Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Make Friends, Influence People - Hillary In Africa

It looks like reports of the political demise of the Clinton machine have been greatly exaggerated. This morning former President Bill Clinton capped off his mission to North Korea with the tearful reunion of two imprisoned US journalists with their overjoyed families, meanwhile current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a more low-key start to her seven-nation mission to Africa. And while her arrival may have lacked the live TV coverage of Bill’s return, it holds a lot of importance to America’s future.

Her trip is a sign of the importance the continent will play in the coming years to the United States’ foreign and energy policies, and is an admission that right now, the US is trailing China, and to a lesser degree the European Union, Russia and India in making friends in the region. Secretary Clinton is going to try to build on the good feelings that President Obama spread last month during his visit to Ghana, but her trip will include a few doses of tough love as well.

Clinton is (again) prodding the ever-squabbling leaders of Kenya to set aside their differences and get down to the business of actually running their country. Following the disputed presidential election at the end of 2007, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki have shared power, but have gotten little done in the country, preferring to let their respective sides snipe at each other (she said in Nairobi earlier today that she is disappointed the two men have not set up a tribunal to investigate the violence that rocked the country for weeks following the 2007 election). Clinton will also push South Africa to try to exert some influence on their neighbor, Zimbabwe, to move forward on promised democratic and economic reforms in that country as well.

Other stops on the itinerary include the oil-rich states of Angola and Nigeria (the why there is pretty self-explanatory), the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and a stop in at the Cape Verde islands off the West Coast of Africa, which like Ghana, the Obama Administration is hoping to promote as a model of democracy and stability for the rest of Africa.

But what remains to be seen is how well Africa takes to the new American attention. The Kenyans were upset that Obama passed them up (his father, of course, was born in Kenya) for his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa; meanwhile other countries, most notably China, have been throwing money around in Africa without strings – like expecting the recipient countries to respect human rights or the rule of law – attached. So you have to wonder if some of Africa’s more dubious regimes (Zimbabwe for one) will take the American call to reform when they know there are countries out there willing to do business with them no matter how heinously they behave.
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