Two factors appear to have influenced U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent 11-day, 9-nation whistle-stop tour of Africa. The first is U.S. security concerns; the second is part of U.S. ongoing efforts to halt China's relentless economic forays in a region where it has overtaken the U.S. as Africa's biggest trading partner.
There were other issues too, such as HIV/AIDS, campaign against which the American government has voted huge sums of money, expenditure of which she discussed with her hosts; but these were tangential to the real purpose of her diplomatic swings.
Since the creation of Africa Command (AFRICOM) to oversee U.S. security interests in Africa by the George W. Bush administration, there has been an increasing emphasis on the militarization of U.S. relations with African states as part of its self-declared war on terror and also securing American interests in the face of China's growing presence on the continent.
Her first port of call was Senegal, where a smooth transition had just taken place with Macky Sall replacing Abdoulaye Wade as president. The Senegalese armed forces get military aid and training facilities, including joint exercises with the U.S. forces. Moreover, U.S. military cooperation with Senegal recently took on added significance given the crisis in neighbouring Mali where secessionists have overrun the north, and imposed strict Islamic law. The insurgency threatens stability in the entire West Africa sub-region.
In Juba, South Sudan Clinton spoke on the need for the new country to end its feud and normalize relations with Sudan.
Clinton's visit to Uganda and Kenya was to touch base with U.S. allies on the frontline of the battling against Al Shabaab, the Somalia group that the U. S. has included in its list of terrorist organisations. Uganda is the largest contributor to the U.S. -backed African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); while Kenyan troops have been engaged in hot pursuit of Al Shabaab insurgents in Somalia.
Aside from security issues in Kenya, Clinton emphasized the need for a free, fair and peaceful election due in March 2013, warning the country's leaders against a repeat of the postelection violence that rocked it in 2007/8.
The issue of security dominated her discussions with the Nigerian authorities in Abuja, where she added her voice to the chorus of those who have already told government officials that the use of force alone will not bring an end to the current Boko Haram insurgency that has plagued parts of the country.
In South Africa economic issues dominated Clinton's discussions with the authorities, culminating in a business summit. South Africa was reportedly anxious that the US renew the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) under which African exports to the U.S. enjoy certain privileges, including duty exemption. Given its comparatively more developed economy, South Africa has been a major beneficiary of AGOA, in contrast other African states, and would like it renewed after it expires in 2015. Although Clinton never mentioned China by name, China's role in Africa was a long shadow in her trip.
Washington has long criticized China's policy of 'hear- no- evil, speak-no-evil and see- no- evil' in engaging African states. She said in a speech in Dakar that the U.S. offered Africa "a model of partnership that adds value, rather than extract it," a dig at China's policy towards Africa.
Clinton's holier-than-thou stance is deceptive; the continent's leaders should see through it. For instance, during the Cold War era, it suited Washington's purpose to look the other way by shoring up unsavoury African leaders such as Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler of mineral-rich Congo so long as their countries were pro-West and open to exploitation by U.S. multinationals.
Moreover, Africa did not need Clinton's patronising lecture on how to engage with China. President Jacob Zuma had warned during the last China-Africa summit in Beijing against a situation where African states only exported commodities to China in exchange for manufactured goods replicating the same old unequal trading relationship that characterized Africa's relationship with the West.
For all its perceived faults, China has provided African states with an alternative development model and a source of capital which the U.S. considers as a threat to its interests.