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Sunday, March 29, 1998 Published at 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK


Clinton's Africa trip overshadowed by scandal

Mr Clinton's trip is the biggest tour of Africa by a US president eve

President Clinton's trip to Africa excited ambiguous emotions back in the United States.

For many blacks it is the first time an American leader has recognised the country of their antecedents but the continuing investigation into the alleged White House sex scandals has allowed Republicans to spoil the party.

BBC Correspondent Maurice Walsh reports from Washington:

Purely in terms of what they saw on television many Americans' view of President Clinton's trip to Africa was eclipsed in the past week by the shootings of the schoolchildren and their teachers in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Maurice Walsh's despatch in RealAudio (1'44')
Since Tuesday, that made far more impact than Mr Clinton's travels.

Besides this his ground-breaking trip was also overshadowed by the allegations of sexual impropriety in the White House.

The President's legal troubles at home had the effect of allowing the tour of Africa to be portrayed as a cynical exercise in diversion inviting comparison to President Nixon's sojourns abroad at the time of the Watergate scandal.

Despite all this black American leaders regarded Mr Clinton's visit to Africa as symbolic.

In the words of one of the President's black staff members, who rarely goes on overseas trips but accompanied Mr Clinton on this one, it is the first time an American leader has seriously embraced her heritage.

It is clear that black voters are uppermost in the President's mind. He brought along several leading black politicians, including the Reverend Jessie Jackson.

This aroused the ire of the President's Republican critics who say he's using the trip to Africa as a reward for supporters and donors.

Some Republican leaders have also taken exception to President Clinton's apology for America's role in the slave trade.

Tom DeLay, one of the top Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, portrayed Mr Clinton as a hippy with grey hairs undermining his own country from abroad.

There is an unwritten rule in American politics that the President should not be attacked while representing his country abroad.

It is symptomatic of Mr Clinton's predicament that his domestic troubles took the shine off his historic visit to Africa.

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