Hillary Clinton punts US interest in Africa

Hillary Clinton’s shadow is reflected on the Senegalese flag, a destination on her itinerary covering six countries. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Hillary Clinton’s shadow is reflected on the Senegalese flag, a destination on her itinerary covering six countries. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Hillary Clinton, the United States secretary of state, arrives in South Africa on August 7 on the final leg of her 11-day African safari, widely seen as an attempt by President Barack Obama's administration to counter the ever-increasing Chinese influence on the ­continent.

Clinton is visiting Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa largely to promote Obama's new Africa strategy, which focuses on the continent's economic potential as well as on the advancement of its peace and security.

At the start of her visit to Senegal this week, Clinton took an indirect swipe at China and its investment in Africa.

She once again warned African leaders to embrace democracy and partnership with responsible foreign powers if they wanted to improve the living standards of their people.

Although she did not mention China by name, Clinton said that, unlike other countries, the US would continue to stand up for democracy and human rights.

This could be interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to China's appalling human rights record.

"The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century," Clinton told a media briefing in Dakar after meeting Macky Sall, Senegal's new president.

"America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way to keep resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will."

Clinton called the US's support for democracy and human rights the "heart of the American model of partnership".

China buys one-third of its oil from Africa, mainly from Angola, Sudan and Nigeria, to fuel its surging growth. It has also acquired mines in Zambia, textile factories in Lesotho, railways in Uganda, timber in the Central African Republic and retail development in almost every capital in sub-Saharan Africa.

China's influence
At a recent summit with 50 African nations in Beijing, China pledged $20-billion in new loans to Africa over the next three years for infrastructure and manufacturing.

Jakkie Cilliers, executive director at the Institute for Security Studies, said Clinton's trip to Africa was part of an exercise to neutralise, or at least minimise, China's influence on the continent.

"The trip by Clinton generally re-presents increased recognition by the Obama administration that Africa is now a global player," he said.

"We are not only being courted by the Chinese, but [by] the Americans as well.
Perceptions of Africa are changing and the continent is becoming a global destination for trade and investment."

The financial crisis in 2008 hurt the US economy and Obama's new strategy is seen by many as another way of reversing its fortunes through greater trade and investment in Africa.

US ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips said Clinton's visit to South Africa was part of a "strategic dialogue" to discuss issues ranging from trade and investment to diplomatic relations in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, G20 and COP17.

Robert Kelley, a founding member of Democrats Abroad South Africa, said South Africa had become a strategic partner of the US and its potential could not be ignored.

Sound policy
He said nobody would trade with or invest in a partner they did not hold in high regard.

"I would expect the secretary to have a view that encompasses the Africa of tomorrow and not the troubled Africa of yesterday that is so often represented," Kelley said.

"Over the past several years, the quest for sound policy towards Africa has never been fully realised and yet Africa is clearly a more strategic trading partner than one could have ever imagined.

"It can no longer be considered [merely] a place to set up military bases, or simply a location to secure tomorrow's resources on the backs of the poor."

Clinton is scheduled to hold talks with International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and address business leaders before paying a visit to former president Nelson Mandela, who recently celebrated his 94th birthday.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele

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