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The Clinton Administration and Africa: A View from Helsinki, Finland

  • Liisa Laakso

Africa occupies a special position in the foreign policies of the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. In spite of their limited capacities, lack of colonial ties with Africa, or any significant economic interests in Africa, the Nordic countries have attained a relatively high profile, especially in Southern Africa. After Finland and Sweden joined the European Union (EU) in 1995, Africa assumed an even greater level of foreign policy significance for the Nordic countries. Most notable in this regard is Finland’s assumption in 1999 of the EU presidency, a position that makes Finland responsible for the negotiations over the continuation of the EU’s Lomé Convention with 71 countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. It is in this context that this article assesses Nordic perceptions of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy toward Africa. It is important to note, however, that there is no one monolithic “Nordic perspective.” The opinions and approaches documented in policy papers or informal statements by individual civil servants following African affairs can widely vary. People working with development cooperation, for example, tend to be more recipient-oriented than those looking at Africa from a more general foreign policy point of view. The tradition of outspoken human rights policy still differentiates Norwegian and Swedish approaches from the cautious policy of Finland. Yet behind these different tones, one can distinguish common premises stemming from the many similarities of the Nordic countries and their conscious efforts to generate coherent, coordinated foreign policies toward Africa.

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1. The material is collected from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Iceland’s relationships with Africa are more limited, although very much in harmony with the policies of the other Nordic countries. Several Nordic policymakers responsible for African affairs were interviewed for this study during June and July 1998. Because of a desire among the interviewees to remain anonymous, none is referred to by name or position.

2. Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Statement to the Storting on Development Cooperation Policy, May 5, 1998 (

3. Ibid.

4. Sweden, “Afrika i forandring, En fornyad svensk Afrikapolitik infor 2000-talet,” Stockholm den, March 5, 1998, Regeringens skrivelse (1997/98), 6.

5. Confidential interview.

6. Confidential interview.

7. Confidential interview.

8. See also Aftonbladet, March 23, 1998; and Aftenposten, March 24, 1998.

9. Confidential interview.

10. Pierre Schori, minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden, “Afrika i forandring. En fornyad svensk Afrikapolitik infor 2000-talet.” inledning i riks-dagsdebatten, May 25, 1998 (

11. Sweden, “Afrika i forandring,” pp. 31, 99.

12. Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), “Partnership With Africa, Proposals for a New Swedish Policy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1997).

13. Helsingin Sanomat, April 23, 1998.

14. Aftonbladet, June 1, 1998.

15. Sweden, “Afrika i forandring, En fornyad svensk Afrikapolitik infor 2000-talet,” Stockholm den, mars 5, 1998, Regeringens skrivelse (1997/98), 65.

16. See, e.g., Heikki Aittokoski, “Suomen ulkopoliittinen eliitti ymmartaa YK:n paalle,” Helsingin Sanomat, August 13, 1997.

17. The Nordic UN Reform Project, “The United Nations in Development: Strengthening the UN Through Change,” 1996.

18. Ibid., pp. 37, 38.

19. Helga Hernes, “Nordic Perspectives on African Capacity Building.” Paper presented at Multinational Peace Operations: The Evolution of Policy and Practice in Southern Africa (seminar organized by the Institute for Security Studies and the Zimbabwe Staff College, Harare, Zimbabwe, November 5, 1997).

20. Statement by Ambassador Marshall McCallie at an informal meeting hosted by UNDPK, December 5, 1997.

21. Ambassador McCallie stated in a news briefing, July 29, 1997: “We also recognize that many other countries can contribute constructively to this effort, so we are inviting a much broader level of participation. We are really asking other countries to join us in this initiative, both in Africa and outside of Africa.” Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, “Ambassador Marshall F. McCallis & Colonel David E. McCracken Briefing on ACRI” (July 29, 1997).

22. Norwegian address at an informal meeting, December 5, 1997.

23. Finnish address at an informal meeting, December 5, 1997.

24. Danish address at an informal meeting, December 5, 1997.

25. Finnish address at an informal meeting, December 5, 1997.

26. Sweden, “Afrika i forandring.”

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 1548-4505
  • EISSN: -
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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