In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Is Clinton’s Africa visit about power or partnership?

Posted by smeddum on August 15, 2009

Is Clinton’s Africa visit about power or partnership?

By Lola Adesioye


The Grio

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wraps up her tour of Africa, many in Africa are wondering about the real reason behind her visit. Is it a genuine desire to see Africa reach its full potential by bringing an end to the continent’s oft-reported woes? Or is it – as many suspect – an effort for America to gain a strategic foothold in a continent which holds a wide range of increasing military and economic opportunities?
In the speech that President Obama gave on his recent visit to Ghana, he emphasized a few key points. One was the need for Africans themselves to take charge of Africa’s destiny – something which, quite frankly, Africans already know. The second was the president’s desire to reconfigure America’s approach to Africa, changing it from that of a “patron” to a partner.
Superficially these are nice, altruistic ideas, suggesting that America is doing its best to be a better friend to Africa. However, in politics, nothing is ever that simple. America’s renewed interest in Africa – a continent which has been neglected in American foreign policy over the past 8 or so years – may have less to do with kindness and more to do with the nitty gritty of money and power.
In the 21st century scramble for Africa, America lags far behind behind China and Russia. Those countries have been investing heavily in Africa in recent years, using a no-strings-attached model far removed from the conditions of aid and restructuring offered by western governments. America has a lot of catching up to do.
Many of the countries that have been visited during Clinton’s trip – Kenya, South Africa and Angola for example – are strategically beneficial to the US and much of Clinton’s focus has been on the economic potential of these various regions. Angola, for example, is a major supplier of oil to the US and is a country that contains a number of untapped oil reserves. In recent years, the number of American oil companies doing business there has grown rapidly and it is clear that there is value in America shoring up its relations with Angola.
However, it is when dealing with such countries that the contradictions in America’s supposedly new message on Africa emerge. President Obama believes that ‘good governance’ is the key to unlocking Africa’s potential, and he wants to be part of helping that happen. But even the Obama administration’s approach to good governance is questionable. While Clinton publicly criticized the Kenyan government for last year’s election debacle during her trip, she has avoided criticizing Angola’s government, despite the fact that Angola has ‘enjoyed’ the 30 year reign of president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, famed for a long and depressing history of human rights abuses.
Does Clinton’s criticism of Kenya come from a place of care for the Kenyan people? Or is it because an unstable political situation there has the ability to wreak havoc with the African Growth and Opportunity Act, legislation introduced by Bill Clinton that allows increased export from sub Saharan Africa to the US and of which Kenya is a key driver? Similarly, will Clinton continue to stay quiet on countries like Angola, for whose affections it is competing with China, when it best suits America’s economic interests?
Many Africans have no issue with Clinton publicly decrying Africa’s problems – as she has done with the rape epidemic in Congo – but it cannot be done selectively or for political purposes only. Criticism cannot be based solely on whether or not it suits American interests to be critical. Not only could this further hinder African development but, despite statements to the contrary, it is also no different from the way in which America has acted towards Africa in the past when it has either supported or undermined particular governments, including progressive ones, with the aim of securing advantages for itself.
Yesterday Clinton reached Nigeria, where she talked about corruption and of course oil.
America is apparently Africa’s new best friend. Some believe Africa would do well to be wary.

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