Clinton visits Africa to counter rising roles of militants, China

Continent in transition

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton embarked Wednesday on a seven-nation tour of Africa, where Islamist militants have made startling gains and increasing Chinese influence has secured abundant resources for the communist-ruled nation.

During a stop in the West African nation of Senegal, Mrs. Clinton poked at China’s investment in African endeavors by urging more partnerships with democratic countries.

“America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.”

Her 11-day trip is the highest-level visit by a U.S. official to the continent since the Obama administration in June issued a strategy for Africa that calls for greater access for investment between U.S. and African countries, as well as democratic reform and economic development.

Speaking Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, senior State Department adviser Richard Roth noted that six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.

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“We wanted to take advantage of an increasingly prosperous continent,” Mr. Roth said of the administration’s new strategy.

A continent divided

The administration is focusing on Africa, in part, as a response to China’s growing investment there, such as infrastructure, energy, banking and manufacturing.

In 2000, trade between China and Africa was valued at about $10 billion. By 2010, China-Africa trade was valued at $114 billion — a more than tenfold increase in a decade. Comparatively, U.S.-Africa trade was about $38 billion in 2000 and $113 billion in 2010.

Additionally, the administration is responding to political upheaval, violent extremism, and a growing al Qaeda presence across the continent, particularly in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Nigeria.

In Somalia, where leaders Wednesday approved a new draft constitution that guarantees many democratic rights, al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab has been waging a war with Somali and African Union forces for control of the impoverished country, which has been without a strong central government since 1991.

In the Sahel, which stretches from Mauritania to Sudan, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has conducted an insurgency against Algeria and nations such as Mali, which has had an influx of arms and the return of disaffected Tuareg fighters from Libya seeking opportunities to seize territory.

In northern Nigeria, the militant group Boko Haram has been increasingly conducting attacks against civilian and government targets in an attempt to eliminate Western influences in the country.

Transnational threats, such as narcotics smuggling, human trafficking and piracy, also abound. Failing and failed states are the source of problems on the continent as well.

“When states do not have the ability to control their territories and command the loyalties of their populations, voids and vacuums occur,” Mark Bellamy, director of the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

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