Clinton mission signals greater ambition in Africa
Published 13/08/2009 | 06:09
If president Barack Obama's Africa trip was all about symbolism, Hillary Clinton's tour has offered a detailed insight into the administration's aims on the continent.
The Bush legacy in Africa was more positive than just about anywhere else in the world, but can be characterised in simple terms as Aids and Africom. The unprecedented sums committed to delivering anti-retro viral drugs won the Texan admirers, while the war on terror saw colossal errors in Somalia and elsewhere.
The new order in Washington appears to have a more varied and ambitious agenda. In South Africa the Secretary of State, pictured, repaired America's frayed relationship with sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy, meeting Jacob Zuma and banishing the tensions that had blown up with Thabo Mbeki over Zimbabwe.
But it was in her deliberate focus on failed or failing states that she signalled a very different approach. For years Washington had trumpeted democratic successes where it could – Obama in Ghana and Bush in Liberia – but leaving failed states to fail while extracting resources or striking at perceived terror threats.
The prestige and purpose of Mr Obama's visit always meant he would go to a country that was seen to be working. His father's homeland, Kenya, was snubbed and instead got a lecture on corruption and failed government from Mrs Clinton last week.
In contrast the Secretary of State has engaged directly with two of the most complicated crises in Africa. With Somalia she lent support to the transitional government of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, deepening US military involvement in a calculated risk that practical support will outweigh the propaganda value that Islamic militants get from portraying the government as a Western stooge.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, she tacitly acknowledged that China's willingness to engage with any government, however bad, had changed the rules. US engagement in Congo has been overshadowed by a massive $9bn barter deal, which will see resources traded for infrastructure projects. Her staff indicated that Washington might help the Congolese authorities untangle what has become a very complicated deal. Any real assistance would include persuading the World Bank and IMF to support the deal.
Mrs Clinton also weighed in on sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war. Her forceful comments – and $17m in funding – came at a useful time as pressure is building to create a senior UN post billed in some circles as a sexual violence Tsar.
Her stop-off in Angola, which this year became Africa's largest oil producer, was a timely reminder to Nigeria's leaders that mismanagement is costing them internationally. The strongest message delivered to Abuja was one of anti-corruption.
The Obama administration's equivalent to Bush's HIV programme is a plan to pour billions into agriculture in Africa. Agriculture still dominates Africa's economies and yet receives scant attention from its governments or international aid. Changing that dynamic may go some way to making real Mrs Clinton's other message to Africa: to move beyond aid dependency.