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What Hillary Clinton seeks to achieve in Africa

One aim: to bolster relations with resource-rich countries where China has been aggressively extending its presence.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 5, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (l.) is welcomed by Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and American ambassador to Kenya, Michael Rannerger (r.) at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.

Sayyid Azim/AP



Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton begins a seven-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa Wednesday designed to underscore the Obama administration's priority on improving the continent's stability and development.

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While Secretary Clinton's stated objective is to address issues ranging from regional economic development and education to democratic governance and gender-based violence, another aim will be to bolster relations with resource-rich countries where China has been aggressively extending its presence.

"The new administration wants to put Africa among the top priorities of its international relations. They want to address the concerns of quite a few countries that were frustrated by Obama's choice of Ghana for his one stop in Africa last month. And then there is the issue of a growing rivalry from China for resources," says Pierre Englebert, an Africa specialist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. "Clinton's trip is about trying to kill several birds with one stone."

Indeed, some diplomatic analysts add to that list Clinton's desire to stake a claim among foreign-policy priorities, since a number of top-rung issues like Middle East peace have been assigned to special envoys.

Clinton "may be signaling through the scope and timing of her trip that Africa has graduated into a mainstream US foreign-policy priority," says J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. "That would be a significant shift," he adds, "and could begin to right the imbalances of the past that favored the military and other security agencies."

Clinton begins her trip with a speech in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday at the US-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum. From there she moves on to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde.