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“Vacuums in Africa are always filled by groups of men with guns,” Mr. Bellamy said. “It’s the central dynamic in the Democratic Republic of Congo today, it’s a problem in Sudan. It’s a part of the problem in northern Mali today. It’s part of the problem in the northern part of Nigeria.”

Last year, longtime dictators were ousted from three of African countries — Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — that still are adjusting to democratic rule after the Arab Spring.

A plan for Africa

Under the Obama administration’s strategy, the U.S. seeks to confront violent Islamic extremism and political instability with a greater military role across the continent.

The U.S. will concentrate its efforts on “disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating” al Qaeda and its affiliates, expand efforts to build African military capabilities, assist African nations with criminal threats and piracy, and continue supporting peacekeeping missions, and prevent atrocities.

The U.S. has had long-standing security partnerships with African nations. Special Forces deployments to the continent have been ongoing for decades.

In 2008, the U.S. military officially set up a regional security command under U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM. In addition, a National Guard program, the State Partnership Program, deploys troops from U.S. states to sister countries on the continent.

Last year, President Obama approved the deployment of 100 special operators to Uganda to defeat the rebel force Lord’s Resistance Army. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army announced a regional alignment strategy that makes brigades of soldiers available for short-term deployment to different regions of the world, including to the African continent.

Mr. Bellamy questioned whether Americans have an appetite for an increased military and civilian role in Africa, and urged that if the U.S. is going to get more involved in regional conflicts on the continent, that it do so only where there is the political will to make reforms by the African nation itself.

Mr. Bellamy said he was struck by a presidential statement accompanying the policy document that the “United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness or integrity of electoral processes and will stand in steady partnership with those who are committed to the principles of equality, justice and the rule of law.”

“That’s a pretty strong marker,” he said. “That’s not a statement that necessarily will be welcomed I think, from a certain number of African governments. A drive for improved government is important. It’s not necessarily something that’s going to win widespread and warm reception in Africa.”

Mrs. Clinton is expected to visit South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and Malawi before traveling to South Africa, where she will continue a strategic dialogue with South African officials, promote U.S. business in the country and pay her respects to former President Nelson Mandela, who recently celebrated his 94th birthday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.