Clinton Ends Africa Trip, Pledges to Stay Engaged With the Region

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her 11-day tour of Africa with a brief stop in Cape Verde. The seven-nation trip was aimed at emphasizing the Obama administration's interest in Africa, and Clinton pressed for good government and democratic reforms.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

SANTA MARIA, Cape Verde, Aug. 14 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up a marathon tour of Africa on Friday in this palm-dotted island chain, saying she was leaving the region "even more committed than before I came."

Clinton appeared ebullient after an early-morning dip in the ocean and a meeting with Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves. His country was the seventh Clinton had visited on her 11-day trip.

"The Obama administration has delivered a message of tough love. We're not sugarcoating the problems, we're not shying away from them. We are investing time and effort in the people of Africa," she said at a news conference at a beach resort.

Clinton visited Africa twice as first lady, and her enthusiasm for the continent was evident. Aides said they had proposed a half-dozen countries as possible stops on the trip, expecting Clinton to select four. She instead chose all six -- and added one, they said.

Yet, despite her keen interest, it is not clear how high Africa will remain on the U.S. agenda. The Obama administration views Africa as an increasingly important source of oil and wants to prevent breakdowns in law and order that could create sanctuaries for terrorists, drug traffickers and pirates.

But the administration is grappling with higher-priority problems -- such as the war in Afghanistan and North Korea's nuclear program -- and has been slow to pull together some parts of its Africa strategy. The administration has yet to finish a policy review on war-scarred Sudan and has failed to find a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Clinton announced few new initiatives on her trip. She pledged to continue two popular Bush administration programs -- the fund to fight HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Challenge development grants. President Obama announced a new foreign agricultural-assistance program last month, but the details and funding are still being worked out.

Clinton said that one of the most important accomplishments of her trip was "the relationships we have built." She took a particularly tough line on corruption in Nigeria and Kenya, and echoed Obama's emphasis on building democracy in Africa.

In addition to her official meetings, Clinton held several public roundtables and town-hall-style gatherings, where she urged citizens to get involved with politics and set up Internet mechanisms to expose corruption.

But her message was sometimes met with cynicism.

Kenyan politicians said that they did not need "lectures" from U.S. politicians and that Clinton's calls for more trade should be backed up by practical steps, including decreasing U.S. farm subsidies.

In Congo, where memories of U.S. support for dictator Mobutu Sese Seko during the Cold War still run deep, Clinton faced testy questions from students about U.S. policy and the motivation for her visit.

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