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Former President Clinton Calls For Pragmatism On Zimbabwe. - 2002-09-26

Mr. Clinton is on a four-nation tour of Africa. He made the comment during his stop, in Nigeria. Mr. Clinton referred to what he called the excesses of the Zimbabwean government. He said they constitute a direct challenge to African leaders in their quest to show the rest of the world that they are responsible and committed to good leadership.

Mr. Clinton sharply criticized the Zimbabwean government for its controversial land acquisition program, its crackdown on the opposition, and what many observers describe as the rigging of the last elections. He said some African leaders appear rather sensitive about the situation. But he said the rest of the world will take them seriously only if, as he put, "they can send a clear message to the rest of the world about Zimbabwe". He added that "It is no longer acceptable to inflame racial divisions, to intimidate opponents, to rig elections or manipulate their results". He said "the essence of democracy is not just winning power legitimately; it is knowing when to let go". Mr. Clinton also said that "the situation in Zimbabwe is a burden to all of Africa, including Nigeria. Not only because of the increased interdependency of nations and peoples, but because around the world there are still too many people who engage in what I call the regrettable practice of continent profiling. They hear about something bad happening in a part of Africa and automatically impute it to all of Africa". The former U.S. President was quick to add that "it is not fair, it is based in ignorance, but it is a fact nonetheless, one that has consequences for foreign policy decisions and financial decisions by investors from other parts of the world."

Mr. Clinton covered a wide range of issues, including the immediate challenges facing Nigeria and ways to deal with them. He said the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases should be intensified, and that emphasis should be placed on harnessing the country's vast human capacity. Mr. Clinton's address was entitled "Democracy and Economic Development." In it, he urged Nigerian leaders to show tolerance and partnership. He also issued a personal appeal for the lifting of the death sentence imposed by a Sharia court on a Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, for having sex outside marriage. The hour-long speech was well received by an audience that included President Olusegun Obasanjo. This was Mr. Clinton's third visit to Nigeria in two years and his second since leaving office. The former American president is very popular in Nigeria, where he's seen as having promoted policies and initiatives that favored Africa. During Mr. Clinton's first visit, in 2000, the boulevard from the Abuja airport to the city was named Bill Clinton Drive.