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US says wants to be ’partner, not patron’ of Africa

The United States on Wednesday warned that bad governance was holding back Africa, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally pressing regional power Kenya to implement a power-sharing deal.

world Updated: Aug 05, 2009 19:39 IST

The United States on Wednesday warned that bad governance was holding back Africa, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally pressing regional power Kenya to implement a power-sharing deal.

Clinton launched a wide-ranging Africa tour at a regional conference in Kenya, whose favourite son -- US President Barack Obama -- underscored the message in a surprise video.

“Only Africans can unlock Africa’s potential,” Obama said, returning to a theme of good governance he made on his first presidential visit to the continent last month in Ghana.

“To all Africans who are pursuing a future of hope and opportunity, know this: you have a partner and a friend in the United States,” said Obama, whose father was born in Kenya.

Clinton, addressing a forum of some 40 nations that enjoy preferential access to the US market, said the United States sought to be a “partner, not patron” of the continent.

Clinton said the US was committed to supporting Africa, including by boosting investment and stepping up aid to agriculture to fight hunger.

But she warned that “leaders have to lead.”

“True economic progress in Africa will depend on responsible governments that reject corruption, enforce the rule of law, and deliver results for their people,” Clinton said.

“This is not just about good governance -- it’s also about good business,” said Clinton, who arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday.

The 11-day trip, which comes just three weeks after Obama visited the continent, is Clinton’s longest since she became the top US diplomat six months ago and her first to sub-Saharan Africa.

Clinton held a rare joint meeting with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, pressing them to implement key points of a power-sharing deal that ended a cycle of deadly electoral violence last year.

Kenya is a longtime US ally but Washington has been concerned about impunity for perpetrators of the violence as well as corruption -- issues that analysts believe kept Obama from picking Nairobi for his emblematic first Africa trip.

“Kenya is a country of great potential and we would like to see Kenya be able to unlock that potential,” Clinton told reporters afterward.

A US official who attended the meeting said that Clinton was “very direct” and that the two Kenyan leaders, former political foes, “surprisingly” were not defensive.

Odinga had a day earlier criticised the US stance, saying that Kenya would not be told what to do.

Another senior US official said on condition of anonymity that Odinga’s remarks were “public posturing” and voiced confidence that the two leaders would implement reforms.

“I can’t say it will happen tomorrow or next week but it’s part of a process,” he said.

“I think our encouragement and pressure is important in the broader context -- it tells the leadership, do what your people want you to do,” he said.

Kibaki and Odinga, in separate speeches to the gathering, acknowledged the problems in African economies but appealed to the United States to step up investment.

“There are constraints on both the supply and demand side which need to be addressed urgently to enable African countries take full advantage of the huge American market,” Kibaki said.

One, a pressure group promoting Africa’s development and supported by U2 frontman Bono, applauded the US emphasis on rooting out corruption.

“Reducing poverty and creating continued economic opportunity requires a strong, committed government that is accountable to its citizens,” said David Lane, One’s president.

Clinton, touching on a theme that she will highlight throughout her trip, Clinton also called on African nations to ensure the rights and improve the economic status of women.

A strong role for women “is not only a moral imperative. It is an economic imperative too,” she said.