US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s wraps up her Africa trip today, urging nations such as Nigeria and Kenya to tackle graft but showing no big policy shifts by the Obama administration towards the continent.
For the most part, experts said the 11-day, seven-nation trip was a goodwill and listening tour, following up after US President Obama’s one-stop Africa trip to Ghana last month.
“I expected more than just the hugging of the status quo,” said Africa expert Bronwyn Bruton of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
“I have the impression that she reached out and let it be known that Africa is on the radar, but Clinton is also trying to make the most of the existing framework,” she added.
The trip was her longest as secretary of state and aimed at proving Africa was a priority for the first African-American US president, whose father was from Kenya.
But no major initiatives or “goodies” were announced, except for $17 million (R136 million) in new aid for sexual violence victims in DRC and funding for AIDS programmes.
“There were enormous expectations after Obama was elected and after the inauguration. People thought that the flood gate of aid will be opened but now they are aware of the limitations,” said Tom Wheeler of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
Africa policies are still being formulated in two key places, Sudan and Somalia and domestic politics from health care to the economic crisis are priorities.
Washington is also juggling wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, seeking to rein in the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea and trying to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Princeton Lyman, former US ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa both stops on Clinton’s trip said her tour would be remembered for its good governance message, which Obama called for in his Ghana speech, saying Western aid depended on it.
“The theme of better governance will be the mantra of the Obama administration,” Lyman said.
Her toughest anti-graft message was in Kenya, where a sharp tone was easiest to digest because of Obama’s heritage.
“It is tough, but it is also lovingly presented. President Obama very much wants Kenya to be the leaders of a reform movement,” Clinton told students at the University of Nairobi.
“It is where his blood comes from,” she said in Abuja.
While firm in Kenya, the top US diplomat did not publicly berate ministers in key oil producers Nigeria and Angola, saving her toughest criticism for “town hall” meetings that have become a style of her diplomacy.
With Nigeria’s foreign minister, she “supported and encouraged” anti-corruption efforts. A few hours later, she blamed poor governance for the gap between rich and poor.
“The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria’s wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance,” she said to applause from the crowd.
Leverage gamble and China
While leveraging Obama’s prestige is useful, Clinton has to follow up with results, said Stephen Morrison of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank.
”Whether this approach pays off remains to be seen,” he said.
Some experts were disappointed Clinton did not lean harder on South Africa over Zimbabwe, saying she should have more publicly backed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who uneasily shares the government with President Robert Mugabe.
“It was eerily reminiscent of President (George W.) Bush when he went to South Africa,” said Lyman of Clinton’s muted response to reporters in Pretoria and in Durban over Zimbabwe.
While she pressed for food security in Kenya and Angola, Clinton, it was less of an issue on other stops, probably, said some experts, because she still does not have a US Agency for International Development chief in place, who would spearhead most of that policy.
Where Clinton did get high marks was on tackling sexual violence in eastern DRC with a visit to the provincial capital Goma, where she spoke to several rape victims and visited a camp for displaced people.
However, that message was partially drowned out largely by US media, when Clinton snapped at a student in Kinshasa who asked what her husband, former president Bill Clinton, thought of China’s deals with Congo.
“My husband is not secretary of state, I am,” she said.
As the Obama administration has sought to show its commitment to Africa, so has China increased its clout, a claim Clinton sought to squash at every stop.
Kenyan political analyst Gitau Warigi wrote in the Daily Nation that there was more at stake in Clinton’s visit than altruism. “There are strategic interests involved,” wrote Warigi, referring to China.
Pic: Hillary Clinton -US Secretary of State