Clinton Carries A Heavy Agenda To Troubled Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton i

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit seven African nations in the course of an 11-day trip. She's shown speaking at a June news conference with Zimbabwe's prime minister, in Washington. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit seven African nations in the course of an 11-day trip. She's shown speaking at a June news conference with Zimbabwe's prime minister, in Washington.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarks Tuesday on an 11-day visit to Africa with a list of difficult U.S. diplomatic aims, ranging from condemning war atrocities to improving trade ties.

The secretary's trip will take her to active conflict zones, including the long-raging war in eastern Congo, and Nigeria, where a wave of sectarian violence left at least 700 people dead last week.

Clinton's Africa Trip

Locator map pointing out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's planned stops in Africa.

She will also use her Kenya visit to focus on violence in lawless Somalia. She will confer in Nairobi with Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who last month declared victory in a long struggle to gain control of the capital, Mogadishu, which has lacked an effective government for nearly two decades.

The trip also calls for rebuilding relations with some of the continent's most important nations, while delivering tough messages to others. Clinton's tour is meant to underscore the administration's priorities in Africa after President Obama's visit to Ghana last month, the first African-American president in sub-Saharan Africa.

Clinton's seven-nation tour begins in Kenya on Wednesday, at a trade and economic forum of sub-Saharan African nations that are eligible for U.S. trade preferences.

Message To Kenya's Leaders: Quit Feuding

She is also expected to press Kenya's feuding leaders to break an impasse that has kept their ruling coalition from dealing with key issues, says Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The government there is stalemated over impunity and constitution reforms," Cooke says, noting that Clinton will be urging Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to clean up election procedures and prosecute those responsible for post-election violence that killed hundreds of people last year.

Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador to Kenya who is now the State Department's assistant secretary for African affairs, previewed that message in a blunt speech in Washington in late July, in which he said "corruption is killing Kenya."

Carson said criminal activity by government officials, a weak court system and partisan politics are hampering democracy and prosperity in Kenya, a message likely to be underscored by Clinton.

To South Africa: Let's Start Over

The secretary's next stop will be in South Africa, where her task will be rebuilding a relationship that soured during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, says Princeton Lyman, a senior fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Affairs.

Mbeki angered the Bush administration by opposing the Iraq war and refusing to push the governments of Sudan and Zimbabwe on their human-rights abuses.

"The problem is, it's not clear where [South African President] Jacob Zuma is going internationally," says Lyman, a former ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. "We don't know whether South Africa will be helpful on issues like Darfur or Zimbabwe."

From South Africa, Clinton will move on to Angola, now the largest energy producer in sub-Saharan Africa and a major supplier of oil and liquefied natural gas to the U.S. "Angola has the potential to be a continental leader," says Cooke, adding that the government, which has been getting a lot of investment from China, appears to be trying to diversify its partnerships and move toward the West.

"I think that's a win-win visit," Lyman says. "Angola's been feeling neglected. It may be the most stable country in the Gulf of Guinea, and they want private investment from the U.S."

From Angola, Clinton will make two stops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first will be in the capital, Kinshasa, where she will meet with President Joseph Kabila. At a news conference previewing the trip, Carson said that Clinton wants to "put a great deal of focus on the issue of sexual and gender-based violence which is occurring in the eastern Congo."

To Congo: Stop The Rapes

Clinton will go to eastern Congo the following day for a stop in the city of Goma, which was a center of some of the worst atrocities of the two Congo Wars and subsequent clashes between the government and rebel groups.

"The question is, how do you bring accountability for sexual violence?" says Cooke, adding that the U.S. needs to push the Kabila government and the neighboring states to rein in militias and reform their own security forces.

One of Clinton's biggest challenges will come in Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 140 million people that has been ravaged by insurgency, crime and sectarian strife.

Nigerian police say that more than 700 people were killed in violence in the northern part of the country after Islamist militants attacked a police station. Critics say the government failed to respond quickly to warnings that the group, known as "Boko Haram," (roughly translated as "Western education is forbidden"), was threatening violence.

Lyman says the violence in Nigeria is due in part to "the long neglect of infrastructure in the country," which has led to the decline of the industrial base in the north and a lot of unemployed youth.

Compounding the problem, the former ambassador says, is a long-simmering insurgency in the major oil-producing region, the Niger Delta, that has reduced the country's oil production by as much as 50 percent.

"You've got a very weak government and a president who is not well, who's not playing the role on the international scene that [former President Olusegun] Obasanjo did," Lyman says. "[Clinton] has a big agenda, and I don't know how much she can get from the government."

To Liberia: We're With You

Clinton's next stop is in Liberia, where the State Department says she'll reaffirm U.S. support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent's only female president. Carson told reporters that the secretary wants to show the U.S. commitment to development aid for Liberia, as well as backing for reform of its security forces.

The final stop on Clinton's trip will be Cape Verde, a cluster of islands off Africa's west coast. Cape Verde would normally be little more than a refueling stop, but analysts say the former Portuguese colony has shown a history of good governance, something the Obama administration wants to highlight in Africa.

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