- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday called on South Africa to take a leading role in driving slumping economies across the world’s poorest continent during the worldwide financial crisis.

In a speech to South African business leaders here, Clinton said that despite setbacks the country is “uniquely positioned” to propel economic growth throughout Africa if it sticks to sound financial principles, embraces open trade and promotes foreign investment.

“The economic success of Africa hinges … to a great extent on the economic success of South Africa,” she said. “This is both a responsibility and an opportunity.”

South Africa, Clinton said, “is uniquely positioned to advance its own economic trajectory and to propel economic growth on the African continent as a whole.”

She noted that African countries trade less among themselves than among nations on any other continent and urged South African businesses and industries to expand beyond their borders.

South Africa cannot “exist as an island of relative prosperity amid a sea of untapped opportunity elsewhere on the continent,” Clinton said on the second leg of a seven-nation tour of Africa aimed it part at bolstering trade and development.

Many had thought when the economic crisis first hit in the West that Africa would be immune. But no one is saying that now.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, made up of countries from the developed world, said in a report earlier this month that Africa has been “gravely affected.” According to the OECD’s 2009 African Economic Outlook report, after half a decade of above 5 percent economic growth, the continent can expect only 2.8 percent growth in 2009.

South Africa is often described as the continent’s powerhouse, more industrialized than most on the continent and not tied to just exporting a single commodity like oil or coffee. But in May, it officially entered a recession for the first time in 17 years.

The economy shrank 6.4 percent — about twice as bad as experts had expected — during the first quarter of this year. The economy had contracted by 1.8 percent in the last quarter of 2008 — two consecutive dips mean recession. New GDP figures are expected later this month, and most South Africans expect more bad news.

South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has stuck to conservative fiscal policies despite concerns that his populist rhetoric and the support he’s received from unions and the South African Communist Party would mean a shift to the left.

Earlier Friday, Clinton, who will meet Zuma in Durban on Saturday, urged government officials to press for reform in neighboring Zimbabwe and met with South Africa’s revered anti-apartheid leader and former president, Nelson Mandela, who turned 91 last month.

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