Clinton's Africa Trip Ends With a Promise

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.

"Are we inspiring your pity so much that you say, 'I have to go and help these people?' " one student asked.

Clinton responded tartly: "I will be very honest with you -- we don't need to do any of this." Other African countries, she noted, welcomed U.S. help.

The trip's successes, according to Clinton's aides, included an easing of tense relations with South Africa, the region's strongest economy, and with Angola, a rising oil power whose leaders fought U.S.-backed rebels during the Cold War.

Clinton also held her first meeting with Somali President Sharif Ahmed, whom the U.S. government recently began supplying with arms to battle Islamist rebels.

The most emotional moment of the trip was a visit to war-wracked eastern Congo, where hundreds of thousands of people are packed into squalid camps and incidents of rape have reached epidemic levels.

Clinton met with two rape victims and choked up afterward as she promised more help for the women, including $17 million for medical treatment and security.

Clinton's trip ended with an emphasis on the positive, as illustrated by Cape Verde, about 300 miles off the west coast of Africa.

This former Portuguese colony was a one-party state from its independence in 1975 until 1990 and was once ranked among the world's poorest nations. In recent years, it has held democratic elections and opened its economy, which grew 5.7 percent on average from 1996 to 2006.

Clinton said she had started her trip with a cheat sheet for each African country she was visiting. Most had "many more problems than positives. In Cape Verde, there were so many more positives than problems."

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