WASHINGTON (March 19, 1998) -- Human rights is a challenge confronting each of the six countries on President Clinton's upcoming visit to Africa, and the chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee is urging him to focus on rights and other humanitarian issues.
In a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright today, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark said that he hoped the President's historic 12-day visit "will generate optimism that positive change is on the horizon for Africa's poor and war ravaged people."
President Clinton is schedule to visit Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, and Senegal beginning Monday. While in Uganda, he is scheduled to meet with presidents of 10 Sub-Saharan African nations.
"While we welcome the relative economic growth these countries have experienced (with the exception of Rwanda) in recent years, we, however, recognize the need for continued active engagement by the U.S. to help the African people solve lingering problems," said Archbishop McCarrick, "always mindful of our country's shared responsibility for Africa's current crisis."
Archbishop McCarrick outlined the concerns of the U.S. Catholic Conference with regard to situations confronting Africa: 1) deadly conflict and reconciliation; 2) democratic governance and transitions; and 3) the debt burden.
"Among the most pressing problems in Africa is the continued arms flows, particularly into Central Africa," said Archbishop McCarrick. "We believe that the easy availability of small arms further destabilizes regional harmony and threatens the lives of the region's most vulnerable."
He also noted that the current level of debt borne by many African nations, and the prospect of that indebtedness being passed on to future generations, is unacceptable.
"We are encouraged by the President's commitment to cancel the bilateral debt of eligible, highly indebted African countries through his Economic Initiative for Africa," said Archbishop McCarrick. "We believe that by canceling this debt, the African people will confront the new millennium with better opportunities and more confidence for a prosperous future."
Archbishop McCarrick acknowledged that the primary responsibility for solving the problems in Africa rests with the African people themselves, but he said that the United States has a potentially great and helpful role to play as well.