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Hillary Clinton goes to sub-Saharan Africa: a counterpoise to China's sway?

The Secretary of State was in Senegal Wednesday, kicking off a six-nation trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Hillary Clinton will highlight Africa's economic and political progress – and try to define what Obama means by 'partnership, not patronage.'

By Staff writer / August 1, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (r.) swears in members of the Peace Corps during a ceremony in Dakar on Aug. 1. Clinton urged Africa on Wednesday to recommit to democracy, declaring the 'old ways of governing' can no longer work on a continent boasting healthy economic growth and an increasingly empowered citizenry.

Jacquelyn Martin/Retuers

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Washington

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may confront a sentiment that the United States is arriving a little late to Africa’s dance as she undertakes a 10-day, six-nation sub-Saharan trip to spread President Obama’s “partnership, not patronage” Africa policy.

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The Obama administration came into office pledging a new relationship with Africa focused more on private investment, democracy-building, and security cooperation than on handouts. But America's own economic troubles and its focus on Asia have meant the new policy has been more one of words than action, some Africa experts say.

One result is that China has been left to solidify its place as the preeminent major-power investor in Africa at a time of rapid growth across much of the continent.

“The [Obama] administration is coming a bit late – even with this new strategy there’s a sense that … it’s really not sufficient,” says Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “There’s a disappointment in terms of what could have been done.”

Secretary Clinton kicked off her trip in Senegal Wednesday, where she touted how the West African country overcame political tensions earlier this year to elect a new president. But too many Africans, she said, still live under “autocratic rulers who care more about preserving their grip on power than promoting the welfare of their citizens.”

In a speech in the capital of Dakar, Clinton previewed her Africa trip – her fourth as chief US diplomat – saying she would focus on the “partnership, not patronage” policy that President Obama unveiled in his 2009 speech in Ghana. “I will be talking about what that means – about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it,” she said.

That comment seemed to refer to China, which has increasingly turned to Africa in recent years to supply the raw materials for its economic boom.

“The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century,” Clinton said.

One goal of Clinton’s trip will be to highlight Africa’s recent progress – from continuing economic growth in the midst of a global downturn and a rise in consumer spending, to signs of a growing political maturity in some countries – and thus to pique the interest of American investors in a continent they have often shunned.

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