US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left for a seven-nation trip to Africa, pressing for more anti-corruption efforts but seeking to boost trade as China’s influence rises on the continent.
Her trip comes less than a month after President Barack Obama visited Ghana and told African leaders that Western aid must be matched by good governance and greater attempts to end war, disease and corruption, Reuters reports.
US officials said Clinton’s 11-day visit was intended to reinforce that message but also aimed at showing that the Obama administration sees Africa as a foreign policy priority despite other challenges, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The administration is committed to Africa. The administration is capable of handling multiple foreign policy issues at one time,” said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, who is travelling with Clinton to Africa, her longest trip since becoming top US diplomat.
Clinton’s first stop is Kenya, birthplace of Obama’s father, where she will attend an annual trade meeting established by a US program that allows countries in sub-Saharan Africa to export more than 6400 goods to the US without paying duties.
The US is looking at ways to boost trade with the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which currently accounts for little more than 1 %t of total US exports and about only 3 percent of US imports.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in an op-ed published in Kenyan newspapers yesterday that Africans should follow the lead from Asian developing countries which had diversified their economies in order to boost trade.
“We need to find new and more effective ways to promote African competitiveness,” said Kirk, who will also be in Kenya for the trade meeting.
US efforts to boost trade and investment links with Africa come as China has displaced many western countries as the major investor on the continent, pumping in billions of dollars to secure access to African commodities it needs for its industries.
While in Kenya, Clinton also plans to meet Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and will pledge further US financial aid to help bolster his shaky transitional government and continue supplying arms and ammunition to his forces.
“We think that the support for Sheikh Sharif and his government offers an opportunity to be able to restore some stability, fight against the Somali Islamic extremists,” Carson told reporters before leaving Washington.
Clinton is also likely to have harsh words for Eritrea for its meddling in Somalia where it is accused of backing extremist groups. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, warned last week that Eritrea faced sanctions unless its behavior changed very soon.
Another highlight of Clinton’s trip will be stops in the continent’s leading oil producers Angola and Nigeria as well as Liberia, which like Angola is recovering from a long conflict.
The top US diplomat will also visit South Africa, another strategic priority for Washington and where Clinton wants to bolster ties that were strained under the Bush administration.
In the eastern part of war-ravaged DRC, Clinton plans to visit a camp for displaced persons, where she will highlight rape and other violence against women, an issue she has promised to crusade against in her new job.
The final overnight stop on August 13 will be Cape Verde, a nation the US sees as an example of good governance for the rest of Africa and which US officials seldom include on their Africa itineraries, except as a refuelling stop.
Pic: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton