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From Somalia to South Africa, Clinton confronts competing demands

Clinton met with Somalia's president Thursday and traveled to Tshwane (Pretoria) Friday. She must work with a continent most united by a desire to appear independent from the US.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / August 7, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (r.) and Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, during a press conference at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday.

Khalil Senosi/AP

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JOHANNESBURG – Just three days into her Africa tour, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is probably beginning to see what longtime travellers of Africa have known for years. The differences between Africa’s 47 countries (53 if you count the island nations) often are more profound than the similarities.

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In Kenya, Ms. Clinton met with a government riddled with corruption and infighting, and discussed trade ties with African nations and the Islamist threat in Somalia. Clinton also briefly met with Somali transitional President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in Nairobi, telling the embattled leader that the US government would continue to provide financial and military support to the government’s fight against Islamist militias.

In South Africa, starting today, she will see a mainly first-world economy where the main issues are getting tough with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and meeting the needs of South Africa’s 6 million citizens living with HIV. In Angola and Nigeria, she will discuss how those county’s oil wealth can create wealthy functioning democracies, but in mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, she will see how the fight for minerals has led to an almost-endless civil war that has killed perhaps 5 million in the past decade.

What exactly do these countries have in common, and what possibly could be the underpinnings of a new United States policy toward Africa?

The answer, for many African nations, is that they share a post-colonial suspicion of Western nations such as the US, and have very little interest in appearing to do America’s bidding, even if it is in their national interest.

Liberation leaders such as President Mugabe – no matter how despotic they became after liberation – have made a career out of defying the West, says Richard Cornwell, an independent political analyst in Tshwane (as Pretoria is now called). “There’s always been this attitude for political opponents of Mugabe to be labled as ‘lackeys of the West,’” says Mr. Cornwell, and that makes it difficult for African leaders such as President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Botswana’s President Ian Khamma to criticize Mugabe publicly.

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