Predicting an African renaissance, President Clinton opened a historic tour of Africa Monday by promising America will help promote trade and democracy in a continent still beset by the perils of civil war and poverty.

"My dream for this trip is that together we might do the things so that 100 years from now your grand-children and mine will look back and say this is the beginning of a new African renaissance," Clinton told hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians in Independence Square as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees and he faced the largest crowd of his presidency.

Clinton is undertaking the most extensive tour of Africa ever by an American president - Jimmy Carter visited two nations 20 years ago. Over 12 days, Clinton will visit Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal to applaud gains in democracy and open the door to trade.

"Today from Ghana to Mozambique, from Cote d'Ivoire to Uganda, growing economies are fueling a transformation in Africa," Clinton said. "For all this promise, you and I know Africa is not free from peril."

He cited genocide in Rwanda, civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo, a military dictatorship in Nigeria and continentwide malnutrition, disease, illiteracy and unemployment.

"The Cold War is gone. Colonialism is gone. Apartheid is gone. Yet remnants of past troubles remain," Clinton said, expressing hope that Africa one day would leave behind its infighting and wars. "Surely there will come a time when reconciliation will replace recrimination."

Clinton quoted America's best-known black hero, Martin Luther King Jr., who visited Ghana in 1957, the year it gained independence. Recalling King's "I have a dream" speech, Clinton said, "We are hardly finished, but we have traveled a long way on the wings of that dream."

Since 1990, the number of countries with elected governments in sub-Saharan Africa rose from five to 24 - half of the 48 in the region. Per-capita incomes rose in 31 countries in 1996 - although 22 of the world's 30 poorest countries are in Africa.

Africa today accounts for only 1 percent of all U.S. trade, but its market of 700 million people is drawing increasing interest from American business.

"Growing economies are fuelinga transformation in Africa," Clinton said, hoping trade will spur political change as well.

Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings welcomed Clinton to "the gateway to Africa," and said he, too, saw a new economic age dawning in Africa.

"This continent is ready and very able to do business in this world," Rawlings said. "By allowing individuals to flourish our communities and nations also flourish."

Rawlings raised the ugly chapter of slave trade between the two continents, saying, "The circumstances of that time more than chilled our hearts."

"But today, out of that tragic trade episode have arisen the indissoluble bonds that link the people of Ghana with the people of the United States," he said. "We each and every one of us here are standing on the sacred grounds reflecting the convergence of historical forces, both positive and negative."

Indeed, Clinton noted the 33 million black Americans descended from Africa and said he hoped his trip would dispel U.S. stereotypes about the continent.

After the speech, Rawlings draped a brightly colored kente cloth over Clinton's shoulders. Clinton was mobbed by people eager to shake his hand. Alarmed by the throngs, who were kept back by military officials using belts and whips, Clinton shouted to the crowd "Back up! Back up!"

The Ghanaian government estimated the crowd at more than 1 million, although the White House said it was told the figure was "more than half a million."

"When he looked out at the crowd, I think he had a one word reaction - wow!" presidential spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters.

Clinton announced $67 million in U.S.-guaranteed loans to Ghana for power projects and $500,000 for civilian police training. He also visited a Peace Corps project in the nation where the first American volunteers were sent in 1961.

Clinton and Rawlings earlier met at Osu Castle, a majestic 346-year-old fort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

On his way to Independence Square, Clinton was cheered in the muggy streets of the capital by scores of schoolchildren wearing orange and brown school uniforms and waving American and Ghanaian flags. Ten of thousands of citizens crowded the route.

Accra was festooned with cheerful banners reading, "Akwaaba, Bill Clinton," welcoming the president on the first stop of a six-country tour. Billboards showed painted photographs of Clinton and Rawlings shaking hands.

Rawlings lives at the castle, built by slave traders and home to the Portuguese, Dutch and Danes before becoming the seat of the former British colonial rule.

Rawlings has ruled Ghana since seizing power in two successive coups, in 1979 and in 1981. The Clinton administration, noting Rawlings' free election as president in 1996, say they consider Ghana one of Africa's success stories despite Rawlings' rise to power via the coups.

Later today, Clinton was traveling to Uganda to participate in the Entebbe Summit for Peace and Prosperity, a gathering of central Africa leaders. Among those expected to attend were Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu and Laurent Kabila, the leader of Congo, formerly Zaire.

Clinton is looking to press Kabila to speed democratic reforms in Congo, especially the inclusion of opposition groups in the political process.