long as I live the many faces that Hillary and I have seen in these last 12 days. In them, I have seen beauty and intelligence, energy and spirit, and the determination to prevail. I have seen the faces of Africa's future: the friendly faces of the hundreds of thousands of people who poured into Independence Square in Accra to show that Africans feel warmly toward America; the faces of the children at the primary school in Uganda, whose parents were held back by a brutal dictatorship but where today opportunity of education is offered to all of that nation's boys and girls; the faces of the women in Wanyange village in Uganda, once ordained to a life of continuing struggle, now empowered—along with 10,000 other Ugandans and women and men in Senegal and virtually every other country in Africa—by microcredit loans to start their own businesses, small loans which people repay and which repay them by giving them the opportunity to live a better life.

I will always remember the faces of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, who have the courage now not just to survive but to build a better society.

I will never forget the face of Nelson Mandela in his cell on Robben Island, a face that betrays a spirit not broken but strengthened, not embittered but energized, a man used his suffering to break the shackles of apartheid and now to reach toward reconciliation.

I remember the faces of the young leaders I have met: young leaders of the new South Africa; young leaders who want to build a continent where the economy grows, but where the environment is preserved and your vast riches that nature has bestowed are no longer depleted; young leaders who believe that Africa can go forward as a free, free continent, where people—all people—enjoy universal human rights. I remember their faces so well.

I remember the faces of the entrepreneurs, African and American, who gatherer with me in Johannesburg to dedicate Ron Brown Commercial Center. I thank you, Mr. President, for mentioning our friend Ron Brown, for it was he who first told me that I had an obligation as an American President to build a better partnership with Africa.

Already, we import about as much oil from Africa as we do from the Persian Gulf. We export more to Africa than to all the former Soviet Union. And Americans should know that our investments in sub-Saharan Africa earn a return of 30 percent, higher than on any other continent in the entire world. But our trade and investment in Africa is but a tiny fraction of what it could be, and, therefore, of what it could produce in new jobs, new opportunities, new wealth, and new dreams for Africans and for Americans. The faces I saw will spur us to do better.

Mr. President, I remember the faces of the Senegalese soldiers yesterday, whom we saw training with Americans but led by Africans, in an African Crisis Response Initiative dedicated to the prevention of violence, to the relief of suffering, to keeping the peace on the continent of Africa.

Most of all, I will always remember in every country the faces of the little children, the beautiful children, the light in their eyes, the smiles on their faces, the songs that they sung. We owe it to them, you and I, to give them the best possible future they can have.

Yes, Africa still faces poverty, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, terrible conflicts in some places. In some countries, human rights are still nonexistent and unevenly respected in others. But look across the continent. Democracy is gaining strength. Business is growing. Peace is making progress. The people and the leaders of Africa are showing the world the resiliency of the human spirit and the future of this great continent.

They have convinced me of the difference America can make if we are a genuine partner and friend of Africa, and the difference a new Africa can make to America's own future.

Everywhere I went in Africa I saw a passionate belief in the promise of America, stated more eloquently today by your President than I ever could. I only wish every American could see our own country as so much of Africa see us, a nation bearing the ideals of freedom and equality and responsible citizenship, so powerful they still light the world; a nation that has found strength in our racial and ethnic and religious diversity; a nation, therefore, that must lead by the power of example; a nation that stands for what so many aspire to and now are achieving, the freedom to dream dreams and the opportunity to make those dreams come true.

I am very proud of America's ties to Africa, for there is no area of American achievement that has not been touched by the intelligence and energy of Africa, from science to medicine, to literature, to art, to music. I am proud to be the President of a nation of many colors, black and white, European and Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern, and everything in between. We have learned one clear lesson, that when we embrace one another across the lines that divide us, we become more than the sum of our parts, a community of communities, a nation of nations. Together, we work to face the future as one America, undaunted, undivided, grateful for the chance to live together as one people.

To be sure, our work is not finished and we have our own problems. But when we began as a nation, our Founders knew that, and called us always to the work of forming a more perfect Union. But the future before us expands as wide as the ocean that joins, not divides, the United States and Africa. As certainly as America lies over the horizon behind me, so I pledge to the people of Africa that we will reach over this ocean to build a new partnership based on friendship and respect.

As we leave this island, now is the time to complete the circle of history to help Africa to fulfill its promise not only as a land of rich beauty but as a land of rich opportunity for all its people. If we face the future together, it will be a future that is better for Africa and better for America.

So we leave Goree Island today mindful of the large job still to be done, proud of how far we have come, proud of how far Africa has come, determined to succeed in building a bright, common destiny whose door is open to all.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:25 p.m. in the front courtyard of the Goree Island History Museum. In his remarks, he referred to President Abdou Diouf of Senegal and his wife, Elizabeth; Gov. Yande Toure of Dakar; Mayor Urbain Diagne of Goree Island; and Boubacar (Joseph) N'diaye, curator, Slave House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at Goree Island, Senegal Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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