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POLITICS: Clinton’s Africa Tour to Stress U.S. Commitments

Daniel Volman*

WASHINGTON, Aug 4 2009 (IPS) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left yesterday on a seven-nation trip to Africa that has elicited an appeal from Human Rights Watch for her to put human rights at the top of her agenda. During her eleven-day trip, Clinton will visit Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson will accompany the Secretary on her travels.

In a press release issued Jul. 31, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon Clinton to press host governments, and Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed whom she will meet with in Kenya, to hold human rights abusers accountable, to ensure that military forces respect international law, and to end corruption.

In South Africa, HRW said, “she should urge the new government of President Jacob Zuma to play a more proactive role on foreign policy matters on the continent, particularly in pressing for human rights reforms by its neighbour, Zimbabwe.”

“The U.S. rightly wants to promote Africa as a place of great opportunity, but Africans will be unable to realise their potential if their human rights are denied,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa Director at HRW. “Secretary Clinton should make this connection clear.”

On the other hand, J. Stephen Morrison, an Africa expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, said in an Aug. 4 commentary on the CSIS website that “it is very important that expectations be kept in check, and realism, patience and a long-term view prevail. Many of the places where the Secretary can extend a hand, offer a new dialogue, and lay down new tests are not necessarily ripe in the near term for change, nor capable today of grasping the nettle. They need to be worked quietly and seriously through time.”

Regarding Nigeria’s repressive regime – which came to power after elections that international observers concluded were neither free nor fair – Morrison said, “we need to engage, be candid and tough-minded, offer our advice and assistance, and try to get the Nigerian government to come to terms with reality. But our leverage remains limited and for the moment we have no ready reliable partners. We have to play a long game, build new linkages within Nigeria, and take action outside Nigeria to halt grand scale theft of oil and extensive arms trafficking.”

Clinton, beginning her trip in Kenya, will be joined by a delegation of U.S. businesspeople for the eighth U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum – also known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. She will also meet with senior Kenyan political leaders and representatives of civil society.

The Secretary will travel on to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde for bilateral discussions with political leaders and public events with businesspeople, non-governmental organisations, and private citizens.

While in Kenya, Clinton will meet with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed to reaffirm U.S. support for his beleaguered government and to pledge additional weapons for its fight against Islamist extremists.

In both Nigeria and Liberia, according to the U.S. State Department Bureau of Pubic Affairs, “the Secretary will bring attention to the Obama Administration’s commitment to helping nations around the world implement self-sufficiency and sustainable food security.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the State Department said, Clinton “will highlight efforts to combat gender-based violence.” In South Africa, she will focus on such issues as Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS.

And in Nigeria and Angola, the fifth and sixth largest suppliers of oil to the U.S. respectively, she will discuss economic and political issues. At a Jul. 30 press briefing, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson explained, “We are concerned about having a good energy relationship with them.”

“We also believe it is important for them to deal with some of their domestic issues,” Carson said, “which will help to strengthen their democracy.”

In answer to a reporter’s question about America’s rivalry with China in Nigeria and Angola, Carson insisted, “our presence there has nothing to do with anyone else’s operations on the continent.”

One other issue that is sure to be discussed at every stop on Clinton’s trip is the new U.S. military command for Africa – Africa Command or Africom. The creation of the new command, which became fully operational on Oct. 1, 2008, has provoked nearly unanimous opposition from civil society throughout the continent.

According to General William Ward, the commander of Africom, his deputy, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, and other military officers, the new command has three principal missions. The first is to handle security assistance to key African regimes and – if necessary – direct U.S. military intervention to protect U.S. access to oil and other resources in Africa. The second mission is to make Africa a central battlefield in the ‘Global War on Terrorism’. And the third is to demonstrate America’s determination to compete with China for economic power and political influence in Africa.

Ward cited America’s growing dependence on African oil – the U.S. now gets more oil from Africa than from the Middle East – as a priority issue for Africom when he appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on Mar. 13, 2008. He went on to state that combating terrorism would be “Africom’s number one theatre-wide goal.”

At an Africom conference at Fort McNair on Feb. 18, 2008, Moeller said that protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market” was one of Africom’s “guiding principles” and specifically cited “oil disruption,” “terrorism,” and the “growing influence” of China as major “challenges” to U.S. interests in Africa.

Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Liberia all get large quantities of weaponry as well as military training and other security assistance from the U.S. – and all of them are eager to maintain those close military ties.

But, in the face of vehement public opposition to Africom, Liberia was the only country in Africa willing to allow Africom to establish its headquarters on their soil. The U.S., however, decided to decline Liberia’s offer to host the new command – due to concerns about security and the country’s lack of infrastructure. Africom is based in Stuttgart, Germany.

*Daniel Volman is the Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC. He is the author of numerous articles and reports and has been studying U.S. security policy toward Africa and African security issues for more than thirty years.

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